Climate change refers to long-term shifts in global weather patterns, largely attributed to increased levels of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide and methane. According to NASA, global temperatures have already risen about 1 ̊C since the late 19th century ^(1). As climate change progresses, indoor cultivation will be impacted in both positive and negative ways.
Indoor houseplants provide many benefits, from aesthetic appeal to improved indoor air quality. However, as outdoor conditions shift, maintaining healthy indoor plants becomes more complex. This article will examine the effects of climate change factors like temperature, drought, and pests on indoor plant growth. It will also overview studies on indoor vegetation’s environmental impacts and provide tips for choosing resilient plants to nurture indoors as the climate shifts.
Key Takeaways: How Climate Change Affects Indoor Plants
- Rising temperatures increase transpiration and water needs for indoor plants. More frequent watering is required to prevent heat stress and moisture deficiency.
- Changing rainfall patterns, especially prolonged droughts, make maintaining optimal indoor moisture levels challenging. Growers need to monitor soil moisture closely and water preventatively.
- Higher temperatures allow insect pests and plant pathogens to thrive. extra vigilance is required to spot and control outbreaks before indoor plants are critically impacted.
- Declining outdoor air quality due to factors like increased pollution and allergens reduces the air purification benefits provided by indoor vegetation. Supplemental air filtration may be necessary.
- Selecting indoor plants suited for warmer, drier conditions is crucial for climate resilience. Prioritizing drought-tolerant, heat-adapted varieties helps maintain healthy indoor gardens as climate shifts intensify.
Positive Effects of Climate Change on Indoor Plants
While many consequences of climate change are detrimental, some impacts provide potential benefits for indoor plants.
1. Increased CO2 Levels
Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could promote photosynthesis and growth in indoor vegetation. Elevated CO2 enables plants to fix carbon more efficiently, increasing carbohydrate production and biomass accumulation ^(2). Multiple studies have shown improved growth for certain indoor plants like Chinese evergreen, dieffenbachia, and golden pothos under experimentally enriched CO2 environments ^(3). Enjoying productive houseplants could become easier in a high CO2 world.
2. Reduced Energy Use
In some regions, climbing temperatures may reduce indoor heating demands and energy use during colder months. Warmer average conditions could also decrease requirements for supplemental grow lights. Minimizing energy consumption benefits indoor cultivation and the environment overall. However, these benefits depend on the extent of future warming and must be weighed against the many risks of rising temperatures.
Negative Effects of Climate Change on Indoor Plants
While rising CO2 and warmer winters may aid some plants, most impacts of climate change pose serious challenges for indoor gardening.
1. Temperature Fluctuations
Rising global temperatures alter indoor thermal conditions in homes and buildings. Indoor vegetation evolved for specific temperature niches, making fluctuations stressful.
High temperatures boost transpiration, forcing more frequent watering to counter wilting and leaf scorch ^(4). Plants like orchids and bromeliads suffer slowed growth and lowered photosynthesis above 80 ̊F ^(5). Prolonged heat waves may threaten sensitive species.
Conversely, dropping winter temperatures from climate variability reduce indoor humidity via increased heating. Low humidity causes leaf browning and tip burn ^(6). Finding the right temperature and humidity balance gets harder amid climate extremes.
2. Drought and Water Availability
Climate change alters rainfall patterns, bringing drought to some regions while inundating others. Both extremes make maintaining optimal indoor moisture levels challenging.
Prolonged drought requires vigilant watering to avoid plant stress. However, overwatering during deluges boosts root rot risks. Obtaining clean water during droughts also becomes difficult as reserves shrink. Indoor plants need reliable access to water without saturation as precipitation patterns shift.
3. Pests and Diseases
Warmer, drier conditions stress plants and suppress immune responses. Weakened vegetation is more susceptible to voracious pests and pathogens.
Arthropod pests like spider mites reproduce faster in heat, developing whole generations within weeks ^(7). Premature leaf drop from moisture stress provides food for scavengers. Preventing infestations requires diligence as temperatures climb.
Plant diseases also thrive in drought conditions and heat. Powdery mildew, root rot, and blights spread readily across moisture-starved plants. Vigilance and prompt treatment are essential under climate stress.
4. Air Quality Decline
Climate change degrades outdoor air quality by increasing ozone formation, smoke from wildfires, and allergenic pollen production ^(8). Indoor plants help mitigate indoor pollution, but their potency decreases with poor air intake quality. Maintaining indoor gardens’ air benefits becomes harder as climate impacts accumulate.
Studies on the Effects of Indoor Plants on the Environment
While climate change negatively impacts cultivation, indoor plants provide ecosystem services that could help mitigate environmental changes. Researchers are quantifying indoor vegetation’s climate and air quality benefits:
1. Indoor Plants and Air Quality
Studies show how indoor plants like spider plants and golden pothos remove pollutants like benzene and carbon monoxide from indoor air through phytoremediation ^(9). They also passively absorb CO2 during photosynthesis. Modeling suggests widespread indoor plant adoption could meaningfully reduce cities’ greenhouse gas emissions ^(10).
