Houseplants offer a great way to connect with nature while indoors, which can benefit our mental health. My Mind News investigates further.
Bringing the outdoors indoors
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression. Furthermore, stress, depression, and anxiety also accounted for 55% of all working days lost in the UK during 2021-22.
That said, minor improvements in our mental health can bring significant personal and financial rewards.
Houseplants are an easy way of connecting with nature for those stuck inside all day (as many more people are since the ‘working from home’ phenomenon took off during the pandemic).
This is true for age groups across the demographic, particularly those who may lack access to a garden or outdoor space.
Indoor plants have several mental and physical health benefits. Research has linked houseplants to reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and an improved state of mind.
Adding a single plant can brighten up a dull space and boost your mood. But which is the best plant to choose for your indoor space, and why?
What type of plant is best?
Last year, researchers at the University of Reading, working with the Royal Horticultural Society, investigated the psychological responses of 520 people to the appearance of different houseplants through an online photo questionnaire.
Participants viewed 12 photographs of plants in various shapes and answered questions based on their opinion of the plant’s appearance. The participants identified their favorite and least-favorite plants.
They then used scales comprising six contrasting adjectives to score different aspects of each plant’s appearance. They also rated how beneficial they perceived each plant to be for wellbeing and air quality.
The eight plant species included in the study (all commonly found in UK homes) were-
- Weeping fig;
- Mother-in-law’s tongue;
- Prayer plant;
- Bird’s nest fern;
- Golden Pothos (‘devil’s ivy’);
- Dragon tree; and
What do the study results tell us?
Overall, participants perceived that all green and healthy plants would benefit their wellbeing. But three plants in particular – pothos, weeping fig, and palm, were believed to deliver the greatest sense of wellbeing.
These benefits improved as plant attractiveness increased. In contrast, unhealthy plants were perceived negatively.
The findings also suggest that plants with lush green leaves, high leaf area, and dense canopies are likely to give the most significant boost to your wellbeing.
People also believe these plants will provide more significant benefits to air quality. So, to keep plants looking attractive, one might consider purchasing those that are easy to maintain, such as mother-in-law’s tongue, zamioculcas zamiifolia (commonly called the ZZ plant), pothos, or a spider plant.
These can all tolerate a range of conditions and require little watering.
Leaf shape is also essential.
Psychological studies have shown that curved objects elicit positive emotions in humans. Our research demonstrates that these outcomes also apply to houseplants.
Plants with rounded leaves, such as weeping figs and pothos, or palm with their gentle arching canopy shape, were seen by participants of our study to be more beautiful and relaxing.
Some plants, including palms, also evoked happy memories. This is because they are often associated with holidays or tropical destinations.
Plants with spikes, narrow pointed leaves, and sparse canopies, such as cacti and dragon trees, were less preferred. This is possibly due to the association of sharp edges with danger.
However, sharp features can sometimes be advantageous. One study shows that houses surrounded by sharp-leafed plants were more expensive and considered safer than houses surrounded by round-leafed plants.
What do you want from your plants?
Ultimately, the right houseplant for you depends on your needs and your room’s conditions. Humans generally prefer looking at shapes that the brain can recognize quickly and process easily.
When seeking a calming effect, choose plants that are sufficiently interesting to attract your attention – such as the pothos with its trailing vines – but select plants with striking patterns and bold colors in smaller numbers.
Plants with a dramatic appearance would be more appropriate as ‘feature’ plants to generate a focal point.
Grouping different plant shapes and colors in arrangements can further generate interest, while choosing decorative pots or planters can enhance the effect even more.
More is not necessarily better when deciding on the number of plants required for maximum benefit. A single, carefully chosen houseplant may be all we need to lift our mood.
Research from Japan found that leafy plants can enhance creativity in workplace tasks. But, if you are undertaking a job requiring focused attention, too many plants may be distracting.
Houseplants can benefit our mental health. But when choosing between plants, their appearance matters.
Key aspects to consider for the most significant boost to your wellbeing are physical appearance, interestingness, beauty, and how healthy the plant looks.
Keeping your plants green and healthy will help lift your spirits, so choose plants suited to your space that you can maintain easily.
Do you use houseplants to lift your mood? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.