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Houseplants for a Healthy Home

by Mary Jasch

Clean Air is Yours!

When a good book about tropicals comes along and warms my heart, its story must be told. such is the case with Houseplants for a Healthy Home by Jon VanZile (Simon & Schuster 2018). Tropicals, of course, in DIG IT! territory means "houseplants" and the more the healthier, says VanZile.

For decades we have known that plants filter and clean the air we breathe, soak up carbon dioxide and, in turn, give back oxygen and that in a world without forests, woodlands, meadows, gardens and plant habitats, humans probably wouldn't survive. In fact, one Rutgers professor proclaimed (shockingly to his class of ecology students) that exotic invasive trees that grow in parking lots such as Tree-of-Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, aka Tree-of-Hell to ecology students, and Princess tree, Paulonia tomentosa, might save us from nuclear winter, should there be one.

To a lesser degree, the same could be said of our home environments and VanZile shows us how to make this come true with 50 specific tropical plants that clean our indoor air, remove specific toxins, excel at night or daytime oxygen production, have healthful and healing effects on our bodies (homeopathic) and also tells us the research behind it all. Each plant profile also provides plant care.

For instance, spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, filters out formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and toluene and according to Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, it is the most "efficient benzene removal plant" of all plants tested. Amazingly, it also removes and traps dust, mold and smoke right out of the air, according to research by Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health scientists. They do this by trapping the particles in their leaf wax! Just be sure to occasionally give them a shower or misting so they can do their work!

Another stunner is Chocolate Oncidium orchid, Oncidium 'Sharry Baby.' Though thousands of oncidiums remove formaldehyde, says VanZile, this one perfumes as it cleans. It also increases oxygen during the day. And dendrobium, with tons of bio-active compounds, have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. "My first love is tropical plants and I do health writing," VanZile says, so it was a natural to write Houseplants for a Healthy Home.

VanZile, a syndicated writer of horticulture and former writer for, began his career quite young and on scholarship to study journailsm at Michigan State University. He did political reporting in Southern Louisiana - "super fun" - and travel and business articles.

"Writing about plants started as a hobby. I was actively gardening since I was little with a vegetable garden in the backyard. When pitching articles it was out of the fact that I love plants." As a freelancer and tomato gardener, VanZile fell deep into learning and experimenting with tomatoes and started a tomato blog. "It was super interesting experimenting with different fertilizers, media and growing heirlooms." The blog did so well that the South Florida Sun-Sentinel linked to it and VanZile even received dozens of letters.

But South Florida's version of white-tail deer put an end to fame and growing tomatoes. Iguanas – four- to five-foot ex-pets released from captivity devour everything. "It's a massive problem here. They live in the canals and they love tomatoes. There's no way to keep them out." These days, VanZile only grows orchids and ferns and their allies in a shade house.

But when it comes to air quality, VanZile says: "The key is to grow a lot of plants. Research consistently found you need a lot of plants to change the air quality.

"Grow a variety. Your house has different micro-climates. Find out what grows best in each place. Gardening indoors is hard because it's a fake environment. Definitely put the right plant in the right place. It's hard to be bad at plants if you pay attention to them."

Houseplants for a Healthy Home is a great little reference book. It is a fast and fun read crammed with important information. Buy it! You’ll love it!

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published July 31, 2018

Photos to enlarge

Houseplants for a Healthy Home by Jon VanZile, Photo courtesy of Adams Media, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster

Elephant Ear Philodendron, Philodendron domesticum, removes hydrocarbons and airborn toxins; Photo courtesy of Adams Media, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster

Kimberly Queen Fern, Nephrolepis obliterata, removes airborne toxins and increases daytime oxygen. Photo courtesy of Adams Media, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster

Colocasia gigantea in the foreground and Anthurium faustinomirandae in the background. Anthurium removes airborne toxins and increases daytime oxygen. Jon VanZile photo

Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, removes airborne toxins and traps particulate matter from the air. Jon VanZile photo

Money Tree, Pachira aquatica, heals the body and removes airborne toxins. Jon VanZile photo

Jon VanZile,author. Photo courtesy of Jon VanZile

Elephant Ear Excerpt from book; photo courtesy Adams Media, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster

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