Turns out, a bit of a green thumb can help fight the blues. For teachers looking to improve their classroom environment and boost their students’ wellbeing—and even their own—there is a simple yet powerful aid: houseplants.
You may already have them in your classroom or home, but you may not be aware of the myriad health benefits of cultivating a few indoor plants. There’s even research that shows they’re specifically beneficial to students, said Melinda Knuth, an assistant professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State University.
“There’s been evidence to show that plants help us by decreasing our stress and anxiety as well as increasing our creativity, reducing our cortisol levels in our saliva in both educational and work settings,” she said. (Cortisol is the primary stress hormone produced by the body.) “Settings that have both windows and plants or either, these create an environment that is friendlier, more collegial, and leads to less likelihood of people calling out sick.”
But how many indoor plants, exactly, does one need to achieve these benefits? Science doesn’t have an answer to that yet, Knuth said. But she is in the process of studying this very question to determine whether you need one, five, or a jungle of plants to reap the benefits of indoor plants.
In her experiment, Knuth is using (we kid you not) math problems that get progressively harder, paired with jarring noises, to stress out study participants, measuring the cortisol levels in their saliva before and after the math quiz. After participants hit “peak stress,” Knuth tests how exposure to houseplants affects their cortisol levels.
Now, you may be thinking you’d like to get some plants for your classroom, but you don’t know which ones will thrive in the particular environment of a K-12 classroom.
Well, we’ve got you covered. Education Week’s social media team asked teachers on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram to share their favorite classroom plants. Here are some of their suggestions:
“Early childhood background here. For inside, rubber plants are generally easy to keep alive and look nice. If you have really little ones, be sure to cover the dirt so it’s unreachable.”
“Spider plants. They’re supposed to be good for filtering and cleaning the air.”
“ZZ plant and pothos. I don’t have any right now, though, because I don’t have any windows.”
“Bamboo! Give them enough water and they don’t need windows.”
“I have two neon pothos, a lemon lime corn plant, a snake plant, and UFO plants! I keep grow lights on my pothos and corn plants. Lucky to have two windows with plenty of light for the others.”
“Christmas cactus and an orchid (love it when they bloom), Purple Heart, spider plant, jade.”
It is very important that teachers stay attuned to whether their classroom plants are aggravating students’ allergies. A couple of ways to head off that concern is to avoid plants that flower, keep plants in well-draining pots, and don’t over water them because too much water fuels mold growth.
A few teachers also recommended fake plants—albeit jokingly. Although that might be better than nothing, research has found that real plants are better at boosting people’s mood and reducing stress.
And while some teachers reported having success with succulents and cacti because they don’t require a lot of water, that wasn’t true for all teachers. We’ll leave you with this adorable anecdote shared with Education Week on Facebook from an educator in Pennsylvania named Beth G.:
“I had some very neglected succulents in my classroom until one day one of my homeroom kids was like, ‘you know what, I can’t watch this anymore, I’m taking these,’ and he gathered them all up and took them home, and I couldn’t argue. I hope they had a better life with him.”