Top 3 Indoor Palm Trees For The Home or Office!

Perhaps no other type of plant epitomizes the tropics like palms do, so it’s natural that many people are interested in decorating with indoor palm trees. Sadly though, the vast majority of all palm species are very ill-suited to indoor culture, and most of the large and seemingly inexpensive palms that are commonly offered at large nursery chain stores in the indoor section have virtually no chance at thriving in the average home. Thus, when it comes to buying indoor palm trees, you must do your homework.

Our Pick: The Best 3 Indoor Palm Trees

There are way too many palm species to discuss here that could be grown indoors or may have good potential for indoor culture. And there is not much point in discussing indoor palm trees that may be suitable for homes that have a large atrium, sun room or attached greenhouse, since those are conditions most people cannot replicate.

That’s why I decided to discuss only 3 palm species, which are arguably the absolute best for indoor culture. Unlike most palms, each of these has a demonstrated ability to tolerate low light, low humidity and low temperatures better than the rest. In short, if you don’t have experience growing palms indoors, these are the most likely to survive and thrive in your care.

Kentia palm - one of the best indoor plam trees
Kentia palm enjoying light indoors.

Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)

There’s little debate that the kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is the best overall choice for an indoor palm tree. That’s why it was the subject of our recent article, All About the Kentia Palm. In case you don’t have the time to look that over, rest assured that the kentia palm is exceptional in its ability to deal with dim light, low humidity and stale air.

Give this palm strong indirect light, such as that coming from an east or west-facing window, and it should thrive for you. A south-facing window is also acceptable, so long as the light is very well filtered. The big challenge with the kentia palm is giving it as much bright indirect light as possible without burning it with direct sun. This species comes from Lord Howe island, where the temperatures are consistently cool year-round. The heat generated around a south-facing window and the direct rays of the sun will therefore quickly singe this plant.

Besides giving it strong, cool light, simply follow some general palm care guidelines. For example, all indoor palms love humidity, so mist the kentia palm frequently. This not only makes it a bit more resistant to pests but also reduces the rate at which water is lost, and can therefore help minimize leaf-tip burning, a common occurrence in palms (especially indoors) that we’ll discuss more later. In addition, resist the temptation to quickly repot the kentia. It’s usually best to leave your kentia in the pot it arrived in, at least for the current growing season. These palms, and palms in general, tend to enjoy being cramped in pots. This is in large part because pots with a high proportion of roots to soil tend to drain better and hold more oxygen. Only palms that have roots coming out of the drainage holes, or specimens that are beginning to split their pot, are in dire need of transplanting. And even when you do transplant, chose a pot that’s at most 20-30% larger than the original.

Kentia palms can and will be plagued by pests, especially if kept in dim conditions and in dry air. Thorough treatment with neem oil or horticultural oil will usually control most light to moderate infestations. However, if this plant is grown in very marginal conditions, it may be a losing battle. Also remember that kentia palms can grow large and very wide indoors, even in small pots. Make sure they have room to spread and, if space is an issue, push off repotting as long as possible to keep them from growing too big and tall.

Parlor Palm - one of the toughest of all indoor palm trees.
Densely-planted parlor palm for sale.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

The genus Chamaedorea is huge and consists of many species that have good potential as indoor palms. However, the most battle-tested among them to date is clearly Chamaedorea elegans, the “parlor palm.” This is easily my first pick for anyone just dipping their feet in palm culture.

This palm hails from the steamy forest understory along southern Mexico and into Guatemala, and is an unusually low-light tolerant palm. That’s why it is the only palm species on my list of 14 Truly Low Light Plants. Indeed, it is very likely this capacity for tolerating dim lighting that has made this species the most popular in homes around the world.

C. elegans can reach 3 meters high outdoors in the wild, but in the home usually remains quite small, typically well under a meter. Moreover, growth is very slow, so getting a bigger specimen to start is a good idea. This palm normally grows in its native habitat as a single-stemmed plant, but is normally sold in tightly planted composed of many small palms.

There are very few things you can do wrong with the parlor palm. Give it good indirect light (no direct light) by putting close to an east or west-facing window. A northern exposure my work if that’s all you’ve got – but put the palm right up against the window, since light levels drop off very quickly even a couple feet away. Water as you would any other houseplant, letting the surface soils dry slightly between waterings. However, it is worthwhile catering to C. elegans‘ thirst for humidity by frequently misting the leaves and the very surface of the soil. Putting the whole pot on a tray of pebbles and water is also a good idea in dry conditions. Whatever you do, do not keep the soil constantly wet or you will kill this plant from root rot.

Pests are not a common problem with vigorous plants, but weakened palms, especially those grown in dark corners and in dry conditions, can be particularly susceptible to spider mites. Spider mites are bad news for any plant, but can really tear through a parlor palm’s relatively delicate leaves. If you’ve got an infestation, try horticultural oil in concert with an improvement in growing conditions (i.e., brighter light and increased humidity).

Lady palm - one of our favorite indoor palm trees.
R. excelsa – a graceful indoor palm.

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

The lady palm is another great indoor palm tree that’s also used as a landscape palm outdoors. Rhapis excelsa has an interesting upright growth habit and beautiful, open fan-like fronds that give it an understated elegance and allow it to fit into narrower spaces compared to a kentia palm.

