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Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.
Jonathan S. Kaplan Ph.D.

Plants Make You Feel Better

The positive impact of nature.

Recently, an article in Miller-McCune caught my attention. It mentioned several research studies related to the positive impact of nature on the human condition. Having plants, going for a walk in the park, or even looking at a landscape poster could produce psychological benefits, reduce stress, and improve concentration. Click here for the Miller-McCune article: Nature is Good.

So, I decided to take a closer look at the research and see what might be helpful relative to our often-stressful experience of living and working in the city. Though it is not related to mindfulness, this topic seemed interesting and particularly timely as we start sloughing off the heavy coat of winter and welcome the coming of spring.

This post addresses the physical presence of plants at work, home, or even in the hospital. Later posts will address the research related to simply looking at nature (even a photo or painting); and being in nature, like a stroll through a park or garden. Maybe I'll even work in a reference to the growing field of eco-psychology.

Plants in Your Space

Based on several experimental studies, the presence of potted plants has been found to be helpful in many different settings including work, school, and hospitals. In particular, plants have been shown to:

  • Lower blood pressure (systolic)
  • Improve reaction times
  • Increase attentiveness
  • Improve attendance (at work and school)
  • Raise productivity (at work)
  • Improve well-being
  • Improve perceptions of the space
  • Lower levels of anxiety during recovery from surgery
  • Raise job satisfaction

Not bad, huh? Feeling good around plants is probably not surprising. After all, we surround ourselves with plants during celebrations and tragedies (i.e., weddings and funerals, respectively). We also set aside "sacred" green space for parks and community gardens in our cities and communities.

Limitations of the Research

Before we get ahead of ourselves and start replacing the carpet with trays of wheatgrass, it's important to know one major limitation of the research. Most of the studies on the effects of houseplants have compared the presence of plants to their absence. While this is the epitome of a well-designed experiment, there might be other factors associated with the presence of plants—but not the plants themselves—that account for the more favorable results. For example, the improvement could be due to distraction, novelty, caring for something, perceived control, or improved air quality. Thus, we might get similar results under different circumstances, such as replacing the plants with a dartboard, photos, sea monkeys, or an air purifier. So, it's important to keep in mind that other additions to your space might also be helpful.

What house plants were used in these studies?

Several different species of plants have been included in these studies. Based on my examinaton of the research, a few plants seem to be used more consistently, including:

  • Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.)

Other plants have included the following:

  • Dracaena (various)
  • Philodendron
  • Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Peace Lilly (spathiphyllum starlight)
  • Vinca Vines

(Personally, I was happy to find that some plants didn't make the list, like ferns and those ficus trees. It's not that they can't be helpful—I just can't seem to grow them! As their leaves droop and scatter all over the floor, so goes my self-esteem.)

Take-Home Message

Relative to a barren environment, the research suggests that having plants around you is a good thing for your health and productivity. So, if you're feeling stressed or inefficient at work, get a plant. You might just feel better.


I'd like to give a "tip of the hat" to Seong-Hyun Park and Richard Mattson from the Department of Horticulture, Forestry, and Recreation Resources at Kansas State University. They've been quite helpful in providing reprints and answering my naive questions in preparation for writing this post. Also, I'd like to thank the website, Plants for People (it's not as cheesy as it sounds). With offices in three European countries, Plants for People is an "international initiative, spreading knowledge about the benefits of plants in a working environment." The site provides abstracts and full-length research articles, which I reviewed for this post.

About the Author
Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., has been practicing, teaching, and writing about mindfulness for over a decade. He maintains a private practice in New York City.

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