Our first and most essential biological need as humans is air. Without water we would survive three days, without food we would survive three weeks. But without air we would only survive for three minutes. We should definitely be working to make our air the highest quality we can, and that includes bringing plants into our homes, especially in the wintertime. In the cold we may not circulate our air as much as during the summer warmth when we can open our windows. Plants respire the carbon dioxide that we breathe out and release the oxygen that we breathe in. In that process they act as little air filters, absorbing any impurities and releasing beautiful, clean oxygen.
If you are looking to incorporate plants into your home this winter, here is a brief list of easy to find, easy to grow, and multi-functioning plants.
There are over 450 species of philodendrons, so there are lots to choose from when shopping for a particular variety. The name philodendron is a general name for a genus of plants that means “tree-loving.” This is because of the plant’s growing habit. They start growing at the bases of trees and then slowly grow up the trunk and out the branches until they start hanging lower and lower, eventually reaching the forest floor again. They are native to tropical regions and can be found hanging off of trees in the forest.
To grow a philodendron, you just need a cutting of the plant with at least two leaves. You can stick the cut end of the plant into some peat moss and it will start to take off. Since this is a jungle loving plant, it benefits from indirect sunlight, some misting, and regular watering. It is a climbing plant and one of my favorite ways to incorporate it into the house is by hanging it above the tea kettle or the kitchen sink. Here it will receive the steam from the hot water from the dishes, capturing that energy and reusing it. As the plant grows, you can pin it up along the ceiling, allowing it to crawl around your kitchen and release its oxygen across the room! You can hang it in the bathroom too, where it will benefit from the moisture from the shower.
Air plants are from the genus called Tillandsia and are mostly epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants, absorbing nutrients and water from the air around them rather than from a root system in soil. Examples of epiphytes include Spanish moss and even orchids! Air plants have become popular to own recently thanks to their relatively low maintenance nature. They can be hung in attractive clear vases and are another excellent plant to place above the kitchen sink or a tea kettle.
They, like the philodendron, are native to tropical forests and so are accustomed to humidity and shade. They grow on trees, away from direct sunlight, and so do very well inside. They can be hung in the kitchen as mentioned above, or in the bathroom where there is a shower. The plant will benefit from the steam that regularly fills the bathroom and your bathroom will benefit from a beautiful plant!
If you are looking for an aesthetic change from the whiteness of winter, the Christmas cactus is your solution. These plants, native to Brazil, are not the spikey cactuses you might be familiar with but are rather a desert-loving species that flowers during the holiday season.
Easy to propagate, you can grow a Christmas cactus off of a cutting of at least three lobes by sticking it in a pot of sprouting soil or peat moss. Be sure not to water this cactus too much by keeping a close eye on its lobes and only giving it water about once a week or less. These plants need a little bit more sunlight and a good pot to grow in once they get larger, but they do not need particularly rich soil. They are used to growing on the rocky, sandy hillsides of Brazilian drylands and so can do well enough in some basic soil. You will be delighted by this plant’s beautiful winter blooms which can range from white to light pink to rich magenta. Aside from its oxygen, the Christmas cactus is an important splash of color we all need to keep away the winter blues.
Aloe is perhaps my favorite indoor plant because it has so much to give. Aloe is a family of succulent plants that grow is mostly dry climates underneath other cactuses and trees. They have a similar appearance to air plants but they have very different needs. An aloe plant should be given indirect light and be watered very sparingly. Watch for browning leaves; it could be a sign that you are watering your aloe too much!
If you plant your aloe in a wide, shallow pot, it will start to produce many new plants called “pups.” This is how aloe plants propagate themselves. As the plant is limited to the space of the pot, things can get very crowded very quickly if you do not harvest the pup and replant it to make another, larger aloe plant. Pull the dirt away from the pup until you can see the white root stalk of the plant and then pull directly upward to separate the pup from the mother plant. Immediately replant the pup in another pot.
It is fortunate that aloe can propagate itself so well because it allows humans to harvest the leaves for many uses without having to sacrifice the plant. Once your aloe has produced a pup or two and they are well on their way to growing into big plants, you should feel free to harvest the leaves of your large aloe plant for the inner jelly. To do this, cut off a leaf as close to the base of the plant as possible. Peel the leaf on one side and then use a dull spoon to scrape the clear jelly out of the leaf. You can blend this with a dash of citric acid (the same kind that is used for canning) to help preserve it or just put it right onto your skin for a hydrating therapy.
Perhaps the easiest to propagate and grow, spider plants are known for their ability to spread. You should plant your spider plant in a medium pot that can be hung. The plant sends out a long stem on which the flowers grow. These flowers then turn into more little spider plants that hang down on the end of the stem. The babies will even start to grow roots just hanging there on the plant. You can propagate the spider plants by clipping the baby off of the stem and inserting the bottom end into a new pot of soil. It’s that easy!
Spider plants require just a little bit of watering and good potting soil. If they are given these basic needs they will last and propagate for a long time. You can fill your living room with layers of beautiful hanging spider plants. In terms of value, the spider plant is by far the biggest bang for your buck. Distribute the plants all around your house to optimize their air cleaning effects.
The best thing about indoor plants is that you can give, receive, and trade them. You can find all of these plants easily at your local flower shop or garden center, but why not also ask your neighbors and friends if they have a small cutting of a spider plant that you can have? These plants want to grow, and that’s great for us because the more plants we have, the better air we have as well.