The air we breathe is increasingly polluted but some common plants may provide a valuable method to control the rising levels of outdoor and indoor air pollution. Scientists at NASA found a number of plants that are useful in absorbing harmful gases and cleaning the air we breathe. Move out ‘fresh air bars’ and move in the plants that purify the air. Confused? Visit the Chiasma exhibition at the Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar, Panaji, tomorrow and see for yourself. The exhibition is laid out by the students of the skill enhancement course in urban gardening. You will find a whole lot of familiar plants that you did not realise could be useful beyond aesthetics.
The white flowered peace lily or poor man’s anthurium is known under the generic name of Spathiphyllum and it has forty known species. It is excellent for removing alcohol, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. Whether it is a distillery, brewery, laboratory or a bar, there is no better plant than the peace lily to let you breathe easy. It can grow in the sun or shade and has a high transpiration rate to both purify and humidify air. It has ribbed, glossy green leaves and produces flowers, with a pimpled spadix and a white spathe. The plant’s leaves contain calcium oxalate, which can cause irritation of the skin, mouth and tongue if ingested and, like the dumb-cane, should be kept away from toddlers.
One will most likely be tempted to say: “We have this plant at home”, when one sees a specimen of the Boston fern or Nephrolepis exaltata. Yet, this fern is ranked the highest out of all plants tested in its ability to remove formaldehyde from the air. No, it cannot remove formaldehyde from the fish we are going to eat but it can take care of it if the fish is added to the soil. We do not realise it but formaldehyde is present in everything from plastic garbage bags to paper tissues, and adhesives used for making plywood or fixing carpets to the floor. The gas-stove and cigarette smoke also contain this chemical in small quantities. Having Boston ferns at home is priceless.
The ornamental areca palm, which has been renamed as Dypsis lutescens, removes toluene and xylene better than any other plant. These chemicals make their way into our homes and offices as solvents and thinners for everything from paints to nail polish remover, and from glue to correction fluid as also in printing ink. No wonder all these smell the same, of toluene. It is just that we did not know. In fact, even I did not know till I started teaching urban gardening last year. There are many other plants, from Dracaena to Philodendrons, that can purify the air of chemicals and a large number of plants that can remove solid particulate matter (SPM) that we call dust and smoke. Come and see for yourself all of this and more at Dhempe College. Using living technology is what biotechnology is all about.
(The Chiasma exhibition will be held on December 11 and December 12 at the Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar, Panaji. The event is open to all.)