This species is believed to have originated somewhere in southern China and Taiwan, although this is not clear since the lady palm only exists today in cultivation, with no actual wild population. Regardless of where it came from, however, it is clear the lady palm is here to stay. R. excelsa is known for being tolerant of low humidity, relatively pest resistant, and is likewise comfortable at common room temperatures. It is also very sensitive to direct sunlight, which should be avoided indoors at all costs.

Ironically, while it burns very quickly in direct sunshine, it requires fairly bright indirect light, especially compared to the parlor palm and kentia palm. Therefore, if considering the lady palm make sure that you have a good east or west-facing window; or perhaps a shady location close to a south-facing exposure.

This species enjoys soil moisture but is sensitive to overwatering, especially if in a large pot. Follow the general rule of letting the surface soils dry slightly between waterings. Humidity cannot be too high, on the other hand, but the lady palm is quick to adapt to drier air, within reason. Mist R. excelsa daily to keep it happy and help combat a potential spider mite infestation.

Rhapis excelsa can grow up to 4 meters outdoors, but will generally get only half as large indoors, and with a young plant this will take lots of time. This is a slow-growing species and should not be fertilized aggressively. Even in good indoor conditions, it’s wise to err on the conservative side, giving this palm only 1/2 the manufacturer’s recommended fertilizer dose. For the same reason, there is no need to rush to repot. As with most palms, try to repot infrequently, only when the roots have filled the pot. When you do repot, use a high quality potting soil rich in organic matter that drains quickly.

Indoor Palm Trees, Leaf Tip Burn & Water Purity

Assuming you can provide good indirect light and follow the suggestions above, you should succeed with any or all of the indoor palm trees above. However, there are some issues common to indoor palms and many houseplants that is worth understanding.

Japanese maple showing mild leaf tip burn.
Japanese maple showing mild leaf tip burn.

Leaf tip burn is a common problem with a variety of plants, indoors and out. There many things that can cause this phenomena (whereby the tips of leaves will discolor and die back), but in most cases it’s usually due to underwatering, very low humidity and/or the presence (or accumulation) of dissolved solids, such as salts and hard water minerals, in tap water (or fertilizer). This in turn raises a biger issue of water quality and soil chemistry. I apologize in advance for the digression, but it’s important to understand for palms and plants in general.

All plants transpire or lose water water through microscopic pores called stomata. However, transpiration rates vary across the leaf (just like perspiration rates vary across the human body), with the highest rates occurring along the tips or margins of leaves. When water vapor is lost from a leaf, only pure water is released and everything else is left behind. It’s the reason why your glass and stemware may have white-ish residue left on them after air-drying.When water is lost at the leaves, more water is drawn up by the plant through capillary action to replace it. However, as just discussed, the salts and minerals naturally present in the water cannot turn into vapor and are deposited in the plant’s tissues. The result is a gradual accumulation and concentration of dissolved solids at the leaf tips. At some point, the concentration of these solutes reaches a point where they cause local toxicity and tissue necrosis – aka tip burn.

Humidity is a factor in tip burning because a plant’s rate of transpiration is somewhat dependent on humidity. All other things being equal, low humidity will result in a relatively high rate of transpiration. Consequently, both a high concentration of dissolved solids in tap water (or fertilizer residue in soil) and/or low humidity can exacerbate leaf tip burn. And both together can eventually cause the death of the entire plant.

If the palm is otherwise healthy, minor leaf tip burning is not a big deal, just gently clip the ends of the fronds if it bother you and increase humidity around the plant to slow water loss. However, if the entire plant is suffering from it and the palm is also growing poorly, with pale, stunted or discolored leaves, then it demands greater attention.

Water purity is important for indoor palm trees to thrive.
Machines like this sell “RO” water.

The easiest way to deal with tip burn accompanied by poor growth is by watering the palm with very pure water. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about using typical home-filtered water, like that produced by your refrigerator filter or some Britta unit. I’m talking about distilled or reverse osmosis water (“RO” water is commonly available in the large purified water machines outside most grocery stores). Unlike tap water or most so-called home “filtered water”, which can have total dissolved solids ranging from 50 to 300 parts per million, RO and distilled water have virtually nothing in them. Distilled water should read “0” ppm with a hand-held tester; whereas RO water can be anywhere from 0 to 10 ppm and still be effectively pure. Most common household tap water filters simply don’t actually extract dissolved solids, and usually pick out much larger particulates or volatile compounds like chlorine. It may make your water taste better, but it’s not any different as far as the plant is concerned.

Distilled or RO water helps palms and other affected plants in two ways. First, when a plant sheds this type of water, there’s nothing to leave behind in the leaves, and hence nothing to accumulate in the leaf tips (besides fertilizer residue or other soil additives already present). This cuts down burn dramatically. Secondly, and more importantly (but not as obvious), is how this water helps restore pH balance and promotes vigor.

Sweetgum with telltale signs of iron choloris
A sweetgum leaf with classic signs of iron chlorosis.

