Rapid boom in houseplants come with some risks

in August 23rd, 2021

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Over the past few years, the indoor houseplant sector has grown 50%. The bulk of these new sales were from 18 to 24-year-olds, with a fifth of purchases made in the name of wellness — one U.K. study even showed a 15% increase in productivity in greener offices. By 2019, the industry was worth $48 billion. Now, online spaces are replete with communities sharing tips and showcasing plant collections with #plantmom or #plantparenthood hashtags.

But with demand growing even more in the pandemic, some are questioning their clean image. Houseplants have historically been known for their ability to improve a home’s air quality, but more recent investigation into old research shows the claims are overstated. It can take 100 plants in an average sized room to make a noticeable difference. And while plants are crucial to environmental health, that also depends on what is planted and how. For example, some indoor plants require artificial lighting and heat while others simply have a short lifespan, leading to more plants purchased.

Then there’s peat moss, commonly used by plant sellers. It’s a natural fuel containing decomposed plants and organic material that retains nutrients and moisture, making it the ideal medium for houseplants. That said, peat is problematic because peatland not only stores a third of the world’s carbon soil but harvesting peat from it also releases carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas driving climate change). Peat is also as flammable as gas or diesel with peatland fires responsible for five percent of human-caused carbon emissions.

  • In 2015, a peatland fire in Indonesia ranked among the worst man-made disasters in its history. These fires continue to be a problem for the country.
  • Last month, a potted plant spontaneously burst into flames and led to a house fire in Colorado. The plant was in direct sunlight during extreme heat and had not been watered.
  • Just this week, Minnesota experienced a multi-day peat fire that stretched at least 24 acres due to dry conditions. One of the challenges local firefighters faced is how peat moss fires often burn in the ground, which means they can last up to months.

Fortunately, there are peat alternatives for those hoping to make a safer choice with their green pets. Some small businesses are beginning to sell peat-free solutions, such as Organic Mechanics. Compost is an increasingly popular substitute for peat moss and other store-bought soils. Finally, there’s the option to buy plants that don’t even require peat, such as poinsettias or sprayed cacti.

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