9. Weeping Fig
The weeping fig (ficus benjamina) or Benjamin fig, is one of the world’s most popular houseplants and can remove formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene from the air. This attractive plant is shaped like a tree with a slim trunk and spreading canopy. For this reason, it’s popular as a Bonsai as well as an outdoor plant or houseplant. They can, however, be a bit difficult so you do need to apply some basic care to keep them healthy.
It is originally from tropical Asia, so it prefers warm (i.e. indoor) temperatures and some humidity. It doesn’t like cold drafts but appreciates a little direct sunshine in the morning, but not the whole day as the leaves might burn and fall off. Indirect, filtered light is best. Water the plant enough to keep the soil moist but you can let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. Humidity is more important so do mist them regularly and keep them in a dish filled with pebbles and water.
If you live in a fairly warm climate, leaving the pot outside in the warmer months will encourage growth. In fact, most indoor plants enjoy an outing outside when the weather is good. Feed it regularly – monthly in Spring and Summer and every 2 months in Autumn and Winter. It is a tree that will grow tall and wide if allowed to, so it works best as a floor plant where there is space enough to accommodate it.
Remove the old leaves, and watch out for leaf drop which may be caused by incorrect watering, too little humidity or light, cold drafts, the wrong temperature or extremes of temperature, or pests. You might also like the banana-leaf fig, which grows in similar conditions and makes a very popular and attractive potted shrub even though, to my mind at least, it looks nothing like a banana plant.
The philodendron was the original Victorian houseplant and comes in just under 500 different varieties. Its broad leaves are excellent at clearing formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals from the air. Preferring low-light areas, it is hardy and adapts easily to different environments, which makes it a popular plant for places in the home where other plants struggle to thrive. The heartleaf varietal is an attractive and popular choice.
Some philodendrons, like the heartleaf, are climbers that will appreciate a stake to help them grow upwards. Other philodendrons are non-climbers but rather more tree-like and need plenty of room for their wide-spread branches. All varietals are easy to take care of, and occasional watering and feeding are all that is required. The plant will tell you exactly what you need to do, so keep an eye on it and respond accordingly.
While older leaves tend to yellow, too many yellow leaves mean the plant is probably getting too much light. The leaves will begin to droop if they are getting too little or too much water but will spring back quickly when this is corrected. A little fertilizer now and then will give you a big return – if your plant is growing slowly and the leaves are small, you may need to fertilize a bit more frequently.
If you have to trim the leaves, the sap can cause mild skin irritation, so wear gloves if you are sensitive. Toxicity is a favorite protection for many plants, although few houseplants can actually endanger life. It’s safest to assume that all plants which are not specifically grown as food are dangerous for babies and pets to eat and act accordingly.
10. Peace Lily
NASA identified the peace lily (or closet plant) as one of the most powerful plants for cleaning the air, especially as it is one of the smaller plants in this list. This tropical plant neutralizes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia and carbon monoxide. It also absorbs alcohol and acetone from the air, which are emitted by electronics, adhesives and certain cleaners. This makes it a perfect plant for the office and home.
The Peace Lily, with its dark green leaves and white flowers, enjoys prominence as one of the most popular indoor plants because of the elegance of its foliage, its hardiness, and its beautiful flowers. However, its leaves and blooms make it one of the more toxic plants on this list so take care. The blooms also have a lot of pollen if you suffer from hay fever. Note that the “flower” is actually a specialized leaf bract growing like a hood over the flowers.
Over-watering is the most common way to kill your peace lilies (and most pot plants). To prevent this, we recommend you water them only when they need it. Check weekly if the soil has dried out, otherwise, don’t water them. You can even wait until the leaves begin to droop before you water them. Peace lilies will appreciate it if you spray the leaves with a mist bottle every now and then and wash or wipe down the leaves occasionally.
The more light you give your peace lily, the better the chance of them flowering. Being tropical they enjoy a warmer temperature. They require very occasional feeding with a little liquid fertilizer and re-potting as they get bigger. You can divide a plant by cutting through the center of the rootball with a knife, then replanting each half. A stake in the pot will help a young plant grow. And don’t forget to deadhead faded flowers and cut away old leaves.
12. Golden Pothos
Sometimes called the Silk Pothos, this plant is a very attractive indoor plant that clears formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds from the air. There are many varieties of this fast-growing climbing vine, with white, yellow, or light green variegation on its broad leaves making it especially decorative. The golden pothos is sometimes confused with the philodendron, but can be distinguished by its variegated leaves and smaller size.
It is known by a variety of names, but one of the more common names is the “Devil’s Ivy” because it is so hardy it is considered unkillable. This makes it the perfect plant for people unsure of their gardening skills. As a vine, it well suited to a hanging basket or in a pot with a stake that it can climb. It can even be grown in water or in an aquarium. Cuttings grow well when rooted in water though do not take well to being transferred to soil (and vice versa).
While your Pothos can tolerate shade, it prefers bright indirect light and may lose its variegation if the light is too dim. Sunlight will help enhance the variegation on the leaves. It has a shallow root system which helps it climb trees, so it requires only light watering to soak the roots all the way through. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. They don’t even need a particularly rich soil and can thrive with little fertilizing.