Most tap water (especially in the southwestand other arid/semi-arid regions of the US) tends to be alkaline and will eventually make soil alkaline too. If curious do a quick test with an aquarium pH test kit. This is a problem because most plants prefer soils that are neutral to slightly acidic (<pH 7.0). Why? Because nutrients and trace elements in the soil, even if in abundant supply, can be “locked up” at even moderately high pH values. The first thing that often gives away alkaline soils is that plants will go anemic and begin to yellow, despite fertilizing. This is one cause of iron chlorosis. In this case, it occurs because iron is locked up in these soils, and iron is the most important metal needed for chloroplast formation and function. Moreover, it’s not only iron that can be bound up in alkaline soils, various other trace elements can be rendered unavailable too. Using RO/distilled water, which is normally neutral, helps bring down soil pH. Further, because it is hyposmotic compared to the soil, it also leaches salts and hard water minerals out of the soil as it’s being watered through (water until it drains from the pot, then discard it). This both drops pH and helps keep it within a useful range for the plant. Consequently, the benefits from using this type of water go far beyond helping to minimize leaf tip burn.


Palm leaf two” by Fil.AI under CC BY 2.0

kentia” by Eduardo Millo under CC BY 2.0

Chamaedorea elegans” by Forest & Kim Starr under CC BY 2.0

Rhapis excelsa” by somone10x under CC BY 2.0

brown leaf tips” by Jessie Hirsch under CC BY 2.0

NOT an ATM” by Allan Ferguson under CC BY 2.0

A sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaf showing the signs of interveinal chlorosis.” by Jim Conrad [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

14 Truly Low Light Indoor Plants

Low light indoor plants typically refers to those that can survive and grow in relatively weak indirect light.  So what’s weak? For example, the type of light a plant may receive within a few feet of a north-facing window is very dim, as is the light from brighter exposures if the plant is located several feet away from any window. An extreme example would be a windowless room, in which case there would need to be at least some overhead florescent-type lighting to keep even the toughest plants alive.

Golden pothos is one of the most common low light indoor plantsFinding True Low Light Indoor Plants

The truth is that this type of low light is quite challenging for most houseplants to deal with. Sure, there are many species that may look good in a dim corner for weeks, but most will simply deteriorate over time. I always get a kick out of blogs that include moderate to high-light species on their so-called “low-light” plant lists. I for one do not consider houseplants to be a disposable item. If they can’t survive and maintain some type of growth, they shouldn’t be named. There is a common tendency to underestimate how much light the average houseplant needs. Don’t make the same mistake, because it’s a fatal one.

General Rules for Growing Low Light Indoor Plants

Before we get to our hand-picked list of the very best low light houseplants, make sure to adopt good general plant care guidelines. And remember to keep the following general rules of thumb in mind when picking plants for true low light situations:

  • [icon name=”icon-leaf”]Plants in dim conditions grow and respire slowly. This makes them vulnerable to overwatering and root rot. Unless otherwise stated, let the surface soil dry slightly between waterings and use the finger-stick method to check when they need watering.
  • [icon name=”icon-leaf”]Plants grown in low light need far less fertilizer than those grown in brighter light. Be conservative with fertilizer and consider using it at 1/2 manufacturer’s recommended strength.
  • [icon name=”icon-leaf”]Most low light species are easily burned by direct light. Keep them in bright indirect light at most, and make sure to filter any direct light that strikes them.
  • [icon name=”icon-leaf”]Most low indoor plants look and do their best in bright indirect light, such as that near an east or west-facing window. When locating a plant, pick the brightest spot possible. Put a sculpture in a dark corner instead!
  • [icon name=”icon-leaf”]Many of the plants below come in variegated forms; however, choose the plain green forms for very low light situations since their leaves are better at absorbing light.

14 of the Best Low Light Indoor Plants!

Without further ado, here are our some of the most durable low light indoor plants you can buy.

1) Heart-Leaved Philodendron

Heart-leaved philodrendron is an excellent low light houseplant.

Latin Name: Philodendron scandens

Origin: Central & South America

P. scandens is one of my very top picks for the dimmest areas of a home, and makes a great office plant too. This plant is extremely tolerant of all types of neglect but somehow manages to keep growing. I remember my father growing one specimen along a windowless wall over the kitchen cabinets. The vine thrived for years in these conditions, and earned my respect for life.

There aren’t too many mistakes you can make, besides overwatering. Keep this plant away for direct light. Pinch the budding tips of the vines before the new leaves open to encourage side-branching on leggy plants. Daily misting is a good idea but not necessary. The bright green coloration of the plant depicted in the photo to the left indicates that it’s receiving very good light.

2) Golden Pothos Vine, Devil’s Ivy

Golden pothos really earns the name "Devil's" Ivy when grown outdoors!

Latin Name: Epipremnum pinnatum

Origin: southern Asia and the western Pacific

E. pinnatum is another super low-light tolerant indoor plant that no dim room should be without. As I explained previously, this species is a veritable monster when growing loose in the wild; it can climb and smother out the crown of other trees and is a considered a noxious invasive in Hawaii. In a pot indoors, however, it’s a very easy plant to care for and much less evil.

