The internet is full of interesting “facts,” like the assertion that having a potted cactus next to your computer will somehow absorb harmful radiation and make using your computer safer.
Of course, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Can a cactus absorb radiation?
Cacti do not absorb radiations, nor are magnets for harmful radiation, and you needn’t be concerned about your computer usage.
But there’s at least some truth to the legend. Cacti can absorb radiation, just not in the way you might think.
Cacti And Radiations: The Legend
According to lots of pseudoscience websites, electromagnetic radiation from computers is a common cause of health problems like headaches, tiredness, memory issues, and insomnia.
To limit the impact of this radiation, they recommend filling your home with houseplants, especially cactus.
To back up their claims, these websites frequently cite unnamed NASA studies, which they claim prove that cacti are great at attracting and absorbing radiation.
Debunking the Myth
The easiest part of this myth to disprove is the supposed NASA support. While NASA does study plants, and does take radiation into consideration (without Earth’s protective atmosphere, space has much higher levels of harmful radiation than on the Earth’s surface), their studies are about how well plants survive.
They’re looking at things you’d need to know if you were building a greenhouse or garden in space, not creating a cactus-based radiation shield!
The other thing to consider is that the type of radiation under consideration by NASA is called ionizing radiation, which refers to high-energy particles and rays that can alter molecular structure.
The type of radiation the myth refers to is low energy, non-ionizing radiation, which can temporarily add energy to a molecule, but can’t break it apart and cause damage the way ionizing radiation can.
So Do Computers Really Emit Harmful Radiation?
Well, here’s the thing. Computers, smartphones, and other tech devices do emit considerable electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation.
This is a low energy, non-ionizing radiation, and there’s very little evidence that it’s harmful to humans (or animals, or plants).
The term “radiation” in general conjures up images of nuclear disasters, cancer, and other drastic health concerns, however, so it’s understandable that even though we’re talking about a different type of radiation, people are concerned.
And just like some people are unusually sensitive to loud sounds, strong smells, or other things that are not normally harmful, some people may find that EMF radiation does have an effect on how they feel.
However, it’s also possible that the symptoms some of these people experience are due to what’s called a “nocebo” effect.
It’s like the placebo effect, but instead of experiencing a positive effect, like pain relief from a sugar pill, the nocebo effect is negative.
Because we have so many negative associations with radiation and health outcomes, just the knowledge that they’re being exposed to radiation of any type can be enough for some people to start experiencing actual physical symptoms.
These are very real, but, ultimately, not caused by the radiation itself.
Can Cacti Block Radiation?
So science says that EMF radiation is harmless, but you still want to cut down on how much you’re exposed to.
It might not do you any good, but it certainly isn’t going to hurt.
Will sticking a cactus next to your computer do the trick?
The short answer is no. Radiation only travels in straight lines, so if you want to limit your exposure to radiation with a cactus, you need the cactus to be between you and the radiation source.
Even then, it will only block a small portion of the radiation emitted. Imagine your computer like a lightbulb, emitting light rays in every direction.
EMF radiation works the same way.
There’s nothing you can put on your desk that’s going to attract all that light energy to it, but if you put a cactus between you and the light, the cactus will absorb and reflect some of the light and cast a shadow on you where no light can get through.
Cacti might be slightly better at stopping radiation that other types of houseplants because they’re unusually dense, and dense materials do absorb EMF radiation more easily.
But your desk, your chair, and even your clothing will all absorb EMF radiation as well, so there are certainly more efficient ways to limit your EMF exposure.
Five Real Reasons You Should Keep a Cactus
Just because cacti can’t attract EMF radiation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep one on your desk!
They still have plenty of benefits as houseplants, including:
1. An oxygen boost
Like all plants, cacti remove carbon dioxide from the air and add an extra boost of oxygen.
High oxygen environments can leave you feeling refreshed, and since cacti use an unusual mechanism for photosynthesis, they release all their oxygen at night, making them perfect for keeping in the bedroom to improve your sleep.
