Best Plants for Classroom Air Purification & Learning
Best Plants for Classroom or Home Use
My children have breathing difficulties (possibly asthma), so having clean air in our home is important. I have done a lot of research and spent the last 6 or more years growing different plants in our house, garden, and my classroom.
This is a list of the 15 best plants for the classroom or home, some of their characteristics and the benefits of growing them. They are generally easy to grow although some might need more maintenance than others. Below you will find some of the reasons that growing plants in your classroom or home are beneficial. If you would like some ideas on edible plants to grow with children, please see my post on collecting flower seeds.
Best Plants for Classrooms to purify the air
In the 1980’s NASA tested many different houseplants to see how they absorbed chemicals and helped to improve indoor air pollution. They tested the ability of plants to absorb benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. I have included a number of these plants because many indoor spaces have air pollution from paint as well as a room’s fixtures and fittings. Chemical pollutants can be even more concentrated in classrooms with so many people occupying a small place. There are also many schools, particularly in cities, that are located near busy roads where there can be additional air pollution coming from cars and trucks. In a study by Wolverton and Wolverton, they found that having plants indoor also reduced the number of mold spores and airborne microbes. Please note that for this to be effective you need to have several plants in each room.
Plants that can Help Children Learn
Having well chosen classroom plants will allow children to learn about the care of plants and what they need to grow and be healthy. Plants in the classroom also give children opportunities to closely examine them. This allows them to see the wide variety and variation in leaves and plant structures. In addition, there are a number of plants that can help children learn about plant asexual reproduction (runners) and how to take cuttings (see my post on cuttings coming soon). This is also a thrifty way to grow a lot of plants in your classroom!
Researchers have also found that having plants in the classroom improves student’s learning and performance. Having plants in school can also reduce the number of absences/sick days that children have.
15 Best Home and Classroom Plants
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum elatum)
This is a great plant for schools and homes! It is really easy to grow and to keep alive and it also doesn’t take up too much space. Spider plants like sunlight and they work well on a windowsill. If the tips of their leaves begin to turn brown it means you’re not watering them enough. The NASA study (mentioned above) found that spider plants are good at filtering formaldehyde. They also have runners so they are good for teaching children about plant asexual reproduction. You can show them how to cut off the runners and then grow the cuttings into new plants. See my post on growing plants with cuttings (coming soon).
Snake Plant / Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria laurentii) *
This is a very easy plant to grow and makes a very good plant to keep in your classroom or at home if you don’t have a lot of time for watering or maintenance. People often say that snake plants ‘thrive on neglect’ because they don’t like too much water. They get root rot if their soil is kept too damp or if they are watered too often.
Snake plants were also tested in the NASA air purifying study, which found that they do a good job of filtering several different pollutants from the air. They can be put in smaller pots for a windowsill or else easily grown in large floor pots. Keep in mind that they are somewhat poisonous and the leaves can also be hard and sharp at the ends. We trim the ends of ours if they are particularly hard and sharp to prevent accidents with the children.
Sansevieria zeylanica (A variation of snake plant)*
This is a slightly different variety of the snake plant above. It is very similar but with a slightly different appearance. The leaves are a bit more green and grey in colour than Sansevieria laurentii.
Sansevieria bacularis (Another variation of snake plant)*
This is another variation of the snake plant above. It is similar to the other varieties previously discussed but their leaves are round/cylindrical versus flat.
Marginata / Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
Dragon tree or marginata are very easy plants to grow and don’t need too much attention or watering (like the snake plant). They grow very slowly but can become very big after many years (if you re-pot it to give it more space to grow). The dragon tree was used in the NASA study and found to be good at cleaning and filtering out air pollutants. They don’t like direct sunlight so they can work well up on shelves or in darker corners.
Ivy (Hedera heix) *
Ivy is a fairly easy plant to grow indoors, but it does need to have the soil kept a bit moist. You may want to consider this if there are times that you won’t be able to regularly water this plant (e.g. during summer break). It can work well in small hanging pots or on a windowsill. The study by NASA found that ivy is good at filtering out benzene. Like spider plants, they are also runner plants and can be cut to grow new plants. They are slightly more difficult to grow from cuttings but it’s still possible for children to do this. See my post on growing plants with cuttings (coming soon).
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) *
Aloe vera is a type of succulent plant that has been grown for its healing/medicinal properties. In the NASA air pollution study, they found that aloe vera helped to remove formaldehyde from the air. It is a fairly low maintenance plant making it a good choice for your home or classroom. If you overwater it and the roots are left damp, it can get root rot, which will kill it. It needs to dry out between waterings and in the winter months, it will need very little water. Keep in mind that it’s harmful if eaten, and must be kept out of reach of very young children.