Care is similar to P. scandens above; however, in particularly low light you will see much less of the cream-colored variegation on the leaves, and they will become a deeper, more uniform green. It’s normal – it’s just your pothos upping the chlorophyll to extract more light from the room.

3) Cast Iron Plant

One of the toughest low light indoor plants: the cast iron plant.Latin Name: Aspidistra elatior

Origin: Japan and Taiwan

“Cast Iron” because they are nearly impervious to attack by black thumbs, A. elatior is arguably the toughest member of the genus as far as houseplants go, and best suited to low light due to its uniformly deep green leaves.

The plant spreads via a rhizome (underground stem) and looks great with multiple stems pushing up in the same pot. While it is certainly capable of tolerating low light, you may be pleased at how much better it can look in bright indirect light. Avoid subjecting this plant to direct light.

4) Parlor Palm

Parlor palm: one of the few plam species that can thrive in dim light indoors.Latin Name: Chamaedorea elegans

Origin: Southern Mexico & Guatemala

Palms are generally moderate to high light plants that often do poorly indoors. However, C. elegans has proven itself a true low light species that will, as the name implies, grace even dim “parlors” and other interior spaces. If you have a brighter window, you might try the larger and more regal kentia palm. But if you’re limited to a north-facing window or, worse, a location several feet from any window, then C. elegans is probably the only palm that has a shot at thriving.

Note that these palms may develop blackened left tips, which is typically caused by chemicals and salts in tap water. Try using water aged overnight and make sure to really flush the pot out when you do water to leach out salts/minerals. Watering with distilled water may be a better option for regions with particularly hard and alkaline tap water.

5) Peace Lily

Peace lilies make attractive and trouble-free low light houseplants.Latin Name: Spathiphyllum sp.

Origin: Central & S. America, southern Asia

While not a real lily, there are many species and cultivars in the “peace lily” genus Spathiphyllum, and virtually all of the ones you’re likely to find at your local nursery make outstanding low light houseplants. Some can reach 5-6 feet tall, but most will be less than 2 feet at maturity.

Like the cast iron plant, the peace lily has no real weak spots in its armor: it can tolerate both under and overwatering (to a degree), and will even grow (albeit slowly) in dim cubicles by drawing off of overhead florescent lighting, which also makes it a great office plant. As usual, avoid direct light to prevent burn. You are likely to buy them while in flower (that’s the hood-like white “spath” you see in the center), but understand that flowering requires fairly bright indirect light, so don’t be surprised if your plant is reluctant to repeat this very often in the dim confines of your home.

6) Arrowhead Vine

Arrowhead vine will tolerate low light indoors if given sufficient humidity.Latin Name: Syngonium sp.

Origin: South & Central America

Syngonium is a big genus with a lot of varieties, but most sold as houseplants (such as S. podophyllum) typically looks and act like a heart-leaved philodendron or golden phothos, except that they tend to have pale-ish green arrow-shaped leaves, and the vine grows in a slightly more inclined fashion. It too can adapt to low light levels but will gladly accept very bright indirect light if available. Direct sunshine is a no no. There are many cultivars and variegated forms. As usual, if low light is all you’ve got, stick to varieties with more uniform green leaves.

While the arrowhead vine is just about as tough as any other plant discussed here, it does have one guilty pleasure: humidity. If at all possible, it’s a good idea to give this plant a daily misting, unless you already happen to be in a very humid (>50%) environment. Like the other vines mentioned above, pinching off budding tips is a good way to foster more compact growth.

7) Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

Snake plants are virtually indestructable low light indoor plants with lots of character.Latin Name: Sansevieria trifasciata

Origin: West Africa

There are many snake plants, but perhaps the most popular is Sansevieria trifasciataRenown for its ability to thrive in conditions that would kill most other houseplants, it is a common addition to most office plant interiorscaping plans. Indeed, with their slightly warped and upward stiff, yellow-edged strap-like leaves, they do pique interest and contrast nicely with typical foliage plants. They are especially attractive used as large floor specimens or as an indoor hedge in long planters.

This is easily one of the least demanding plants known to humankind. Low light is taken in stride, barren soils normally don’t pose a problem, and even underwatering is usually forgiven in all but the most egregious cases. But this plant does have an Achilles heel – it does not like continually moist soils and can be overwatered to death just about as easily as any other plant. Just remember to apply the general rule of allowing the surface soils to dry between waterings and you should be fine. In any event, err a bit on the side of less, rather than more water.

8) Cornstalk Plant

This variegated from of D. dermensis prefers more moderate light indoors.Latin Name:  Dracaena deremensis

Origin: equatorial Africa

Another species on our best office plant list, D. deremensis is a proven low light indoor plant that is very undemanding when given basic care. As discussed previously, when considering varieties for low light levels, pick those with greener, more efficient light-absorbing leaves, such as D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ rather than the more showy, yellow/white-streaked variegated types like D. deremensis ‘Lemon Lime’ (pictured to the left). In either case, avoid subjecting these plants to direct light and avoid overwatering.

If these plants get too long and start to lean, besides staking, you can also top-cut the plant and stick the cut end into a light seed starting mix. If you’re in luck it may root and start a brand new plant. But even if it doesn’t, cutting the top should encourage the formation of side-shoots below the cut and ultimately make the plant look fuller.

9) ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant: a true conversation piece among other low light indoor plants.Latin Name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Origin: Africa

The “ZZ” plant is at first blush as perplexing as it’s impenetrable Latin name. Indeed, this strange shrub seems almost reptilian in the way its scaly leaves are systematically arranged on its outstretched rachis. Interestingly, while many have never seen one before, it has been known about for around 100 years, yet only recently seems to have become a trendy office plant.

Fortunately, the ZZ plant is not just a gimmick, this is one extremely tough and adaptable indoor plant that is very tolerant of low light. That is precisely why it seems to be in so many offices these days. It can also withstand occasional underwatering and is an all-around a very undemanding plant. Do take care to avoid overwatering and exposure to direct sunlight.

 10) Lucky Bamboo

This small Dracaena makes a superb low light houseplant that could improve your luck!Latin Name: Dracaena braunii, D. sanderiana

Origin: tropical West Africa

A popular symbol of feng shui in the East that supposedly represents the ideal union of wood and water, the lucky “bamboo” (which is a misnomer since this plant is not a bamboo, but rather a member of the popular houseplant genus Dracaena) is a very common species that can be found in offices, homes and restaurants, especially in Asia. Apparently, the number of stalks is critical to the type of luck you may receive: six represent health; five bring on wealth; and three is for happiness.

Regardless whether any of these beliefs resonate with you, this is one very tough plant that makes a great low light indoor plant. It is customarily sold in vases of water and pebbles, and it will grow in water fine so long as your tap water is relatively low in mineral, flourine and chlorine content. For best results in these water vases though, consider using distilled water, especially when topping off water due to evaporation. Don’t forget that this plant can be grown soil, which is actually best for the plant. Bright indirect light is optimal (keep out of direct light) and will make a healthier looking specimen but, as stated, dim light will be tolerated remarkably well by houseplant standards.

11) Money Tree / Guiana Chestnut

The money tree may not make you rich, but it is a good choice for low light environments.Latin Name: Pachira aquatica, P. glabra

Origin: South & Central America

Another popular auspice of good fortune, the money tree is often sold with braided trunks and is likewise common in the East. Similar to an umbrella plant, this tree produces large, palmately compound leaves and has a woody trunk that can be swollen at the base (in the case of P. glabra). In suitable locations in the wild it can grow to nearly 60 feet.

Adapted to living in flooded forest, this species requires consistently moist (not wet) soils and really appreciates daily misting if you live in a drier environment. While it does best indoors in bright indirect light near an east or west-facing window (avoid direct sun), it’s worth mentioning here because it will settle for much dimmer light – at least for quite some time before protesting. If your plant starts to mysteriously deteriorate over time and all other conditions (water, humidity, nutrition) are satisfactory, it probably needs more light. A great patio plant in warmer climes.

12) Creeping Fig

Creeping fig is an interesting, small vining species that's quite tolerant of low light.Latin Name: Ficus pumila

Origin: Eastern Asia

Not like the fig species you’re probably used to, this extremely tough vine makes an outstanding low light indoor plant and is perfect in hanging baskets. The leaves remain small, but the vine can grow quite rapidly and is fairly tolerant to dry air and even a bit of underwatering. However, try to give it some extra humidity, bright indirect light, and fertilize it regularly for best results. Direct sun should be avoided or well-filtered indoors.

In dim light over time, the vine may grow “leggy” (i.e., long leafless stretches may develop on the vine). However, this can be curbed by constantly pinching the vine tips to encourage side branching. Sections of vine can also be buried in the soil where they will root and create a bushier plant. One of the very best species for terrariums, if pruned to keep in check. Variegated forms will lose much of their white coloration in low light.

13) Spike Moss / Peacock Fern

If given enough humidity, spike moss is an unusual houseplant that will thrive in fairly weak low light. Latin Name: Selaginella sp.

Origin: Americas, predominantly

The name spike moss refers to a very large and complex genus of primitive ground-covering plants distantly related to fern and mosses. They come in different colors and take slightly different shapes, but nearly all are low-growing and have very tiny leaf like structures that given them an almost scaly appearance. While they are not often mentioned as houseplants, they make some of the most interesting low light indoor plants of all.

Most species that you’re likely to find are tropical and used to living in the dim light of the forest floor. As such, they thrive in bright indirect light (direct light will cook them) but can adapt very well to dim light as well. Their only real need, besides a uniformly moist and well-draining soil, is humidity. Most commercially-available spike moss will not do well in dry air. Consequently, it is a great idea to mist this plant often or keep it in a terrarium. Some species, such S. willdenowii, are sometimes sold as “aquatic” plants by large pet store chains. This is unfortunate, since none of the commonly available Selaginella will live when completely submerged. It may take weeks, but a plant submerged will always die.

14) Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreen is a classic low light indoor plant species that no home or office should be without.Latin Name: Aglaonema sp.

Origin: tropical Asia

Last but certainly not least are the Chinese evergreens, which refers to a group of popular and common houseplants in the genus Aglaonema. These are among the most attractive and least demanding of all low light indoor plants. In fact, if I’m in a large office that’s been professionally interiorscaped and don’t see one of these, red flags go up for me.

