Houseplants have more to offer than mere aesthetic appeal - in a world where we spend more and more time indoors, they provide us with a much needed reminder of the kind of environment we evolved in. Research into the beneficial attributes of plants was first conducted by NASA in the 1970s. NASA scientists discovered that houseplants were able to purify polluted air and water. Since then many countries and authorities have developed their own research programmes.
In Germany a research programme, funded by the Bavarian state, was started in January 1998 by Dr Peter Reimherr of the Bavarian State Institute of Horticulture and Viticulture. The programme is scheduled to run until 31st December 1999 and is attempting to find the effect plants have on people who spend a lot of time indoors. The research focuses on general wellbeing, health and also efficiency of the workforce.
Questionnaires have been distributed to 140 people in 105 offices. Participants are asked to complete them at regular intervals. This includes a before and after comparison to find out how office workers perceive the difference achieved by plants, focusing on perceptions of space, wellbeing and health. Effects on humidity, temperature and light are also measured. All staff involved have reacted very positively to the changes and are very interested in the project.
Researchers are now also looking into the reasons why plants have all these positive effects on people. One theory is that during the last 2 million years people have evolved in open spaces, settling around clusters of vegetation. Therefore on a subconscious level plants may still signify water, food and protection and therefore, increased chances of survival.
Such diverse groups as architects, psychologists, gardeners and doctors alike eagerly await the results of Dr Reimherr's research.