2. The Role of Indoor Plants in Reducing Carbon Emissions
Analysis by Australia’s Central Queensland University found that filling office buildings with potted plants could remove significant atmospheric CO2 while improving worker productivity ^(11). Study authors determined indoor plants should be part of corporate sustainability plans.
3. The Impact of the Houseplant Industry on the Environment
However, the houseplant industry itself has climate impacts from fertilizer manufacturing and transportation. Researchers at the University of Florida are quantifying these effects and finding lower-carbon nursery production methods ^(12). A sustainable industry maximizes indoor plants’ potential to mitigate environmental changes.
Resilient Indoor Plants
Selecting plants well-suited for future hotter, drier, and more variable conditions is key for indoor gardeners facing climate shifts. Stress-tolerant choices include:
Succulents like jade, aloe, and echeveria thrive in arid, bright environments. Their fleshy leaves and drought-resistance make them ideal for indoor cultivation as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change. They require minimal watering and can withstand dry conditions.
Bromeliads gravitate to heat and humidity. Pineapple plants absorb moisture through leaf tanks and shed excess water from cupped foliage, adapting well to rainfall extremes. The water reservoirs in their leaves allow bromeliads to go longer between waterings.
Orchids like oncidiums, moth orchids, and phalaenopsis orchids grow prolifically in warm, steamy conditions. They perform well indoors under variable moisture and temperatures. Orchids make excellent indoor bloomers in variable future climates.
Peperomias thrive in moderate to low light levels, making them ideal for darker indoor conditions during extreme weather blocking sunlight. Hundreds of peperomia species with diverse leaf shapes suit diverse indoor spaces.
5. Cast Iron Plants
Cast iron plants tolerate low light, arid conditions, and wide temperature swings indoors. Their ability to bounce back from neglect makes them highly adaptable houseplants for uncertain future conditions.
6. Air Plants
Air plants like Tillandsia absorb moisture from humid air instead of soil, reducing irrigation demands. Their epiphytic nature provides climate resilience for unpredictable precipitation. Air plants are forgiving indoor options.
7. Succulent Kalanchoes
Succulent kalanchoe varieties retain water in thick leaves for drought endurance. Their low maintenance needs make them ideal for beginners facing climate uncertainty. Kalanchoes add colorful blooms.
8. Dragon Trees
Dragon trees tolerate heat, aridity, and salt stress. As indoor palm options decline with climate shifts, dragon trees emerge as versatile replacements. Dragon tree’s resilience suits them to future indoor life.
9. Rubber Trees
Ficus elastica or rubber trees adjust easily to temperature swings and drier air. Their large, glossy leaves continue thriving despite environmental variability. Rubber trees handle changes gracefully.
10. ZZ Plants
ZZ plants store moisture in potato-like rhizomes to survive droughts. They handle neglect and temperature extremes with resilience. ZZ plants stay steady through uncertain conditions.
Prioritizing adaptable plants is prudent under climate uncertainty. However, expanding climate resilience while avoiding invasive species is key. With informed selection, indoor gardens can keep flourishing amid variable future conditions.
Minimizing the Environmental Impact of Indoor Plants
While nurturing indoor plants provides respite from climate stresses, growers should be mindful of their cultivation choices and overall environmental footprint. Indoor gardening intrinsically requires resources like water, energy, and materials. However, through conscientious decisions, growers can reduce the climate impacts of their houseplant habits.
1. Choosing Locally Sourced Plants
Seeking out houseplants grown by local greenhouses and nurseries minimizes transport miles and carbon emissions associated with long-distance shipping. Locally grown plants also better acclimate to regional conditions, giving them a head start for indoor life in local homes. Supporting community plant businesses also invests in the local economy and livelihoods. Apps like NextDoor can connect growers with neighborhood greenhouses to find the closest plant options.
2. Propagating Your Own Plants
Propagating new plants from parent plant cuttings is a sustainable way to expand an indoor plant collection without purchasing new. Propagation methods like stem and leaf cuttings reduce waste by utilizing plant clippings that would otherwise be discarded.
3. Opting for Sustainable Materials
The materials used in indoor gardening—from pots and soil to fertilizers and tools—carry environmental footprints from material extraction, manufacturing, and shipping. Choosing sustainable options reduces impacts:
- Renewable pots: Instead of plastic, select biodegradable pots made of materials like coconut fiber, cow manure, or sustainably sourced wood. Alternatively, reuse and upcycle all containers.
- Organic soil: Avoid synthetic, peat-based soils which damage wetland ecosystems. Amend plant beds with compost, coconut coir, or composted bark to add organic matter and nourishment without chemical fertilizers.
- Non-toxic fertilizers: Look for organic labels when selecting plant foods, and use the minimum effective doses. Slow-release options are more efficient than salts that leach out quickly.
- Recycled tools: Opt for potting trowels, pruning shears, and watering cans made from recycled metals and plastics to reduce waste.
4. Responsible Watering
Frequent plant watering is essential, but practices that minimize waste are important since potted plants are less efficient than in-ground growth. Strategies include:
- Matching plants to conditions: Choosing drought-tolerant varieties inherently reduces water needs.
