The Easy-To-Care-For Umbrella Tree That'll Purify Your Home's Air

Schefflera, also known as umbrella tree or starleaf, is a statement houseplant known for its ample foliage atop a thick, woody stem. Its name comes from its emerald-green leaves, which grow in clumps that resemble umbrellas. Schefflera is associated with wealth and good fortune in places like China and Taiwan. The leaves are believed to capture chi, or positive energy. As a result, these plants are often used in feng shui interior design practices. Schefflera are also beloved by scientists for their proven track record of air purification, making your home a healthier place to live.

Using this plant to bring better air and positive energy to your home doesn't take much effort. In fact, schefflera are prized by new and experienced gardeners alike because they're very low-maintenance and adaptable to different environments. Learn why the umbrella tree deserves a place in your home, and how to keep it happy and healthy.

Schefflera's air-purifying powers

Plants help purify the air by "breathing" carbon dioxide in and producing oxygen. In the process, they can also absorb toxins from the air so that we don't have to breathe them in. These include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbonyl, nitrates, sulfates, ammonia, and ozone. That's why scientists recommend keeping plants in your home: they're an affordable, low-maintenance way to purify the air you breathe and reduce your exposure to many harmful pollutants.

A 1989 NASA experiment found that plants can remove carcinogenic VOCs like formaldehyde. It also found that the amount of air purification was proportionate to the plant's leaf surface area — meaning the bigger your plant is and the more leaves it has, the more benefits it will provide. That makes schefflera, which can grow rapidly into a large, leafy tree, a great choice for cleansing your home's air. A more recent study found schefflera to remove over 90% of benzene, a carcinogenic contaminant that comes from car exhaust, tobacco smoke, and industrial processes. And while benzene is harmful to humans, exposure to typical benzene levels won't harm your umbrella plant — so it can keep purifying your home for years to come.

How to care for schefflera

Schefflera arboricola is the most popular type of umbrella tree, often considered the most attractive and lowest maintenance. But there are other varieties to choose from, and they all have similar air-purifying powers and require similar care. Schefflera is a rainforest plant that's used to dappled light. As an indoor plant, it will grow fastest in bright but indirect light — but it can adapt to lower light, too. If the light is too direct, its leaves may get sunburned. Put your schefflera in a spot where it will get at least four hours of sunlight a day. If you want it to grow faster to create a more dramatic look, move it close to a window.

Like other tropical plants, schefflera is prone to root rot if its soil gets too soggy. Water every seven to ten days, and wait until the top of the soil is dry before watering again. Because it's adapted to humid climates, schefflera will appreciate being placed in a humid room like a bathroom or being misted regularly. 

Schefflera makes a beautiful floor plant, but keep in mind that it is toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion can cause drooling, vomiting, mouth irritation, and swallowing problems. If your pets like to nibble on plants, keep this one far out of reach. As long as it is inaccessible to your furry friends, your umbrella tree will be a healthy addition to your home.