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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Got Toxins? Get Ferns
Worried about or sickened by your indoor air quality? Fill your home or office with plants ... ferns!
Indoor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde can contribute to allergies, asthma, headaches, and so-called “sick building syndrome.”
Formaldehyde is a major contaminant of indoor air ... one that “out-gasses” from particle board, carpet, window coverings, paper products, tobacco smoke, and other sources.
The World Health Organization estimates that toxic indoor VOCs represent a serious health problem that's responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths annually … and a shocking 2.7 percent of the “global burden of disease”.
Scientists had previously discovered the benefits of using plants to absorb and metabolize gaseous formaldehyde … a tactic known as “phyto-remediation” (Godish T et al. 1989; Giese M et al. 1994; Xu Z et al. 2010 and 2011).
Now, a team of scientists from South Korea and the University of Georgia have ranked 86 plants in order of effectiveness at removing volatile formaldehyde from indoor air (Kim KJ et al. 2010).
The 86 candidates came from five families: ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs.
The phyto-remediation potential of each plant was measured by exposing the plants to gaseous formaldehyde in airtight chambers made of inert materials, and then measuring the rate of removal.
Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the five classes of plants tested, with Japanese royal fern (Osmunda japonica) found most effective … a whopping 50 times better than the least efficient species (D. deremensis).
The other top performers were Sweet Lavender (Lavandula), Geranium (Pelargonium), Spikemoss (Selaginella tamariscina), Hare's-foot fern (Davallia mariesii), Guava (Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava), and Spider fern (Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida).
Lead author Kwang Jin Kim cited the benefits in an understated way: “It is evident from our results that certain species have the potential to improve interior environments and, in so doing, the health and well-being of the inhabitants.”
No kidding, Dr. Kim … it seems we should all place some ferns, lavender, and geranium around our homes and offices!
  • American Society for Horticultural Science (AHS). Study of phytoremediation benefits of 86 indoor plants published. June 23, 2011. Accessed at
  • Giese M, Bauer-Doranth U, Langebartels C, Sandermann H Jr. Detoxification of Formaldehyde by the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum L.) and by Soybean (Glycine max L.) Cell-Suspension Cultures. Plant Physiol. 1994 Apr;104(4):1301-1309.
  • Godish T, Guindon C. An assessment of botanical air purification as a formaldehyde mitigation measure under dynamic laboratory chamber conditions. Environ Pollut. 1989;62(1):13-20.
  • Kim KJ et al. Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency among Indoor Plant Species. HortScience 45: 1489-1495 (2010) Postharvest Biology and Technology
  • Xu Z, Qin N, Wang J, Tong H. Formaldehyde biofiltration as affected by spider plant. Bioresour Technol. 2010 Sep;101(18):6930-4.
  • Xu Z, Wang L, Hou H. Formaldehyde removal by potted plant-soil systems. J Hazard Mater. 2011 Aug 15;192(1):314-8. Epub 2011 May 17.