- Letting soil partially dry: Water only when top soil becomes dry based on moisture meters.
- Water capturing: Collect rainwater or air conditioner condensate for irrigation.
- Efficient delivery: Use drip irrigation or water at the soil level to avoid excess runoff.
5. Composting Plant Waste
Composting spent soil, pruned leaves, and dead plants keeps waste out of landfills. Many municipalities accept compostable plant matter in curbside bins. Home composting is also effective.
6. Responsible Disposal
For diseased plants that cannot be composted, double bag and dispose of them in sealed containers rather than openly dumping. This prevents the spread of pathogens.
Making earth-conscious choices enables indoor gardeners to nurture plants while minimizing their climate impact. With some effort, indoor cultivation can be eco-friendly.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How does climate change affect indoor temperature and humidity?
Rising outdoor temperatures and more variable weather will make maintaining ideal indoor temperature and humidity levels more challenging. More use of air conditioning, humidifiers, and dehumidifiers may be required.
2. Do indoor plants need more frequent watering due to climate change?
Yes, higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns will increase irrigation demands for indoor plants. More vigilant soil moisture monitoring and preventative watering is advised.
3. Will climate change increase problems with pests and diseases for indoor plants?
Yes, warmer conditions allow pests to breed faster and enable pathogens to thrive. Diligent monitoring, prompt treatment, and avoidance of plant stress is important to manage outbreaks.
4. What types of plants are most resilient to climate change indoors?
Succulents, bromeliads, orchids and other plants adapted to heat, aridity, and variable conditions are most likely to tolerate climate shifts indoors.
5. Should I change my approach to indoor gardening due to climate change?
Adjustments like more attentive watering, indoor climate control, and pest management will be needed. But preventative actions and appropriate plant choices can maintain healthy indoor gardens.
6. Can indoor plants help mitigate climate change impacts?
Yes! Indoor plants improve air quality, absorb carbon dioxide, and reduce energy needs for cooling. Their climate resilience benefits will become even more important under climate shifts.
Climate change poses novel challenges for indoor plant cultivation through rising temperatures, shifting precipitation, and increased pests. However, indoor plants also provide ecosystem services that can help mitigate climate impacts. For example, studies show that filling rooms with houseplants improves air quality by absorbing pollutants, allowing for reduced air conditioner usage and energy consumption. Additionally, adding moisture-rich plants like ferns and orchids increases indoor humidity, counteracting the drying effects of heaters and reducing heating demands in winter.
To maximize these climate benefits, readers can take specific actions. Choosing resilient plants suited for warmer, drier conditions like succulents, bromeliads, and dracaena will be increasingly important. Using renewable, biodegradable materials like coconut coir pots and composted soil amends reduces the carbon footprint of indoor gardening. Practicing water-saving techniques like drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting conserves limited resources. Finally, expanding indoor plant canopies through green walls and displayed potted plants boosts their pollution-removal capabilities.
While climate change poses hurdles for indoor horticulture, the passion for houseplants endures. With attentive yet sustainable plant care and selections tailored for future conditions, indoor gardens can continue providing refuge and environmental benefits. But curbing emissions through energy and water conservation, waste reduction and other earth-friendly practices remains critical for the long-term health of both indoor and outdoor plant ecosystems. By approaching indoor gardening as an opportunity for climate action, we can cultivate resilience from the inside out.
- NASA Global Climate Change. Facts: Evidence.
- Reddy & Zhao (2020). Effect of Elevated CO2 on Indoor Plants. Frontiers in Plant Science.
- Andersen et al (1991). Growth Responses of Ornamental Foliage Plants to Elevated Carbon Dioxide. HortScience.
- Zhang et al (2019). Too Hot to Handle: Unfavorable Greenhouse Conditions Induce Micronutrient Deficiency in Hydroponically Grown Medicinal Cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.). Agronomy.
- Blanchard & Runkle (2009). Reproductive Sensitivity of Orchids to Temperature. Orchid Biology: Reviews and Perspectives X.
- Palm (2019). Why do Leaf Tips Turn Brown? Penn State Extension.
- Pappas et al (2019). Indoor Biological Pollution and Health Risk from Greek Residences. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
- American Lung Association. Climate Change and Air Pollution.
- Sriprapat & Thiravetyan (2017). Phytoremediation of BTEX from Indoor Air by Ornamental Potted Plants: Physiological Responses of Plants and Removal Efficiencies. HortScience.
- Abeliotis & Chronopoulos (2020). Contribution of Indoor Plants to the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Urban Environments: A Meta-Analysis. Sustainability.
- Torpy et al (2015). Carbon Dioxide Removal Rates by Indoor Horticultural Crop Production. Urban Climate.
- Scheiber et al (2021). Developing Carbon Footprint Estimates for Greenhouse Production of Tropical Foliage Plants. HortScience.
- Gilman (2021). Growing Succulents Indoors. UGA Extension.
- Poole (1991). Bromeliads. UF/IFAS Extension.
- American Orchid Society. Novice Phalaenopsis Culture.