Interior plants are good for your health!

A ton of research proves it.  Interior plants help improve air quality, and office productivity.  Research published by NASA explains how plants clean toxic chemicals from the air such as: benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.  These chemicals are emitted by paint, computers, carpeting, cleaning fluids, etc.

A few of these plants, however, can exacerbate allergies or asthma.  If you are a sufferer and purchase plants for your office or home, this information can help.  There is a plant ranking scale, developed in 200 by Thomas Leo Ogren, called OPALS. Their rankings consider scent, pollen and contact-with-skin allergies. And, they rank plants on a scale of 1-10, 10 having the highest propensity to offend.

Don’t worry.  There are plenty of alternative plants to choose from!

Why do some plants aggravate allergies?

Pollen. It generally comes from flowering plants and floats in the air.  While it can irritate people who are allergic it is not a big problem with indoor plants.  

Dust. This is the most aggravating culprit.  Dust contains allergy causing molds, fibers and dust mites. Some plants are dust magnets.

Sap. The list below highlights 2 plants with sap that can irrigate allergies.

The Best For People with Allergies

Notice that all these plants have smooth, glossy leaves.  It makes it harder for dust to hide.  And easier to clean.


Great air purifiers! Pothos are hardy and fast growing.  Hung in containers they will trail beautifully. 


What’s not to like? Besides being beautiful, they are easier to care for than you might imagine.

Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum)

NASA says they are an excellent air purifier.  They remove all 5 of the most toxic chemicals. They generate a low amount of pollen.  They like bright indirect sunlight and regular water.  In fact, Spathiphyllum should never be put in direct sun light, as the rays of sun may lead to leaf burn.


Also referred to as mother-in-law’s tongue.  This sturdy plant can thrive with low lighting.  A row of Sansevierias affects a modern architectural look to an office or lobby.


They look tropical; have lustrous leaves and will thrive in low lighting environments!  Dracaenas quite literally pull allergens from the air and absorb them.

Take Extra Care With These Plants

Some Thoughts to Keep in Mind

We don’t intend to confuse with this information.  Plants have an important role in purifying our air. The best way we can articulate our advice is to say: some plants can affect some people who have allergies.  The attributes of the plants listed below can trigger an allergic reaction. 

Juniper (Bonsai)

Members of the juniper and cedar family can irritate people with tree allergies when inside a home or office.  Juniper can also cause rashes if the skin is pricked. Wear gloves when pruning. 

English Ivy

Note: NASA endorses this plant because they remove 4 of the most dangerous chemicals from the air.  However, some people have skin reactions to English ivy similar to those from poison oak.  Emphasis is on “some” people. And these two plants are not related.

African Violet

Though pretty, their fuzzy leaves trap dust. Leaves should be dusted regularly. It is also susceptible to root rot if submerged in water.

Weeping Fig (and other Ficus)

NASA research shows they do remove 2 dangerous chemicals from the air.  However, their sap contains a protein that is similar to latex.  It can cause a reaction in people allergic to latex.


Mums are sometimes planted in containers in buildings. They are also in bouquets. Because they are related to ragweed, mums can trigger a similar allergic reaction as daisies or sunflowers.


What’s new in landscape and gardening?

Every year there are numerous reports on the latest trends in plants, hardscape, irrigation and even color. From technology to outdoor living. Designers, Landscape Architects and Green Industry pundits weigh in on what’s hot. 

There are several sources for this article. The people at Gardeners’ Guild have chimed in on the latest wrinkle. I’ve combed through Garden Design Magazine, NALP (National Association for Landscape Professionals), ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and irrigation experts. 

According to some experts, Millennials are driving some of these trends.  See below.

More Local Sourcing

Using native plants is a trend that has been building over the years. Some landscape designers see the market’s interest in natives morphing to endemic plants – those which are native to a particular ecosystem.

One example – is a project we completed for U.C. Berkeley in 2016.  It was the restoration of Strawberry Creek.  The specifications required locally sourced plants and mulch. They had to be native plants grown in the Strawberry Canyon area, the location of the project.

Note: I encourage you to visit Strawberry Canyon. It is a marvel – a quiet oasis of nature sandwiched between a highly caffeinated college campus.

More building materials are being sourced locally. A reason for the increased popularity of local sourcing can be traced to climate change. Its geographic impacts and the ensuing regulation on say, the use of chemicals, water and the like are, in part, driving the preference of locally sourcing.

The reasons are practical. Reduced use of fossil fuel to transport them.

Strawberry Creek, U.C. Berkeley


Natural Products – With One Exception

There is a gradual shift away from the use of concrete toward natural and materials. Wood, brick, slate, gravel, pea stone and natural stone are popular. Increasingly, green materials are being used for retaining walls, fencing, decking, walkways and outdoor kitchens.
ASLA says “Nature will continue to play an important role in landscape architecture and we as practitioners will continue to be inspired and create designs that emulate and mimic(bio-mimicry) nature. An increasing trend will be to use the messiness and ephemerality of nature in a structured manner to create beautiful landscapes.”

