How do plants make your home happier?

How do plants make your home happier?

In both Europe and the United States, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors. But spending too much time indoors can have consequences for your mental health.

The World Health Organization estimates that 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression. Stress, depression and anxiety also accounted for 55% of all working days lost in the UK during 2021-2022. Small improvements in our mental health can bring big personal and financial rewards.

For those of us stuck inside all day, houseplants are an easy way to connect with nature. This is especially true for young people, many of whom may not have access to a park.


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Indoor plants have many mental and physical health benefits. Research has linked houseplants to reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and improved mental well-being. Office environments containing plants were associated with increased job satisfaction and decreased health complaints.

Houseplants make us feel good because of our innate desire to connect with nature, and because we find the green colors of most houseplants soothing. Adding just one plant can brighten up a dull space and lift your mood. But which one should you choose?

Lush greenery

Last year, I, along with colleagues from the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society, investigated the psychological responses of 520 people to the emergence of different houseplants through an online video questionnaire. Participants viewed 12 photographs of plants of different shapes and answered questions based on their opinion of the plant’s appearance.

Houseplants rated by study participants.

Houseplants rated by study participants.

Jenny Berger, CC BY-NC-ND

Participants identified their favorite and least favorite plant. They then used scales consisting of six pairs of contrasting traits to score different aspects of each plant’s appearance. They also evaluated how beneficial each plant was in terms of well-being and air quality.

Pothos (pictured), weeping figs and palms provided the greatest sense of well-being to participants.

Pothos (pictured), weeping figs and palms provided the greatest sense of well-being to participants.
© Ratia Lamrod/Shutterstock

The eight plant species included in our study are weeping fig, mother-in-law’s tongue, aloe vera, prayer plant, bird’s nest fern, golden pothos (or devil’s ivy), dragon tree, and palm – both healthy and neglected plants. Both of these plants are found in homes and offices across the UK

Overall, participants felt that all green and healthy plants would benefit their well-being. But three plants in particular – pothos, weeping fig, and palm – are thought to provide the greatest sense of well-being. These benefits improved as the attractiveness of the plant increased. In contrast, unhealthy plants were viewed negatively.

Our findings suggest that plants with lush green foliage, high leaf area, and dense canopies are likely to give the biggest boost to your well-being. People also believe that these plants will provide greater air quality benefits.

So, to keep your plants looking attractive, consider purchasing plants that are easy to maintain, such as mother-in-law’s tongue, Zamioculcas zamifolia (commonly known as the ZZ plant), pothos, or spider plant. All of these can tolerate a range of conditions and require little watering.

leaf shape

Psychological studies have shown that curved objects evoke positive emotions in people. Our research shows that these findings also apply to houseplants.

The dragon tree was least preferred by participants.

The dragon tree was least preferred by participants.
© Elena Medox / Shutterstock

Plants with rounded leaves, such as weeping figs and pothos, or palms with a gently arching umbrella shape, were found by our study participants to be more beautiful and relaxing. Some plants, including palms, also evoked happy memories. This is because they are often associated with vacations or tropical destinations.

Plants with thorns, narrow, pointed leaves and sparse canopies, such as cactus and dragon tree, were less favoured. This may be because sharp edges are associated with danger.

However, sharp features can sometimes be useful. One study showed that homes surrounded by plants with sharp leaves were more expensive and rated as safer than homes surrounded by plants with round leaves.

What do you want from your plants?

Ultimately, the right houseplant for you depends on what you need and the conditions of your room.

Humans generally prefer to look at shapes that the brain can quickly recognize and process easily. When looking for a calming effect, choose plants that are interesting enough to catch your eye — such as pothos with their dangling vines — but choose plants with eye-catching patterns and bold colors in smaller numbers.

Plants with a dramatic appearance would be more suitable as “accent plants” to create a focal point. Grouping different plant shapes and colors together in arrangements can add interest, while choosing decorative pots or planters can enhance the effect further.

When deciding how many plants are needed for maximum benefit, more is not necessarily better – one carefully selected houseplant may be all we need to lift our mood. A study from Japan found that the presence of leafy plants can boost creativity in workplace tasks. However, if you are doing a task that requires focused attention, having too many plants can distract you.

Houseplants can benefit our mental health. But when choosing between plants, their appearance is important. To get the biggest boost to your well-being, the main aspects to consider are physical appearance, sensuality, beauty, and how healthy the plant looks. Keeping your plants green and healthy will help lift your spirits, so choose plants that are appropriate for your space and that you can easily maintain.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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