2. Eliminating VOCs
VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) are chemicals given off by many of the synthetic products we use in our everyday lives, from paint to plastics.
They’re known to cause health problems, from symptoms as mild as headaches to those as serious as cancer.
Plants like cacti can capture and remove VOCs from the air. For maximum effect, include lots of plants and gentle air circulation.
3. Reducing stress
Scientists have demonstrated that just looking at real, growing plants can help reduce stress.
People with lots of plants on hand tend to be happier, calmer, and better able to focus on their tasks.
A great reason to keep a cactus or two on your desk!
4. Improving health
In addition to reducing stress, some studies have shown that having plants in your environment can actually improve your health.
This could be because soil acts as a sponge that evens out the humidity in your home environment.
Dry air makes it easier for skin and mucous membranes to crack, allowing pathogens a way into your body.
It’s also possible that the health boost we see from plants is due to their ability to reduce stress, making it easier for your body to fight off viruses and bacteria on its own.
5. They’re easy to grow and care for
You don’t need to be a gardener to keep a cactus alive. An occasional watering—some varieties only need it once a month!—and your little cactus friend can thrive for years.
6 Types Of Cactus To Consider (Even If They Do Little To Block Radiations)
Cacti are slow growing and easy to care for, but if you’ve never had one of your own, these varieties are a great place to start! Make sure they’re planted in well-drained soil.
Cacti have shallow roots, so they don’t need a deep pot. Opt for a broad, shallow dish instead.
Plenty of surface area can also help prevent over watering by improving evaporation.
Queen Of The Night
With large, fragrant white flowers, it’s no surprise this is a popular cactus! It’s native to Mexico and South America, but can be grown indoors in northern climates.
They prefer indirect light to full sun, and require water no more than every other week during the warm season, and every six weeks during winter.
Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)
This cactus grows in clusters of short stems that look like prickly little hedgehogs.
The blossoms range in color from fuchsia to orange and are quite large considering the small size of this low-growing cactus. It’s native to the American southwest, and prefers bright sun and warm temperatures.
Orange Snowball (Rebutia muscula)
Also known as the “Orange Snowball Cactus,” this small, mounded variety from Bolivia has lots of very fine white spines that make it look as though it were covered in fur.
The blooms, which are orange or reddish, often appear in a ring around the top of the cactus that look like a flower crown.
Water lightly every couple weeks, and make sure the soil dries out completely between waterings, as this variety is prone to root-rot if left to sit in water.
Rat Tail Cactus
This cactus is an epiphyte, or “air plant,” and in nature is often found growing on trees or other plants instead of the ground.
It has long trailing stems, which makes it perfect for hanging baskets.
The blossoms are usually fuchsia, but occasionally you’ll find varieties that bloom orange or red.
You can easily propagate your rat tail cactus by taking cuttings from the stems. Place the cut end in soil and water lightly. Before long, the cutting will root, and you’ll have a brand new cactus!
Prickly Pear Cactus
There are many varieties of prickly pear, from gigantic specimens best suited for a garden to dainty and colorful indoor varieties like the bunny ear or angel wing cactus.
They don’t really help with computer radiations either, but they are easy to grow in pots and take a long time to reach their full size (about two feet high), so they’re great for keeping on a table or shelf, as long as they get enough light.
Ruby Ball Cactus
This is a slightly more complex cactus, as it’s actually two different types grafted together.
An albino ball cactus—that is, a variety that has no chlorophyll—is grafted onto another type of cactus.
Without chlorophyll, the ball cactus can show off the other colors present in its tissues, pinks and oranges normally hidden by green.
They’re incapable of photosynthesis, however, so they rely on the green cactus to which they’re grafted to produce all their food.
This graft point can be a weak spot, and if detached, the ball cactus will die. Take care when moving or transplanting these types of cacti
Cacti & Radiations: Conclusion
While cacti may not be a guard against EMF radiation, there are still plenty of reasons to have a few of them around!
What are your favorite cacti to grow indoors? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!