Aloe vera also reproduces asexually so it is possible to grow them without having to buy more. This is my preference as they can be expensive. Unfortunately, it’s not a guarantee that your aloes will produce ‘offsets’ or ‘pups’. If they do, you can pull them out, separate them, and replant them in separate pots. See my post on growing plants with cuttings (coming soon).
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) **
Peace lilies are a fairly easy plant to grow in your house or classroom. I find them particularly easy because they wilt when they need water. This makes it a bit easier to keep from over or under watering them. If they get enough light they will flower. You can see from ours that they don’t get a huge amount of light and don’t flower. The studies by NASA and Wolverton and
Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aureus)**
Golden pothos are a good choice for your home or classroom as long as there is no risk of young children or pets eating them. They are poisonous. However, they are easy to grow in hanging pots so they look nice even when you hang them up and out of reach of children and animals. The NASA and Wolverton studies have also shown that they help reduce indoor air pollution and mold spores.
They like indirect sunlight and their leaves will turn yellow if they are getting too much sun. *You can see from my photos of our golden pothos growing in the window that it has had too much summer sunlight. They grow quickly and are easy to propagate by cutting off their vines and replanting, which is very easy for children to do. See my post on growing plants with cuttings (coming soon).
Philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium)**
Philodendron look very similar to golden pathos so people often confuse them. They are another plant that is ideal to grow in a hanging pot. They are also fairly easy to look after and don’t like too much direct sunlight. These plants are also easy to grow from cuttings.
Mass Cane (Dracaena massangea)
This is a fairly easy plant to care for and does well in most indoor lighting conditions. They can get very large so they are good for a classroom that has lots of space or perhaps for the entry of a school. The NASA study found that the mass cane plants remove toxins from the air. It is also possible to do cuttings to propagate it, but it is more challenging than the other plants that I have discussed earlier in this post.
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)
This is one of two forms of Dracaena deremensis that were studied in the NASA experiment. The Janet Craig variation was also studied but Warneckei is easier to grow than Janet Craig. Warneckei is very effective at filtering toxins out of the air. It can tolerate low light conditions so it is good if you have a room with little light. It does need to have damp soil but it will get root rot if kept too wet. You may need to consider this if you won’t be able to water it regularly.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum) *
This is a moderately easy plant to look after and grows slowly so it can be good for a classroom. It doesn’t like direct sunlight so it works well up on a shelf. The NASA study has also shown that it helps to filter out pollutants. Its soil needs to be kept fairly moist so you will need to consider your ability to do this during the breaks at school or when you’re on holiday if at home.
More Challenging Plants for Children to Grow in your Classroom or at Home
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Gerbera Daisies are a nice, but challenging option if you would like to have flowers in your classroom. They are a bit higher maintenance compared to most of the other plants on the list. Gerbera Daisies need to have moist soil but not too wet as they can get root rot. They also need to stay warm enough and have enough but not too much direct sunlight. It is possible to collect seeds and grow more the following year. In the NASA study, they were found to be one of the best plants at filtering out pollutants.
These are a great option for challenging older children to plant and grow flowers in your classroom. The children can begin to learn about reproduction in flowers and then how to collect seeds. The flowers are very large so it’s a great way for them to see the details of the flower structure. The flowers are also easy for children to examine and dissect. For more ideas on growing flowers with children see my post Teaching Children About Gardening – Collecting Seeds.
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
The bamboo palm is probably the most challenging house plant to grow on this list so I would recommend it only for more experienced and devoted plant people. These palms like to be in a very moist environment so they need to be misted often. We have a couple in our house and I find it difficult to keep them happy. This is why I would consider it the highest maintenance plant on this list. At the same time, it is extremely good at filtering out pollutants which is why I have chosen to mention it.
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Daly, J., Burchett, M. & Torpy, F. (2010). Plants in the Classroom can Improve Student Perforance. Centre for Environmental Sustainability, University of Technology, Sydney.
B.C. Wolverton, Johnson, A. & Bounds, K. (1989). Intior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. National Aeronautics and Space Adminitration (NASA).
B. C., Wolverton & J. Wolverton. (1993). Interior plants: Their influence on airborne microbes and relative humidity levels inside energy-efficient buildings. Res. Rpt. WES/100/05-93-011Wolverton Environmental Service Picayune, MS.