Giving Plants as Gifts
By Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent,
horticulture, Denver County
Is there any scientific basis for saying that plant gifts help people feel better?
New research from Washington State University confirms previous studies that show
stress-reducing benefits from viewing plants. And who doesn't need some stress relief
during the busy, end-of-year holidays?
Specifically, the WSU study looked at whether plants could help people tolerate
experimentally-induced discomfort longer than adults in settings without plants. The
discomfort time was measured by how long people were willing to keep a hand submerged in
To eliminate any distraction effect from colorful objects, researchers tested adults in a
windowless room that was bare, that contained colorful objects, and that contained green
Fewer than a third of the 200 people tested were willing to keep their hand immersed for 5
minutes in the bare room. Only one-third reached the 5 minute mark in the room with
colorful objects. When green plants were added, nearly half of test subjects attained the
5 minute immersion mark.
We have all seen stories of Zen masters achieving feats of mind over matter. The research
shows we may all be capable of some measure of this with a little help from indoor plants.
While researchers can't explain how plants help humans handle the discomfort, they believe
it's clearly more than visual distraction. They speculate that it is rooted in humans
evolving with nature and having an innate reaction to plants that is not a conscious one.
Giving the gift of a plant to those who are sick as well as friends going through a
stressful time in their lives certainly makes scientific sense.
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