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  • Curtis Gubb

Researching Houseplants


A PhD in Plants, well not quite; looking after approximately 100 houseplants is not easy, although it seems they may be looking after me. A widely attributed Churchill quote springs to mind: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me” and I could certainly say the same for plants.

I am a PhD student who is part of the indoor plant research group, comprising of UK academics investigating the benefits of plants in indoor environments. Plants can deliver an array of benefits indoors, providing improvements in human health, building energy consumption and productivity. I specifically focus on indoor air quality improvements where plants have been shown to remove several airborne pollutants – the main cause of poor indoor air quality - including CO2, Ozone and particulate matter.

I spend a large amount of time feeding, watering and generally pruning eight species of plant – not a bad job I guess. Although it feels slightly like an animal testing lab, fortunately no protesters have turned up yet! For experiments the plants need to be in optimal conditions, namely, a substrate moisture content of ~ 30%, and disease free – easier said than done with so many in a small office.

Our research has found that houseplants – especially more vigorous species namely, peace lily’s – are able to remove at high light levels significant concentrations of CO2, a somewhat overlooked pollutant which causes issues with health, absenteeism in students and productivity.

Future experiments in pollutant removal are focusing on green walls – where there is the ability to fit a greater density of plants into a smaller space thus, significantly improving pollutant removal. You may have seen more and more popping up around the UK both inside and out so watch this space! Although they’re rather costly, I think they look great and certainly look much better than concrete. For regular pictures and updates please follow the indoor plant research group on Instagram and twitter (@IndoorPlantRG).

Curtis Gubb

PhD Student

University of Reading