Attractive plants that are happy and healthy give the biggest boost to well-being in homes and offices, while neglected plants can be worse than none at all, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and the University of Reading have found.

The study looked at people’s perceptions of well-being and the indoor environment as affected by viewing different houseplants. People scored plants on how beautiful, interesting, uplifting and relaxing they found them, with preferred plants found to give the greatest benefit to people’s well-being.

Healthy plants with a dense canopy resulted in the most positive effects on the way people felt about their indoor environment.

Researchers used images of various species and styles of houseplants to show that people react positively to lush, green plants with a rounded, dense canopy – similar to that of many of the nation’s favourite houseplants such as weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), Calathea and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa).

Palms were found to have particularly positive associations, as they reminded people of holidays and happy memories. People thought the most ‘beautiful’ plants were those with a softer, rounded canopy, such as devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum) but there was no preference for any particular shape.

On the other hand, unhealthy plants were found to reflect negatively on people’s perception of their indoor environment, and researchers recommend removing them.

Houseplants generally only have a small effect on air quality, but the positive feelings associated with houseplants mean they have a greater effect on improving well-being and reducing stress.

Researchers found that demographics such as age and gender did not affect preference for plants or their perceived benefits.

This means that healthy, beautiful, green plants are likely to benefit everyone and supports existing evidence that indoor plants can boost productivity by improving well-being and people’s perceptions of air quality and thermal comfort.

Lead researcher Jenny Berger, at the University of Reading, added: “Our research has shown that when choosing houseplants appearance is important. Plants which people find attractive and interesting are likely to give us the biggest well-being boost and green, lush plants will bring a healthy feeling to the indoor environment. To keep plants looking attractive choose ones you can easily maintain.”