En EspaΡol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - December 15, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany, Non-Natives
Title: Texas native plants that absorb air-borne pollutants
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

hello mr. and mrs. smarty, I'm looking for native Texas plants that absorb pollutants and trap air-borne particulates. I found a list (below), but don't think they're native. Could you give me advice? Thanks! • Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) • Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) • Ficus alii (Ficus macleilandii) • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) • Golden pothos (Epipremnun aureum) • Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum) • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii) • Dwarf Date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) • Rubber plant (Ficus robusta) • English ivy* (Hedera helix)

ANSWER:

You no doubt read about the study done by B. C. Wolverton for NASA to determine the ability of plants to remove harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air inside the Skylab space station. He tested various tropical plants commonly used as houseplants and office plants to determine whether or not they absorbed certain airborne pollutants, the VOCs.  You can see a list of some of those indoor plants which includes some of the ones you asked about. Interestingly, the interiorscape industry made great hay from this study, lauding the cleaner air benefits of having living plants indoors.

None of the plants that you named (nor any of the plants on Wolverton's list) is native to North America:

Rhapis excelsa (Lady palm) is a native of the Far East (China and Japan) and not native to North America.

The currently accepted scientific name for Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (Areca palm or yellow butterfly palm) is Dypsis lutescens and it is not native to North America.

Syngonium podophyllum (American evergreen or arrowhead vine) is not native to North America.

Phoenix roebelenii (Pygmy or dwart date palm) is not native to North America.

Ficus elastica (Indian rubberplant) is not native to North America.

Hedera helix (English ivy) is not native to North America and, moreover, is considered an invasive species and listed on the Federal and State Noxious Weeds list.

A more recent study (Orwell, R. L et al.  2004.  Removal of benzene by the indoor plant/susbstrate microcosm and implications for air quality.  Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 157: 193-207) confirmed that several species of indoor plants were successful in removing even high concentrations of benzene from the air but showed that soil micro-organisms were chiefly responsible for the removal.  Their findings were that:  "Micro-organisms of the potting mix rhizosphere were shown to be the main agents of removal. ...With some species the plant also made a measurable contribution to removal rates."   The study was made in Australia and the plants (Spathiphyllum 'Petite', Howea forsteriana, Dracaena marginata, Epipremnum aureum, Spathiphyllum 'Sensation', Schefflera 'Amate', and Dracaena 'Janet Craig') are not native to North America. 

There have been many studies done on phytoremediation in soils (also, please see the answer to a previous question about phytoremediation) using both non-native and plants native to North America, but information about removing volatile VOCs via native North American plants has been difficult to find.  

Searching academic bibliographic databases, I did find one study using a North American grass:

Cho, Changhwan, et al.  2008.  Effects of grasses on the fate of VOCs in contaminated soil and air.   Water, Soil and Air 187:243-250.  Investigated the ability of native Tripsacum dactyloides (eastern gamagrass) and non-native  Lolium rigidum, (annual ryegrass) to remove the chlorinated VOCs—TCA, TCE and PCE—from air and soil.  Their findings were:

"It is suggested from the results that grasses can be used for purification of VOCs from contaminated air especially in a closed system, but the purification effects are likely to be low."

Most, if not all, plants are capable of removing volatile chemical pollutants from the air; but, as far as we know, no one has produced a list of native plants and their relative capabilities for doing so.  Perhaps the better question is: What types of soil-borne micro-organisms are the most efficient scrubbers of air-borne pollutants?

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Non-Natives Questions

Replacement for Globe Thistle in Virginia
June 15, 2013 - Hi, We are trying to get our garden to be 100% North American Native and are at about 90% native to our region. One of the last plants we have to replace is our Globe Thistle. Do you have a good r...
view the full question and answer

Non-native Jacaranda interfering with concrete wall from Los Angeles
August 17, 2011 - We have been replanting the area surrounding our 2 story apt bldg and on one area, there is Jacaranda that started growing in an enclosed cement block wall area. The cemented walled in area which is ...
view the full question and answer

Possibility of transporting native seeds to Europe
February 03, 2011 - Hi, Is it possible to bring seeds for North American plants and wildflowers from the USA to Europe? I live in Italy and have many Italian friends who want me to bring seeds from America the next time ...
view the full question and answer

Research on Native vs. Non-Native Plants
October 22, 2009 - I am doing a research project on comparing and analyzing the effects of non-native plants vs. native plants on the environment and surrounding ecosystems. The end result of my project will be to desi...
view the full question and answer

Consumption of carbon dioxide from South Korea
December 07, 2011 - I am curious about what flowers consume CO2 for growing (especially 1-year life flower). Thanks.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center