They are not only very good for dim rooms, but they are very good adapting to dry air and will handle a fair bit of neglect. Keep in mind that the cultivars with very pale leaves, such as Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’, will need a bit more light compared to darker varieties of A. commutatum. These are very slow growing plants that need very little fertilizer; they should also be watered conservatively. Avoid exposure to direct, unfiltered sunlight to prevent leaf-burn.

Photo credits (in order of appearance):

parlor palm” by ume-y under CC BY 2.0

Pothos ‘Marble Queen‘” by ProBuild Garden Center under CC BY-ND 2.0

Balance” by Julia Folsom under CC BY-SA 2.0

IMG_0462.JPG” by Amanda under CC BY 2.0

Aspidistra eliator” by Nino Barbieri under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Chamaedora elegans” by Forest & Kim Starr under CC BY 2.0

lily” by OiMax under CC BY 2.0

Syngonium” by Eran Finkle under CC BY 2.0

Sansevieria” by Kate Bunder under CC BY-NC 2.0

Dracaena deremensis Lemon Lime” by Maja Duma – CC BY 2.0

Zamioculcas zamiifolia-madera” by Jukka Heinonen under CC BY-ND 2.0

Dracaena sanderiana” by Champlax under CC BY-SA 3.0

Money Tree” by Mac Armstrong under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ficus pumila” by Hajime Nakano under CC BY 2.0

Peacock Fern” by Drew Avery under CC BY 2.0

The 7 Best Office Plants Revealed!

Decorating with office plants is one of the best ways to combat the often sterile, cold feel of the workplace. The color and softness they bring also help remind us of the natural world that can seem so distant when we’re busy doing our jobs.

The only problem is that finding suitable office plants that not only look good, but can thrive in typical office conditions can be challenging. Moreover, most nursery center stock sold as indoor plant material comes with little or no information about the particular species, even if the scientific name is provided (which it usually is not).

Consequently, many office plant shoppers are likely to purchase plants that are claimed to be “low light” but are in fact destined to perish in the relatively dim confines of the typical workplace. Trial and error when it comes to selecting office plants is definitely not the best – or most economical – way to go.

Helping You Find The Most Suitable Office Plants

The good news is that you don’t have to kill a bunch of innocent plants until you find one that can withstand your office. We’ve endeavored to take the headache out of the selection by featuring some of the most attractive, adaptable and easy to grow office plants available.

Each of these office plants has passed our criteria for dealing with: (1) low light levels; (2) low humidity; (3) poor ventilation; and (4) typical, occasional neglect.

Without further ado, let’s get to the picks.

1) Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)

Native to the warm, humid regions of Asia, where these plants occupy the dim light of the forest floor, the common name “Chinese Evergreen” encompasses over 20 named species in the genus Aglaonema, not including a constantly growing list of Aglaonema cultivars.

The Chinese evergreen is one of the most attractive and low-maintenance office plants.
Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’ likes a bright office.
by ryoki – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

These office plants are very tolerant of low light levels generally, but take note that the various cultivars are not equal in this regard. As we’ve said before whenever considering houseplants, remember that varieties with darker, deeper green foliage are usually much better at dealing with very low light compared to more variegated forms, whose bright streaking and coloration normally displaces leaf area that could otherwise support light-capturing chloroplasts.

For example, Aglaonema commutatum ‘Silver Queen’ is an outstanding and extremely popular office plant that is low-light by most standards; however, its broad areas of pale, silvery-grey coloration make it significantly less hardy in darker, windowless office spaces compared to say A. commutatum ‘Maria,’ which is typified by reduced variegation and a deeper, dark green background coloration.

Consequently, the lighter, paler leaf-forms of Aglaonema can be used where there is at least some bright indirect light, and they should thrive if placed withing several feet of most windows.

A. commutatum is one of the most forgiving office plants available.
This A. commutatum is better suited for low light.
by Kurt Stüber under CC BY-SA 3.0

If, however, your office is illuminated solely by overhead lighting, or the plant is bound for a dim spot far from any window, definitely opt for the darker forms of Aglaonema, such as ‘Maria.’

Do not expose any form of Chinese evergreen to sustained direct light, as they are sensitive to burn. Well-filtered direct light, or early morning sun from an east-facing window, is appreciated if the plant is gradually acclimated to it. Plants that are getting too much light will often develop pale, somewhat bleached or washed out-looking foliage.

Assuming the very modest light requirements of this genus are met, there is little beyond ordinary houseplant care that’s required. In other words, use proper watering techniques, provide good drainage, and watch out for pests. These plants enjoy humidity, but are extremely good at adapting to dry air. Still, it’s a good idea to mist them occasionally and wipe their broad leaves with a damp cloth now and then.

Due to their very slow growth rates, fertilizing should be performed regularly, but at 1/2 the suggested dose – unless the plant is growing in vigorously in bright light, in which case full strength indoor fertilizer can be used.

2) Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)

The low light requirements of spathiphyllum make them hardy office plants.
Peace lily with “spath” flower.
Fabian Sanhueza – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Not actually a relative of true lilies, the genus Spathiphyllum, sometimes collectively referred to as “Spath” plants, are a large group of Aroid plants that inhabit the forest understory in tropical regions from Asia to the Americas.

