Even though we are only staying in Pensacola for a short while, Jonathan went out and bought me a shopping cart full (literally) of ferns and palms to put on our balcony. Sitting out there with my phonograph horn iPod player, I feel like a proper Southern Belle!
I am a houseplant junkie. At the moment our tiny one room apartment is plant-less, because we’re expecting orders to leave any day now. (The balcony plants are large enough to come with us when we move, smaller house plants we’d just be buying to give away in a month or so. And our budget it like, no way, ain’t gonna happen!)
Anyway, because we’ll be settled into our semi-permanent (4 year-ish) home soon, I have been doing research on plants that work to purify the air of toxins, but are also safe for cats! Because cats like to eat things they aren’t supposed to. Amiright cat people?! So while I’m filling out my “Plants To Buy” list, I thought I may as well share it with you lovely people!
How Plants Purify The Air
The first list of air filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of the NASA Clean Air Study, which researched ways to clean air in space stations.
According to NASA’s website, Spinoff:
“In 1973, NASA scientists identified 107 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air inside the Skylab space station. Synthetic materials, like those used in construction, give off low levels of chemicals. This effect, known as off-gassing, spreads the VOCs, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, all known irritants and potential carcinogens. When these chemicals are trapped without circulation, the inhabitants may become ill, as the air they breathe is not given the natural scrubbing by Earth’s complex ecosystem.”
Research by former NASA scientist BC Wolverton suggests that plants are an efficient and cost-effective method of controlling indoor air pollution. These air quality studies tracked common indoor air pollutants such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde – chemicals that often leech from paint, carpeting, and treated lumber and are often found at unhealthy levels within the home and office.
After running many thorough and well-documented tests with various plants, NASA found a 45.1% average abatement of toxic indoor air pollutants within a 24 hour time period!
How does it work? The main theory is that biological processes are at work in the ecological exchange – both plants and soil bacteria have several ways of breaking down airborne chemicals and neutralizing them. Basically, the more air that is allowed to circulate through the roots of the plants, the more effective they are at cleaning polluted air.
NASA researchers suggest efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space.
The study paper from NASA put it plainly: “If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system. Plants.”
Five Plants That Purify The Air
1. Bamboo Palm
We may as well start with the plant my Maine Coon cat Wraith is trying to eat in the picture above! This is one of the top plants recommended for air filtration by NASA, and it is also one of the safest plants for cats. Almost all palm plants are completely safe for cats!
How It Purifies The Air: NASA used this plant to filter formaldehyde in the Skylab, because of it’s unique ability to filter roughly 1385 micrograms per hour. That’s 1/8 of the amount of formaldehyde found in the average American home! (Interesting side fact, that’s roughly the same amount of toxic formaldehyde in just one routine vaccine, with 1795 micrograms. Don’t put that junk in your babies bodies, people. C’mon. Common sense.) In addition to formaldehyde, palms also target benzene and carbon monoxide, which is especially helpful if someone in your household smokes cigarettes. Which they shouldn’t. Cigarettes are nasty.
2. Aloe Vera
There is a LOT of scary sounding warnings circulating around the internet about Aloe Vera being toxic to cats. This is true, but it’s not the all doom and gloom, skull and crossbones as everyone is making it out. First, the thick leaves of the Aloe plant aren’t as appealing to cats, so they are a lot less interested in it than they are with loose, leafy house plants. My cat that eats EVERYTHING growing doesn’t even register Aloe as something to gnaw on. It may as well be a spatula or something as far as he is concerned.
Secondly, the toxic compound in Aloe is saponins, which is a naturally occurring detergent found in various desert cacti and succulents. Saponins work by increasing and accelerating the body’s ability to absorb calcium and silicon, thus assisting in digestion. Saponins are hunky dory for humans, but when a CAT, with a far more delicate digestive system eats Aloe, however, their body can’t handle it.
Once a cats system notices there’s a toxin wreaking havoc from inside the belly, it goes into “detoxify” mode.. aka, it throws up green goop all over your carpet. That’s the long and short of it. Upset tummy, vomiting, maybe some diarrhea and temporary loss of appetite. That’s it. Long and short of it: It won’t kill your cat.
BUT! If your cat KEEPS nomming on the Aloe, get it out of your home! (The plant, not the cat.) Repetitive digestive stress on a feline can cause anorexia and a wealth of other problems. Most cats learn their lesson the first, sometimes the second time. If your cat is dumber than mine (wow.. no seriously, wow) then make your home an Aloe-free sanctuary.
How It Purifies The Air: Even with the making-your-cat-throw-up properties, Aloe is one of THE most useful indoor plants, and is well worth adding to your home. Aloe helps clear formaldehyde and benzene, which can be a byproduct of chemical based cleaners, paints and more. And beyond its air clearing abilities, the gel inside an aloe plant can help heal cuts and burns, too!
3. Spider Plant
This plant is harmless to cats, although excessive ingestion could trigger mild nausea as feline digestive systems have to work a bit harder to digest it. And this is a plant that is prone to excessive nomming. According to the North Dakota State University Extension Service, cats may be especially fascinated by spider plants, in the same way that they are attracted to catnip. Also, the plant may function as a subtle hallucinogenic to felines – how crazy awesome is that?! Not that I recommend intentionally doping your cat up, of course, especially when there’s a potential tummy ache involved. But if your feline insists, rest assured that this plant is harmless.
How It Purifies The Air: With lots of thin bladed foliage, the spider plant battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.
4. Snake Plant
This is another plant that sparks a bit of controversy on the web in regards to feline safety. Some maintain it is evil evil evil! And others are like, naw man, it’s cool. I’m in the latter group. Again, we’re back to those pesky saponins. When ingested by pets, it can result in gastrointestinal upset (aka, vomiting). Part of the reason why the saponing = barfing link doesn’t overly concern me in regards to cats health, is because cats primarily eat plants to induce vomiting and to aid in eliminating hairballs, or other foreign matter, from their digestive tracts. Once again, snake plants will make your cat vomit, yes. And that’s not always a bad thing. It could actually be good for them.. and it certainly won’t kill them.
How It Purifies The Air: Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, this plant is one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissues and personal care products. Put one in your bathroom — it’ll thrive with low light and steamy humid conditions while helping filter out air pollutants!
5. Boston Fern
I am a fern LOVER. I mean, seriously. Ask my husband. I love ferns, ferns, ferns, and more ferns! COLLECT ALL DA FERNS! So the good news is, ferns are not poisonous to cats. At all! Like, 100% edible. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Animal Poison Control Center lists the Boston fern as non-toxic to both cats and dogs. Which shows how safe it is, since they list plants that’s only crime is that it looked at a cat wrong. Of all the ferns, I’m especially partial to Boston ferns because they make great hanging plants, so they can be hung out of the feline’s reach to prevent grazing.
How It Purifies The Air: An exotic plant that has gracefully arching fronds and frilly leaves, the Boston fern also acts as a natural humidifier. By releasing moisture into the air, it removes nasty air pollutants such as toluene, formaldehyde and xylene, targeting most chemicals found in household cleaning products and paraffin candles.