Southern Roots

The Beauty and Benefits of Houseplants

By P. Allen Smith | Photography courtesy of Jane Colclasure and Hortus, Ltd.

Not only do houseplants add beauty to a home, but they also have health benefits.

Houseplants are seeing a resurgence in popularity, but honestly, at my house they never went out of style. I have them in different rooms to add ambiance, help cleanse the air, and bring a little nature indoors, which is especially important to me in the winter months.
A well-placed plant can soften harsh lines in a room, and when arranged thoughtfully, can be an important design element. In addition, studies show that exposure to nature — including houseplants — can have health benefits, like reduced stress and lower blood pressure. Who would have thought a philodendron could be so powerful?
Take that a step further, and we find that many of these plants actually clean the air around us. Common items found throughout the home, like cleaners, building material, paint, and even dry cleaning, can emit toxins. I don’t know about you, but I feel my blood pressure going up just thinking about it. To combat this, I recommend placing one medium-sized houseplant for every 100 square feet in your home. An average-sized house will need about 15 to 20 plants.
To make the most of your indoor plants, there are a few key rules of thumb. Most houseplants do not do well in direct sunlight, and in fact, thrive in bright indirect or even low light situations. Also, avoid placing plants in areas where the temperature fluctuates drastically, like near a radiator or by a front door.
And probably most importantly, don’t over water your plants. I once heard a homeowner say that he waters his plants once a week whether they like it or not — maybe not the best attitude to have when it comes to plant care. Most plants require drying out between watering, which makes drainage in your pots important. Using good quality potting soil and making sure your containers have drainage holes will go a long way toward success. And if you’re not sure whether your plant needs water, stick a finger in the top inch or two of potting soil. If it’s very dry, then water well — it’s that easy.
Some of my favorite, easy-to-grow varieties include Mother-in-Law Tongue, Pothos, Dieffenbachia, Schefflera, and Ponytail Palm. But don’t limit yourself to the tried-and-true. I’m often tempted by an unusual plant with an exotic leaf pattern or unusual variegation. That’s part of the fun. So experiment with different plant shapes, textures, heights, and leaf color. Adding a new houseplant is an easy way to change the look of a room, and it’s good for you, too.

Make Sure Your Houseplants Are Pet Friendly
As a pet owner, it’s important to be aware of any animal hazards in your home, and that includes houseplants. For many pets this is not an issue, but if you have a chewer in your house, you’ll definitely want to make sure your plants are nontoxic to animals. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian. (List source:

Houseplants that are toxic to dogs and cats:
Aloe Vera (Liliaceae)
Chinese Jade (Crassula arborescens)
Geranium (Pelargonium species)
Hurricane Plant (Monstera deliciosa)
Indian Rubber Plant (Ficus benjamina)
Mother-in-Law Tongue or Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

Houseplants that are non-toxic to dogs and cats
African Violet (Saintpaulia spp.)
American Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus cv sprengeri)
Blue Echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis)
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Ivy Peperomia (Peperomia griseoargentea)
Nerve Plant (Fittonia verschaffeltii)
Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
Prayer Plant (Calathea insignis)
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.