Generally speaking, virtually all of the cultivars commonly available are tolerant of very low light levels, which is whey they are often seen in group-type plantings in commercial areas such as shopping malls. Indeed, with their uniformly deep green leaves, peace lilies can tolerate some of the dimmest locations indoors, and can even do well under good overhead artificial lighting in otherwise windowless locations.

Spath plants are often purchased while in flower. The characteristic white spathe (hood) and enclosed spadix are more likely to develop in plants grown in strong indirect light; they often persist for a few days to a week, after which time they will begin to discolor and fade. If you are not partial to these flowers, it’s often a good idea to pinch them off early to divert more energy into producing foliage.

Large spathiphyllum make stunning specimens.
Some peace lilies can grow quite large.
by Tona & Yo – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Peace lilies do enjoy high humidity and grow best in warm environments, but are quick to adapt of virtually any conditions so long as their very minimal light requirements are met. Fertilize plants according to growth and light exposure; i.e., give more vigorous plants in brighter light the full recommended dose and specimens in dim lighting at most 1/2 manufacturer’s recommended strength.

These plants will tolerate considerable overwatering compared to most houseplants and as they enjoy moisture, but don’t push it. It’s a good idea to follow basic watering techniques and allow the surface soil layers  to dry slightly between waterings. If, however, you see wilting, you’ve held off too long!

If all that weren’t enough, Spathiphyllum are among the best air cleaners in the houseplant world, and were among the most efficient at reducing various airborne pollutants in NASA indoor air quality studies.

The main difference between the various cultivars available is size, with most topping out under 3 feet tall. However, there are some hybrids that make stunning, large indoor plants, such as Spathiphyllum ‘Sensation,’ the largest  cultivar commonly available that produces huge ribbed leaves and can grow up to 6 feet tall!

3) Golden Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum)

Golden pothos is the Jeckyll and Hyde of indoor plants. Let me explain.

This is what happens when you let a golden pothos out of the office!
E. pinnatum overtaking a palm.
Forest & Kim Starr – CC BY 2.0

Indoors, the familiar golden pothos or “centipede tongavine” as it’s sometimes called, is the respected and mild-mannered – Mr. Jeckyll. This species makes one of the most attractive and durable container or hanging plants you can get, and normally takes the form of a thin (pencil-width) vine adorned with bright green, cream-colored variegated leaves about 6 inches long that are particularly colorful in bright indirect light. The vine can be trained to climb posts, walls and other objects.

Outdoors in its native haunts in tropical regions of southern Asia and the western Pacific, however, and particularly across the various regions where it has escaped cultivation and threatens native trees, it is the evil Mr. Hyde.

Indeed, when let loose in tropical forest, E. pinnatum sheds it’s “baby” leaves and assumes monstrous proportions. Leaves on a mature plant typically go from being heart-shaped, intact and unbroken (i.e., entire) to long, irregularly dissected and pinnate. They also get absolutely huge, and can grow to over a meter long and a foot and a half wide! A fully mature E. pinnatum can grow to over 60 feet tall and develop a 2 inch diameter trunk.

No, you will never need to worry about your golden pothos climbing out of its pot and attacking you in retaliation for neglect. But you should mind its extremely short list of requirements; which are: (1) give it bright indirect light; (2) water thoroughly but let the surface soil layers dry slightly between watering; and (3) give it an all purpose fertilizer once and a while to keep it fed. A daily misting is recommended, but not essential. Like the spath plant, the golden pothos is one of NASA’s air-cleaning species.

Golden pothos is an office plant with the heart of a tiger.
E. pinnatum more subdued and trapped in a pot!
by Elvis Ripley – CC BY-NC 2.0

Beyond that, there are few ways you can kill a golden pothos, and they can endure just about all of the rookie mistakes that might kill other so-called office plants, including under and over-watering. They are also among the easiest office plants to propagate; just place short sections of the vine in water – or simply stick them in a light soil kept continually moist.

Finally, its quite rare for this species to be blighted by pests or disease. Overall, this is a easily one of the best – if not the best – office plant for newbie to experienced houseplant growers alike.

Take note that all parts of the golden pothos plant are toxic, thanks to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. So keep them away from curious pets/children.

4) Heart-Leaved Philodendron (Philodendron scandens var. oxycardium)

The heart-leaved philodendron is probably the hardiest office plant currently known to man! OK, perhaps there’s something even more durable out there, but I have still yet to find it.

P. scandens is a very undemanding and attractive vining office plant.
P. scandens is a very hardy office plant.
by Brian under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

P. scandens var. oxycardium is native to balmy south America, where it can grow several meters tall and boast leaves a food wide. Indoors, however, it is a moderate to slow-growing vine with bright to dark green heart-shaped leaves that rarely exceed 6 inches in diameter. It has a climbing habit that can be encouraged by temporarily tying the vine to objects such as walls, posts and staking material.

Although they are not closely related, care of P. scandens is virtually identical to that described for the golden pothos. However, P. scandens can even tolerate lower light with it’s uniformly green leaves. This obviously would not apply to the variegated form of P. scandens that is currently popular.

