The Trinity of Fresh Air Plants for Design

There’s a recipe for curing sick building syndrome and for aiding recovery from air pollution exposure. The recipe analogy is fitting. In Louisiana, chefs call the sautéed combination of carrots, celery and onion “the trinity” at the heart of every dish. At least one researcher has found there is a similar trinity at the heart of creating healthy fresh air indoors.

Several years ago, Indian researcher Kamal Meattle gave a TED Talk outlining how a combination of three plants can create fresh air indoors where the outdoor air is polluted to the point it compromises the lung capacity of inhabitants. The three plants in Meattle’s trinity are areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens), the mother-in-law tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), and the money plant (Epipremnum aureum).

The recipe might sound easy, based on the ingredients list, but the portions are daunting. Generating enough fresh air for each person in the office is not as simple as lining up three houseplants on a desk. According to Meattle’s research 4 shoulder-high areca palms, 6 to 8 waist-height snake plants, and three money plants are required for each person. In other words, an area about the size of a typical office cubicle is needed to house the plants to generate fresh air for that worker. It presents more than a challenge for office designers, charged with the need to maximize productive space, while protecting worker health and wellness.

Luckily, recent trends in office design show that the use of plants to create fresh air while maximizing use of space have been branching out. Advances in interior irrigation systems and vertical gardening techniques have seen living walls installed in place of wall coverings. Dividers between cubicles are now planters or garden shelves that sustain oxygen-giving plants that also remove some chemical pollutants from the office air.

We cannot deny the research supporting the fact that using plants in office design has its functions. Improving air quality and removing pollutants alone are essential functions and plants are a wonderful opportunity to improve the indoor quality and visual appeal of any office environment.