CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I work in a cubicle. No windows. No natural light. When I want to know what's going on weather-wise, I go to a Web cam on the Internet to see if it's sunny or raining.
This is difficult for a plant person. Some co-workers have plants on their desks, but I've been reluctant to bring in one of my babies from home and subject them to this dark place. The ones that seem to survive are the philodendrons or pothos -- those ubiquitous vines that come in most florists' mixed planters.
But I want more! And it seems I'm not alone.
Researchers at Texas State University-San Marcos found that people who had a plant in their offices rated themselves as more satisfied with life and work than did those without them. Tina Marie Cade, associate professor of horticulture, helped with the study, and said the results are absolute: With a greater number of people working longer hours, the research has shown that plants have a calming, pleasing effect on individuals who, in turn, felt better about their jobs and the work they performed.
Lots of research has been done on the topic of people/plant interactions, green space, office environments and horticultural therapy. In one study, workers' blood pressure, emotions and reaction times were measured as participants performed stressful tasks on the computer. The researchers concluded that the presence of plants in the windowless office environments helped reduce mental fatigue, increased attentiveness, lowered blood pressure and increased productivity of participants. Additional studies show that the presence of live plants, windows and views of natural surroundings can have a positive influence on individuals' perceptions of their environment and personal well-being.
All of that said, what's a plant lover to do in a dark, windowless space?
There are several factors to consider, light being only one of them. Where will the plant go? In addition to being in a dark room, my space is limited. While I'd love to have something green on the desk, my messy piles of paper will have to find other homes to accommodate something alive. Also, one plant that was recommended must be "misted." Now that could be a mess, couldn't it?
Watering must be taken into consideration. We're lucky to have Sue in the newsroom, who tends to the plants like she tends to the people -- quite well indeed. But in offices without a Sue, be sure to check the soil before you water the plant.
Most plants die from over-watering rather than under-watering. Too much love can kill your plants, so stick your finger in the dirt before you water to see if it's already moist. Most plants (with the exception of succulents like jade plants or hens and chicks) need water about once a week. Succulents need water about once a month.
The rule of thumb is that the thicker the leaves, the more water they will hold and the less often the plant will require water. Thin leaves and plants in bloom (African violets) need more frequent watering. Use room-temperature water and don't let it drip on the floor. Empty the dish you have placed under the plant to prevent spillage after the plant has drained. A good flushing once a month will keep mineral deposits from poisoning your plants.
Many companies hire plant-care experts who roam from office to office, watering and pruning. There's even an organization, the Plantscape Industry Alliance, for people who design, install and maintain plants in the interior environment. "Dedicated to bringing nature indoors, we advocate the use of living plants in interior landscapes to enhance human well-being"; the group hosts seminars and trade shows and gives out awards for members who are top-notch "interiorscapers."
That's probably not going to happen here. So I'm on the hunt for the perfect plant for my dark little space.