Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plants with a Purpose, A Plantsman with Passion

It's what some call the oxygen factory. In a seven-acre greenhouse at Costa Farms headquarters in Goulds, FL, more than 600,000 Boston ferns are lined up as far as the eye can see. It's a visual experience so surreal, there aren't really words that can do it justice.

Fern house at Costa Farms
These Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exalta) are among the houseplants that Costa Farms markets under its O2 for You initiative. This marketing effort was born out of the results of NASA-funded research by Dr. B.C. Wolverton that demonstrated the ability of certain houseplants to not only produce oxygen, but also to detoxify the air in enclosed spaces. This research, summarized in Dr. Wolverton's book How to Grow Fresh Air (Penguin Book, 1996), examined how houseplants could remove and neutralize common chemicals that are present in our indoor living environments. The volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that were studied include formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform, ammonia, toulene and acetone -- all toxins that are common in carpeting, paint, furniture, and other household materials.

Mike Rimland of Costa Farms
Out at the fern farm, Mike Rimland (director of business development at Costa Farms) spoke about some of the plants that research indicates are the best for scrubbing VOCs from the air. It was encouraging to see that some of the most common houseplants, including Spathiphyllum, Boston fern, and Dieffenbachia (Dumb cane), are also the best when it comes to VOC neutralization.

Spathiphyllum, one of the 02 for You collection 
With all the chemicals that are present in our homes, you might wonder if a single plant can make any difference. The answer is yes, but a plant does have a limited air cleaning range. The general recommendation is for one VOC-neutralizing plant per 100 square feet of your home or office. As researchers admit in a recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject, the chemistry behind this detoxification process isn't entirely clear, but there's little doubt that having houseplants in our indoor spaces can go a long way toward creating healthier living environments.

Anthurium house at Costa Farms
After learning about the O2 for You initiative, I had the opportunity to visit the Anthurium house at Costa Farms, home to what other members of the Costa family refer to as Mike's babies. I can't overstate what it's like to be in a production greenhouse with one of the world's top houseplant growers. He manages more than one million square feet of production greenhouse space, is founder and owner of Rimland Nursery, and currently sits on the board of directors of the National Foliage Foundation. Since 1976 when he began working in the horticulture industry, he has been involved in the development of many of the houseplants we enjoy today.

As soon as he started to talk about the different varieties of Anthurium he was growing, you could see his passion ignite.

Mike Rimland among his Anthurium
According to Mike, Anthurium are shipped throughout the year, although demand spikes for Valentine's Day. The heart-shaped spathe of the flowers, particularly in the pink and red varieties, makes Anthurium a popular Valentine's gift plant. Mike recommended that if grown as a houseplant, Anthurium do best (and will reflower) near an east- or west-facing window. Grown outdoors during the summer months, Anthurium grow well under the deep shade of oaks or maple trees.

Anthurium 'Mia Sophia'
Costa Farms produces Anthurium in several colors, including pink, red, red-orange and white. One of my favorites was 'Mia Sophia' which flaunts a narrow pink spathe and slightly darker pink spadex against glossy, dark green foliage.

Anthurium 'Natalia'
The most impressive Anthurium I saw at Costa Farms had to be 'Natalia', a variety that Mike named after his daughter. The deep red spathes of 'Natalia' are so perfectly formed, the plants nearly look artificial. The white-to-yellow spadex contrasts beautifully with the spathe and deep green foliage.

Talking with plant growers and breeders always leaves me in awe. The time spent with Mike Rimland at Costa Farms was no exception. He is a true plantsman with passion, a grower of plants with a purpose.

I visited Costa Farms as a part of their first-ever Costa Farms Social Summit, along with Justin Hancock of Better Homes and Gardens, Steve Bender of Southern Living, Stacey Hirvela of Martha Stewart Living, Judy Lowe of Christian Science Monitor, Aaron Able of Apartment Therapy, Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence, and Brenda Haas of BG Garden. Costa Farms supplies houseplants to Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart (as well as other retailers throughout the country).

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful article/post on Costa Farms and their O2forYou plant line Annie

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  2. Great shot of the ferns! They are all so healthy in that amazing Florida greenhouse. I meant to ask them how they water them all.

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  3. Anturium is one, many would be Anturia.

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