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Gardening in Singapore: House plants that clean the air

By: Katie Roberts

Plants can improve your home, both visually and atmospherically. Here are five attractive plants which remove toxins, improve air quality and, as a bonus, are well suited to Singapore’s humidity.

Living in closed work and home environments, reliant on air-conditioning and without sufficient natural ventilation, increases our exposure to chemical vapours and toxins. Carpeting, plastics, paint, synthetic building materials and cleaning products can emit harmful elements such as trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde.

Studies by NASA on air quality inside spacecraft have shown that plants can filter out these pollutants through the natural process of photosynthesis. Even better news is that some tropical plants are among the most efficient at removing harmful pollutants from the air.

The definitive book on plants and air quality is B. C. Wolverton’s How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office. It’s easily available online and in the local library. Also check out the large catalogue of plants suitable for growing in Singapore on www.florafaunaweb.nparks.gov.sg, which has useful pictures and growing advice.

Five plants to get you started

Areca palm 

1. Areca Palm
Fast-growing, palms thrive indoors in semi-sunny conditions. Keep the root ball damp and mist the leaves regularly. The areca is among the highest-rated plants for removing indoor toxins.
Also try: Lady palm, bamboo palm and dwarf date palm


2. Dracaena Corn Plant
These hardy plants like moderate watering and semi-shade. The Massangeana is popular for its variegated green-yellow foliage. Removes chemical vapours such as formaldehyde.
Also try: Dracaena “Janet Craig” and Dracaena “Warneckei”

Rubber plant 

3. Rubber Plant
Outdoors, the rubber plant can grow into a large tree, and even indoors can reach over two metres. The large, glossy leaves make a striking feature in large rooms. They do best in semi-shade, even in dim light, with moderate water. Renowned for removing formaldehyde.

Peace Lily 

4. Peace Lily
Lilies are a favourite for their shiny foliage and statement flowers. They enjoy moderate watering in a semi-shaded position. Excellent for removing all pollutants including benzene, alcohols and trichloroethylene.
Also try: Anthurium Lady Jane with its beautiful glossy red flowers

Boston Fern 

5. Boston Fern
Ferns are ubiquitous in Asia and there’s a variety to suit almost every home. The Boston fern is rated for its lush foliage and ability to remove toxins from the air. Ferns are needy and require regular fertiliser, semi-shade, moderate watering and regular misting.
Also try: Kimberley Queen fern

Snake plant 

Not a gardener?
The snake plant is the obvious choice for anyone who travels regularly or does not have a green thumb. It tolerates neglect, requires little watering and its tough leaves are virtually indestructible. Look around hotels and office lobbies and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s also useful for removing chemical vapours from the air.

Get into gardening with these activities this month:

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Home Gardening: The Fundamentals –15 February
A workshop for beginners and gardening enthusiasts to sharpen their basic skills. Learn about choosing the right plants, watering regimes, using fertilisers, pruning and general plant care techniques. It also includes a guided tour through the gardens to learn about different types of plants firsthand.
9am to 6pm. $100 (includes all materials). Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Register online at http://www.sbg.org.sg/education/workshopadu.asp.


Hydroponic Gardening
Join a guided tour of a commercial farm to learn about pesticide-free vegetable and herb farming. There are several workshops, such as a step-by-step guide to planting your own herb garden or instruction on how to grow wheatgrass using hydroponics. You can also visit a large butterfly enclosure. Tours and workshops start from $4.
Oh Chin Huat Hydroponic Farms, 14A Bah Soon Pah Road. Open Monday to Saturday, 8am to 5pm. Call 6753 8011. http://www.ohfarms.com.sg