A Breath of Fresh Air

Known for their air purifying abilities, spider plants have been used to remove toxins, such as formaldehyde (which is often found in common household adhesives and fillers), carbon monoxide, xylene, and benzene. These toxins have often been linked to cancer and other deadly diseases. 

In the late 1900’s, NASA conducted a study on plants’ ability to remove formaldehyde from the air. In preliminary tests, spider plants performed the best out of any plant; they removed around 95% of toxins from the enclosed plexiglass chamber. However, in recent years, other plants have actually been found to remove toxins at a better rate. 

Bill Wolverton, the principal investigator of the NASA Clean Air Study, conducted another study to measure the filtering capacity of specific plants. He found that “the most effective plants had a high transpiration rate–that is, they emit more moisture into the environment.” From his studies, spider plants ranked significantly lower than their counterparts in non-enclosed areas. 

Nevertheless, NASA has continued to conduct research on spider plants and other toxin-removing plants. In fact, the aeronautical administration has furthered its research into space. As of now, NASA has created a vegetable production system called “Veggie,” an Advanced Plant Habitat, and a facility for Biological Research in Canisters. All of these projects permanently reside on the International Space Station (ISS), and their successes prove that plants can grow in space. 

Years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct a study on spider plants’ ability to grow in space. My team and I placed spider plant seeds, fertilization, and water in test tubes separated by two clamps and sent them up to the ISS with instructions for the astronauts on board to follow. Over the course of a few weeks, the seeds began to sprout. When we received the tubes back, the majority of the seeds displayed relatively high growth. 

Although spider plants are no longer ranked among the top toxin-removing plants, their ability to grow in space could prove promising for future space exploration. Who knows, maybe hundreds of years from now, people will be able to enjoy a breath of fresh air in space due to plants’ abilities to ensure healthy air conditions.