“Biophilia: Love of living things and nature that human beings innately possess”–hypothesis of Edwin O. Wilson
This summer, I have relished time spent caring for both my indoor and outdoor plants. While I don’t have many compared to other gardeners and indoor horticulturists, I find that I don’t need a larger number to reap the benefits of caring for plants. In fact, I continue to be surprised by the numerous ways in which nurturing plants increases my sense of well-being, and my recent research dive supports this, and so much more, too.
First, the back story. I have always been drawn to plants and nature. As a young girl, I drove my mother nuts stealing popcorn kernels from the kitchen, filling paper cups with yard soil, and planting those kernels in those soil-filled cups. I’d set them in my bedroom window sill, water them when they were dry, and watch them grow. The part that really got to my mom was when I fancied myself a scientist, and I began conducting my own “experiments” by placing those corn filled paper cups in different windows, and even in a bathroom without a window, to see which plant grew best, making notations in a self-made booklet.
Additionally, my dad was wonderful for taking my sibs and me for walks in the woods behind our house. While walking, he would point out the different trees, identify the various nuts, and pause for us to take in the marvels of mushrooms, tiny flowers, ferns, or other low-lying plants of interest that as kids, we might not have otherwise noticed. In addition to all of the wondrous sights, there was an abundance of scents, sounds, and even fanciful touches to fill our young minds with wonder–only I am not so sure that we always felt that way when coming in contact with brier bush! Nonetheless, both of these childhood experiences never left my heart.
Fortunately, I married someone who loves the outdoor space as much as I do, and thus our travels typically include some form of nature exploration. However, my relationship with growing my own plants did not get rekindled until the past several years. Oh, to be certain, I tried caring for and raising plants in fits and starts, but my attempts most often ended in the Death Comes to the Plant written in tandem with complete lack of proper care and yours truly.
“Your intuitive powers increase when you are with plants because your mind is silenced and you become more aware of the present moment.”–Sanchita Pandey
I should firmly state, before I go any further, that I have MUCH more to learn when it comes to plant care, and I still have my fair share of murderous flops. However, that is the wonderful thing about caring for the few plants I have successfully not assassinated, I am growing right along with them. One thing I do know for sure is that when I am fully focused on plant care, my mind is firmly glued in the present moment, and all other worries and stresses of my life fade, momentarily, from my awareness.
Nurturing plants can reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, researchers in the UK concluded that working plants, whether indoors or out-of-doors, depending upon the patients’ setting, increased feelings of well-being among those with anxiety, depression, and even dementia. In fact, in one town in England, Manchester, there are general practitioners so-called prescribing potted plant care for patients who are experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Programs such as those known as “horticultural therapy” and “Docs prescribing plants” were only just the tip of the iceberg in my research
Along the same stem, plants have also been shown to expedite patient recovery from long-term illness in the hospital as seen in studies dating back to at least 2002. Patients with scenic views of nature or those who have plants and/or flowers within their surroundings, needed less pain medication and/or spent less time in the hospital than those patients who did not have these botanically natural sights.
Additionally, NASA scientists, way back in the 1980s, determined that low-light houseplants demonstrated the ability to improve indoor air quality by reducing the amount of indoor pollutants and toxic substances. NASA even offers a complete list of approved plants. Studies on this topic have since been conducted at both Virginia Tech and Washington State University have further established that house plants are efficient air cleaners and that even having as little as 2% of the room filled with plants will create an impact on air quality.
Not only do houseplants clean the air, they moisturize it as well. This is important during the winter season and in arid environments that tend to have little moisture in the air. The vapor plants regularly release can be beneficial for those who regularly suffer from dry nasal passages especially. Furthermore, believe it or not, there are some plants that release oxygen into the air throughout the day. One of them is a common house plant known as the Snake Plant and the other is the Gerbera Daisy, which is not commonly grown indoors, but with proper care can survive two to three years.
Other noted and researched benefits of plants include, but are not limited to
- Increased focus and productivity, in the work and school environment
- Increased and sharpened attention span
- Improved positive outlook at work–even Amazon got into the research
- Improved cognition
- Serve as a reminder that our actions have power
- Demonstrate in real time the importance of completing little things
Growing plants can be such a meditative and calming act. Their care unites us, if only for a few moments, to the present moment. Nurturing house plants, or any other gardening endeavor, serves as a reminder of the miracle of life and our natural link to nature. With each drop of a dead leaf, plants remind us of the importance of dropping that which no longer serves us. When plants wilt and droop from lack of care, then perk back up from the simple act of watering, it is a reminder that we too can recover from wilting periods of time. Tending to plants further reminds us it’s ok to go through seasons of dormancy, and plants further remind us that when something isn’t working, it’s also ok to troubleshoot or ask/search for help.
In the end, at least for me, caring for plants fosters the joy of biophilia, my own inner craving for growth alongside nature, and my deeper, more expressive connection to our shared Creator, the ultimate horticulturist.