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If a sickly fern makes you feel more annoyed than sympathetic, you probably fall under the category of people who own houseplants only because they're de rigueur décor.
Homeowners who grudgingly water rather than lovingly cultivate might be more enthusiastic if their guilt-inducing leafy friends did more than collect dust, shed, shrivel up and die. Actually, they do. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and producing an occasional bloom, houseplants yield fairly significant benefits, from vanquishing mold to improving Chi flow.
To absorb health rewards from houseplants, experts recommend placing them in your breathing zone, within six to eight cubic feet of where you work or sleep. The air may be cleaner and your powers of concentration greater.
Try these five easily maintained plants for a little atmospheric enrichment :
A peace lily, Spathiphyllum, can reduce mold spore levels by up to 60 percent. Studies show that the plant absorbs mold through its leaves, then funnels it to the roots where spores serve as food. Peace lilies also absorb acetone and alcohol vapors — a real plus for confined spaces such as bathrooms. The plant's dark green leaves and white flowers will play dead when thirsty, but give it a little water and it will perk up promptly. It prefers a sunny, draft-free space
Maybe it's the little clump of sweet purple flowers that gives homeowners such a warm fuzzy feeling. Whatever it is, African violets, Saintpaulias, are said to stimulate the release of adrenaline and endorphins, which ease stress and improve attitude. African violets prefer indirect sun or fluorescent light. Deadhead the plant when the blooms shrivel and keep the soil evenly moist. Feed them a nitrogen-free food monthly from spring through fall (or don't) and they'll bloom almost constantly year-round.
How easygoing is aloe vera? It has the same common and scientific names. The cactus-like plant needs only moderate lighting and very little water (every two to three weeks). For your trouble, it will fill its thick leaves with a cool white goo that heals burns, cuts and bug bites. Aloe vera is the perfect kitchen plant, but it does grow quickly and may need to be downsized occasionally.
Jasmine, Jasminum, is a member of the olive family with an intoxicating fragrance and pink or white star-shape blossoms on its vines. Two of the easiest to grow are J. polyanthum and J. sambac. Give jasmine plenty of bright light and evenly moist soil. When well nurtured, they have a tendency to sprawl, reaching 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and produce year-round blooms.
The feathery fronds of the Areca palm, Dypsis lutescens, have a gracious flow that will activate positive energy and clean toxins from indoor air — two principles of feng shui. The plant is low-maintenance and fast-growing, is beautiful in outdoor landscapes and creates a tropical ambiance inside. It is said to produce more humidity than any other houseplant and thus requires heavy watering.
If you're away for an extended time, try the following strategies for keeping houseplants hydrated :
- Place plants in containers filled with pebbles and water. Set the plants on the pebbles, not in the water.
- Use watering wicks that can keep soil moist. Test them a couple of weeks before departure to be sure they work in your plants' soil varieties.
- Create a humid environment by placing freshly watered plants in the bathtub and covering them with a plastic sheet.