Kamal Meattle from India suffered from serious lung complaints some 17 years ago, as a result of the polluted air in Delhi. His lung capacity had decreased to 70% and there was little hope for him. He went searching and discovered which and how many plants he needed to have in his home in order to continue to breathe in healthy air. He also managed to translate this knowledge into a method for creating healthy buildings.
How to Grow Fresh Air by B.C. Wolverton
The reason for this book was formed as NASA’s Dr Wolverton wanted research to be conducted to find out about the air quality during space travel. During this research, conducted in the nineteen eighties, he discovered that houseplants were the best air purifiers for well known toxins like ammonia, formaldehyde and benzene. He also concluded that there are hundreds of other toxins which can be released indoors from, for example, carpets, furniture and building materials and which can subsequently linger in closed ventilation systems and how dangerous this is. All these toxins together can lead to a whole range of breathing problems and allergic reactions, together sometimes also referred to as the Sick Building Syndrome.
Dr Wolverton compiled a list with 50 of the best, most useful, easiest to maintain plants after his research, plus information regarding exactly what you need to do with them and combined all this knowledge in the How to Grow Fresh Air book.
The top 50 air purifying and easiest to maintain plants
Awareness is an important part of this book. The book therefore includes an extensive discussion regarding exactly how plants tackle this air purification and what they need to achieve this. Detailed attention has also been devoted to the level of air pollution in buildings. The most practically applicable part of the book is the assessment of a total of 50 houseplants. Wolverton has done this based on the following points:
- the degree to which hazardous substances are filtered
- ease of maintenance
- sensitivity to diseases
- the degree of water evaporation.
The absolute number 1 on the list is the golden cane palm, also known as the areca palm or in Latin: Chrysalidocarpus lutescens. Wolverton consistently refers to this plant as one of the best houseplants for removing all air pollutants in a house. A good number 2 on the list is the Broadleaf Lady Palm, or rather the Rhapis Exelsa. This palm is just a tiny bit less purifying than the golden cane palm, but is more user friendly and more resistant to diseases.
Every plant has its own strength
Every plant has its own strength in the top 50 of air purifying plants. For example, the Kalanchoe may be the least air purifying plant, but it is definitely one of the nicest to look at. This is certainly also worth something to many people. Another extraordinary plant is number 27: the mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as the Sansevieria trifasciata. Most people are already aware of the fact this plant is almost impossible to kill, as it needs very little maintenance and is not susceptible to diseases at all. But what most people do not know is that the Sansevieria, in contrast to most other plants, produces oxygen and cleans the air at night. The Sansevieria is therefore the perfect plant for the bedroom.
Where can you find the book and other inspiration
The How to Grow Fresh Air book was first published in 1997, but was reprinted in 2008. It’s available for sale from
There is plenty more information up for grabs on the internet about plants, which substances they break down, how they need to be looked after and which plants may be poisonous if pets or children were to eat them.
This Wikipedia list is partly based on Wolverton’s research. There is also a great deal of underlying research which can be accessed via this list.
Can super plants really make you breathe better?