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From the article:
Indoor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde can contribute to allergies, asthma, headaches, and so-called “sick building syndrome”.
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”. (Commentary: I find these numbers a little hard to believe)
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).
Lead author Kwang Jin Kim cited the benefits: “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.”
Abstract from the original paper (a little too sciency for most?):
The efficiency of volatile formaldehyde removal was assessed in 86 species of plants representing five general classes (ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs). Phytoremediation potential was assessed by exposing the plants to gaseous formaldehyde (2.0 μL·L―1) in airtight chambers (1.0 m3) constructed of inert materials and measuring the rate of removal. Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, Davallia mariesii, Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava, Lavandula spp., Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida, and Pelargonium spp. were the most effective species tested, removing more than 1.87 μg·m―3·cm―2 over 5 h. Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the classes of plants tested with O. japonica the most effective of the 86 species (i.e., 6.64 μg·m―3·cm―2 leaf area over 5 h). The most effective species in individual classes were: ferns—Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, and Davallia mariesii; woody foliage plants—Psidium guajava, Rhapis excels, and Zamia pumila; herbaceous foliage plants—Chlorophytum bichetii, Dieffenbachia 'Marianne', Tillandsia cyanea, and Anthurium andraeanum; Korean native plants—Nandina domestica; and herbs—Lavandula spp., Pelargonium spp., and Rosmarinus officinalis. The species were separated into three general groups based on their formaldehyde removal efficiency: excellent (greater than 1.2 μg·m―3 formaldehyde per cm2 of leaf area over 5 h), intermediate (1.2 or less to 0.6), and poor (less than 0.6). Species classified as excellent are considered viable phytoremediation candidates for homes and offices where volatile formaldehyde is a concern.
Kim KJ et al. Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency among Indoor Plant Species. HortScience 45: 1489-1495 (2010) Postharvest Biology and Technology