Pothos plants are actually poisonous if ingested and the sap can cause skin irritation. Though you should be careful with kids and pets, it will not kill them if they have a nibble, just make them very sick. It is an invasive species in sub-tropical and tropical forests outside its native Solomon Islands because of its exceptional hardiness and growth. For this reason, don’t plant this outside.
13. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera (or Aloe barbadensis) is a succulent with spiky and serrated leaves. Although it makes a compact houseplant, the leaves do spread a bit and have a sharp point as well as serrations along the edges of the leaves. While these spikes are unlikely to cause much harm, they are sharp enough to encourage some space around the plant. The plant can clear formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
Aloe Vera plants are widely considered to be medicinal and have been grown by people for thousands of years for that purpose. There are claims that the liquid in these leaves has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and topical wound healing abilities, among other things. These are largely unproven by scientists. It is, however, safe to say that this plant is not toxic and a little aloe juice on a minor burn or rash will do no harm.
The plant originally comes from the area around Yemen, so the desert climate of that area provides clues as to how to care for your plants. Make sure that your plants receive lots of bright, indirect sun and use a well-drained potting medium such as cactus mix, or ordinary potting soil mixed with sand. The plant grows slowly but is very hardy and will probably suffer from too much water than too little – good drainage is essential.
It’s easy to create more aloe plants by dividing the pups, or offsets, that the parent plant produces. Gently take the adult plant out of the pot, then remove the “baby plant” at the base of the parent, along with its roots, leave it to dry a bit for 2 days and form a slight callus, then plant in a small pot. Don’t water until the roots have set in – about 2 weeks later. Alternatively, you can always grow them from seeds and try out some exotic varieties.
14. Chinese Evergreen
If one must choose as a pot plant, one might as well choose one reputed to bring good luck, such as the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Not only are they lucky, but they will rid your home of benzene and formaldehyde. They are one of the most popular houseplants as they require so little care and effort to thrive – they will tolerate bad lighting, dry air, and even drought. If you’re a little challenged in the plant-rearing sphere, then this is the plant for you.
The textured, spear-shaped leaves are usually variegated and sport white or red marbling which make for a very decorative plant. The plant is tough and forgiving and will thrive in low light conditions, but enjoys indirect sunlight and a well-drained soil, such as a cactus mix or potting soil mixed with sand. It can also tolerate low water conditions, but does like a bit of humidity. To prevent over-watering and root rot, let the soil dry out a little before you water.
Tolerant as they are, they are native to the tropical and subtropical regions Asia and New Guinea, so they don’t like the cold and may form dark patches on the foliage if left in a cold environment for too long. Note that these plants are considered toxic to your pets so rather keep them on a table or shelf out of reach of digging dogs or curious cats. The juice can also cause skin irritation and rashes and ingesting them can irritate your mucous membranes.
A little liquid fertilizer once or twice a year is good. Older plants may produce flowers, which look a little like peace lilies, as well as red berries. You can cut the blooms before the seeds form or allow them to seed then harvest them for growing more plants. When you trim back the leaves and stems, you can save some cuttings and use them for propagating – rooting them in water works extremely well. Your new plants will make great gifts.
15. Dwarf Umbrella Tree
The Schefflera arboricola plant comes in many varieties, with one of the best known being the Dwarf Umbrella Tree. This statement plant works very well in a large pot with lots of space, because of its height (4-5 feet) and spread, but looks spectacular, so perhaps this is best suited to an office environment. It soaks up formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene. Some varietals offer variegated leaves and are a popular subject for bonsai trees if you like a challenge.
This tree needs bright, indirect light – keep it out of direct sun as the leaves will burn. If it starts to look a bit weak and spindly and the leaves droop and go yellow, it’s not getting quite enough light. Variegated varieties need a bit lighter than the green ones. This tree is pretty drought resistant so water only when the soil is dry, or the leaves start to wilt. Preferably use slightly warm water. Remember this is a tropical plant so it likes a humid environment.
You will need to prune your Umbrella tree by cutting off overgrown or leggy bits – try to shape it a bit and shortly after the pruning your tree will look healthier and fuller. Fertilizing is not really necessary. Watch for spider mites and mealybugs and wash the plant with soap and water to get rid of them. Try to avoid chemicals if you can. These plants are poisonous if eaten – both to humans and animals. As the toxins affect the mucous membranes, it can cause a burning sensation, swelling, difficulty swallowing and sometimes breathing. Their larger cousins were a popular choice as outdoor trees in milder climes in the past, but are aggressive invaders, so don’t transplant yours into your garden.
Be warned that plants grown indoors are more susceptible to disease and parasites, so keep an eye out for anything that looks abnormal and seek help at your local nursery. A hardy indoor plant may mean an aggressive invading plant outside, so think before transplanting your potted plants into your garden. You will have noticed that the same simple steps are required to take care of most of the plants in this list, so you can now consider yourself an accomplished inside gardener