Published: 14 May 2020

Five plants to make your home a healthier and greener place in lockdown

Yendle Barwise, a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, shares his research on creating healthier air indoors and recommends five plants to improve your wellbeing and productivity during lockdown.

Yendle Barwise with his dog
Yendle and his four-legged friend

We can create healthier air by planting more greenery

Suitably chosen plants, positioned well, can improve outdoor air quality by influencing dispersion (the transportation and dilution of pollutants), and by offering a high surface area for pollutants to sit on, thereby reducing the amount in the atmosphere. Having lots of plants isn’t always possible indoors, but, there are plenty of benefits for introducing plants into our homes and workplaces.

Yendle says: “The influence of houseplants on indoor air quality is debatable, with research suggesting that an impractical number of plants would be needed to offer a significant effect. However, the ability of houseplants to improve wellbeing and productivity is well supported, and they look great!”

Top 5 plants

Here are Yendle’s top five easy-to-grow houseplants, recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society as plants that support human health.

1. Madagascar dragon tree

Also known as Dracaena marginata, this evergreen shrub has sword-shaped, dark green leaves and is low maintenance. NASA also used it in its 1989 Clean Air Study, where they researched ways to clean the air in space stations, using plants (which absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and help remove pollutants).

2. Rubber plant

Ficus elastica is an evergreen with dark, glossy green leaves that can grow up to 40cm in length. It also has a high tolerance for drought.

3. English ivy

Hedera helix is climber with glossy, evergreen leaves. Ivy extracts also form part of current cough medicines.

4. Boston fern

Nephrolepis exaltata is an evergreen plant with lance-shaped fronds, which grow upright, before arching and drooping with age. This plant was also used in NASA’s 1989 Clean Air Study.

5. Mother-in-law's tongue

Sansevieria trifasciata is an erect, evergreen perennial, with mottled grey-green leaves edged with creamy-yellow. The NASA Clean Air Study said it removed several toxins involved in ‘sick building syndrome’ (where you develop symptoms whilst only in a particular building, for example, because it has poor indoor air quality).

Bonus plant

“I’d also add Aspidistra elatior,” says Yendle. “Native to Japan and Taiwan, this is also known as the cast iron plant for its ability to survive neglect, so it’s particularly good if you live in a flat that doesn't receive much sunlight.”


Learn more about our Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and read Yendle’s recent review paper, Designing Vegetation Barriers for Urban Air Pollution Abatement.

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