This is why your dying houseplant is making you sad

 People feel more uplifted and relaxed around plants that they perceive as beautiful (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
People feel more uplifted and relaxed around plants that they perceive as beautiful (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Leafy, healthy, attractive houseplants provide a boost to people’s wellbeing and improve the perceptions of indoor environment in homes and offices, according to a new study.

In contrast, neglected plants with browning leaves can have worse effects on mental health than having no plants at all, researchers at the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have found.

The study, published in the Building and Environment journal, studied the effect of 12 indoor plants on the mental wellbeing of 502 UK adults.

It found that people felt more uplifted and relaxed around plants that they perceived as being more interesting and beautiful.

Green plants with dense canopies, such as the weeping fig (ficus benjamina), calathea and Swiss cheese plant (monstera deliciosa), had the most positive effects on wellbeing.

Palms were found to remind people of holidays and happy memories, while plants with softer, rounded canopies were thought to be the most “beautiful”.

Unhealthy plants negatively affected people’s perception of their indoor environment, with experts recommending that they should be removed from homes and office spaces.

“Our research has shown that when choosing houseplants appearance is important,” said Jenny Berger, a built environment PhD researcher at the University of Reading and lead author of the study.

“Plants which people find attractive and interesting are likely to give us the biggest well-being boost and green, lush plants will bring a healthy feeling to the indoor environment. To keep plants looking attractive choose ones you can easily maintain.”

While previous research has shown that houseplants could reduce nitrogen dioxide – a common pollutant – by as much as 20 per cent, the study’s results suggest well-kept plants may also reduce stress.

As per the findings, a neglected palm plant made participants feel significantly more stressed than all the other plants.

Additionally, some participants felt more stressed around plants with markings on their leaves, as they associated them with snakes and dangerous insects or animals.

“This study adds weight to the important role houseplants can play in improving mental health and well-being in the indoor environment. Not everyone has a garden, but most of us can find space for a houseplant,” said Dr Tijana Blanusa, principal horticultural scientist at the RHS.

When it comes to choosing an indoor plant, experts recommend less water-demanding options, such as the zamioculcas.

Alternatively, investing in a self-watering container for thirsty plants like peace lilies (spathiphyllum wallisii) will ensure they stay healthy.

Other low maintenance plants for the home and office include the mother-in-law’s tongue (sansevieria trifasciata), which is said to be one of the hardest houseplants to kill.

The plant’s leaves won’t flop or spread, and it is very tolerant to shade. It won’t need much watering – in winter it only needs a top up every month or so, experts said.

The spider plant (chlorophytum comosum) is another good option for indoors as it grows better in indirect light, however it does require regular watering.