Invite in nature

House plants add oxygen, foster humidity that can keep lungs healthy; students speak on value of succulents

February 4, 2020

Nick Naeger’s windowsill is adorned with different types of plants, adding a splash of green to contrast the white, bare walls in his office.

“I probably have 100 potted plants [at home],” Naeger, postdoctoral research associate at WSU’s Department of Entomology, said.

The plants in Naeger’s home range from flowering plants like orchids to fruit plants like strawberries, he said. His love for plants began in college when he realized he liked fresh basil on pasta. 

He said he decided to make his own pot by using Styrofoam coffee cups with holes poked in it.

The smell of fresh, healthy soil is one of the things Naeger likes about plants, he said. He enjoys the feeling he gets from taking care of plants. Naeger said he has three fig trees he is proud of.

“There’s nothing like a fresh fig,” he said.

Carol Kawula, senior instructor at WSU’s Department of Horticulture, said house plants add oxygen to the air. Having a cluster of plants in one’s home would also foster humidity which is a good thing.

“It is much healthier for your lungs to be breathing that air full of moisture,” Kawula said. “Here in the wintertime the air can get so dry that it’s really not good for you.”

Kawula’s office has about 25 types of plants ranging from a Chinese Evergreen to a cactus.

“I’m more of a foliage person than a big flowery person,” she said.

Kawula has always been in tune with the outdoor world, she said. She prefers to be outside.

“I remember when I was in college I used to just …  sit under trees for my own mental health,” Kawula said. “I’ve always been that way.”

Morgan Riley, president of the Horticulture Club at WSU, said being involved with the club is therapeutic for him. 

“It’s just people who enjoy being around plants,” Riley said. “You get your hands dirty [on] the soil table [by] putting plugs in or seeding.”

He said some courses at WSU teach the importance of houseplants and how they act as “dust vacuums.” Plants produce little amounts of carbon dioxide and oxygen, he said, which creates air currents. This causes dust to accumulate around the plants and on their leaves, which reduces the amount of dust at home.

Kawula said overwatering is one of the major reasons why people kill plants. 

“If you underwater a plant, you can usually save it,” she said. “If you overwater a plant, you really can’t save it. All the roots have rotted … and you can’t recover it.”

It is best not to water a plant if it still feels heavy and moist, she said. A lot of plants thrive better when it is dry.

“One of the things that I really like about [plants] is you can just buy them, but generally you have to grow them, or at minimum, you have to take care of them,” Naeger said. “It really is an active process of you creating something beautiful.”

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