The exception – there is a trend toward the use of artificial turf. Technology continues to innovate a product that looks and feels more like grass. Could they also invent the smell of fresh mowed grass?



Urban Gardening

One type of urban gardening trend that Gardeners’ Guild has noticed is the increased support for urban projects that provide affordable housing, gardens providing food for local residents and restoration projects in low-income urban areas.

ASLA says (American Society of Landscape Architects) “As densities increase in cities we will see larger scale projects that will attempt to service the needs of increasing populations (housing, transport, social, green space, job creation) at a local level.”

San Francisco has a number of projects designed to improve public space. Among them is the Green Benefits District. A quote from their mission statement: “to clean, maintain, enhance, and expand open spaces, parks, plazas, parklets, gardens, sidewalk greening and the Public Realm in general in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods”. There are a host of other projects aimed at revitalizing blighted areas such as the Tenderloin.  Gardeners’ Guild did some projects for the Green Benefits District.

Urban Tilth, Richmond is another example. It’s an ambitious non-profit dedicated to improving the health of its community. Their website says: “We farm, feed, forage, teach, train, build community, employ, and give back. We help our community grow our own food;” As part of 2015 Earth Day, GGI helped Urban Tilth plant a  vegetable garden at Verde Elementary School, Richmond.

Container gardening is exploding.  Urban dwellers with limited space see the low maintenance advantages of container plantings. A recent study by Harris Poll found that millennials are embracing edible gardening. Of the 6 million new people who took up gardening, 5 million of them were millennials. Their home gardening interests gravitate toward microgreens, medicinal herbs and herbs they can use in cooking.


Interior Plant Trends

Garden Design Magazine forecasts a renewed interest in interior plants for 2017. They say, “Just as bell bottoms are reappearing on runways, a 1970s-style fascination with houseplants is back. Millennials could have something to do with this.

Living walls for commercial buildings remains popular. They come in all sizes including a plethora modular units that can be installed like wall art. A heightened interest in plants for the office may have to do with the needs of younger workers for a healthier work environment. The extensive research about interior plants’ benefits such as air filtering as well as productivity enhancement is now widely available and posted. Plants both in the home and office is a trend that will continue to proliferate.


Brian O’Hara our Irrigation Manager, has noticed an uptick in the choices of add-on technology or upgrade kits that can convert a conventional controller into a “smart” controller*. This is a budget friendly option.

Smart controller technology continues to evolve. With more sophisticated cellular communication and the cloud all the onsite data can be shared with the operator. It has become a two-way wireless communications giving operators the ability to control an unlimited number of stations and flow sensors from a central remote location.

Moreover, they can be programmed and monitored by smart phone. Some include flow sensors that will text a contractor if they detect a leak in the system.

*About Smart controllers: They use weather and on-site local data sensing tools to optimize your water use.



Why is it that many of us say we feel better when we are around nature?  One reason is that plants actually make us feel better; less stressed, more productive and healthier.  If you look at some of the interior plant displays in commercial buildings in San Francisco or the East Bay you can’t help but feel good, looking at their color and beautiful foliage.

Based on the findings below – it seems clear that we can’t afford not to have plants in our homes and commercial buildings.  Science is clearly telling us that interior plants are good for our health!

  • A recent study by Dr. Lohr from Washington State University found that the subjects were 12% more productive and less stressed when they worked in an environment with indoor plants versus no plants.
  • Researchers at the Agricultural University of Oslo found that subjects that worked in a building with indoor plants reported:
    • 20% less fatigue
    • 30% less headaches
    • 30% less sore/dry throats
    • 40% less coughs
    • 25% less dry facial skin than subjects working in a building without indoor plants.
  • Plant-filled rooms were found to contain 50-60% fewer disease causing airborne mold and bacteria than rooms without plants according to Bio-Safe Incorporated.
  • An 8-month study completed by researchers at Texas A&M found that the subjects working in a building with indoor plants generated 15% more ideas (measure of innovation) than those subjects that worked in a building without plants.
  • This is a great statistic for retailers: subjects in a study directed by Engel et al rated the quality of retail products on display 30% more favorably and were willing to pay 12% more for goods in an environment with plants than an environment without plants.  When we shop in retail areas with “tree” versus “non-tree” environments we visit more frequently and stay longer.

Are you looking to muffle noise in the workplace?

Here’s a suggestion taken from Women magazine:
In the workplace, there are people talking, typing and shuffling around. Sound can be stressful and distracting for some people:

Plants can be used to absorb sound. Clustering any type of green plants will make more of an impact in the workplace than just a few scattered plants. Even though any type of plant will work, plants with a lot of leaves, such as Ficus Benjamina or Pathos will do as much as carpeting to reduce noise.