With it’s tolerance for very low light levels, relative comfort in dry office air and remarkable resistance to under/over-watering, this is the first office plant I would choose for the inexperienced grower and dimmest, darkest office environments.

Of course, in a completely windowless space this plant would gladly welcome even weak florescent lighting from a small desk lamp aimed in its direction. If your lighting is even too weak for this plant, it will let you know with very slow, leggy growth (i.e., the space between leaves will be exaggerated and the plant will look very spindly). This spindly look can be mitigated to some degree by pinching the growing tips of the vine to encourage side-branching.

Heart-leaved philodendron are particularly low light indoor plants.
Heart-leaved philodendron need little light to thrive.
photo by Katie Brady under CC BY 2.0

On the other extreme, direct light can quickly burn the leaves of P. scandens, so keep it in bright indirect light and be sure to filter any direct light.

A plant growing in dim conditions may need fertilizer just once every few months, and then only at 1/2 the recommended dose. In contrast, specimens in strong light that are putting on lots of growth will require more regular feeding to sustain vigor.

Like the golden pothos, the heart-leaved philodendron cannot be easier to propagate, and cuttings placed in a vase of water or a moist, light medium will normally root within 4 weeks or so, depending on light, temperature and the health of the plant.

Bear in mind that like the golden pothos, P. scadens is armed with toxic calcium oxalate, so consuming any part of this plant can cause an acute poisoning in people and pets.

5) Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

No list of hardy indoor or office plants would be complete without mention of the virtually indestructible snake plant.

Snake plants make some of the toughest office plants.
Perfect office plant: snake plant.
Steven Severinghaus – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sansevieria trifasciata is native to West Africa, but is cherished around the world for it’s exotic look and legendary tolerance to a variety of home environments and light levels.

This plant consists of long and stiff, strap like leaves that contort slightly as they extend toward sharp tips. There are many varieties of snake plant, with some possessing subtle vertical striping and others coming in a bright slate grey. Perhaps the most common and recognizable variety is that typified by deep green leaves bordered by prominent yellow margins.

S. trifasciata is one of the most adaptable houseplants, especially in terms of light requirements. It can thrive in part sun and also grow well in purely indirect light, and relatively weak light at that. Large specimens are often used as floor pots in lobbies and bright walkways, where their vertical orientation and strange, twisted whorls provide texture and color.

Snake plant come in a myriad of shapes and colors.
Interesting, variegated form of S. poweli.

There are very few rules to remember when growing that snake plant. The biggest problem that most people run into is overwatering. While this plant is quite resistant to under-watering, continually wet soils can quickly lead to root rot. And unfortunately, due to their stiff leaves, the first sign of rot usually comes too late to save the plant.

Baring too much water and growing the plant in a closet, the snake plant is just about black thumb-proof. As such, along with the heart-leaved philodendron, I highly recommend S. trifasciata to anyone trying to break a houseplant killing streak.

6) Cornstalk Plant – (Dracaena deremensis)

The large genus Dracaena is a gold mine for finding low-maintenance and attractive office plants, and there are way too many varieties to describe in any detail here. However, a couple of my favorites are the cornstalk plant, Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ and Dracaena marginata, the “dragon tree.”

Variegated Dracaena require bright light to thrive.
D. deremensis var. ‘Lemon Lime’ is always popular.
Maja Duma – CC BY 2.0

The cornstalk plant, a native of equatorial Africa, comes in many colorful variations including the popular ‘Warneckii and ‘Lemon Lime’ cultivars. However, for the low lighting of most office spaces, I prefer dark-leaved varieties of D. deremensis, such as var. ‘Janet Craig,’ which features broad green leaves that are much better at capturing light.

D. deremensis can grow to great heights (up to 40 feet) in the wild and are a popular landscaping/hedge plant in Hawaii. Indoors they also adopt an attractive upright growth habit, and can quickly exceed 6 feet in height under good conditions if not pruned down.

They usually come as multi-stemmed pots with 3 or 4 plants staggered in height. The name “corn” plant comes from the cascading whorls of flat green leaves that do resemble the general look of a true corn plant.

Like most Dracaena, the cornstalk plant thrives in bright indirect light, but will tolerate very low light as good as just about any plant can. It is also not picky about temperatures either; however, cold drafts are to be avoided. And while high humidity is enjoyed, it is not necessary, and this species will usually adapt to drier air.

Green-leaved Dracaena make the best office plants.
Stick with deep green Dracaena for low light.
Dinesh Valke – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Water as any houseplant. Propagation is easy using air layering techniques or rooting topped plants in a light growing medium

A common complaint about Dracaena are their vulnerability to leaf tip burn. This is usually a result of fluorine and/or chlorine in tap water, and can also result from salt buildup in hard water areas. This tip burn is likely to be magnified in hot environments with dry air, since the rate of transpiration is elevated under such conditions.

A good way to deal with leaf burn (besides gently clipping the burned tips) is by thoroughly watering the plant with distilled or reverse osmosis water periodically, at least once a week. And when tap water is used, let it first stand overnight to let the chlorine volatilize. Raising humidity by misting the plant may also help minimize the rate of tip burn.

A healthy Dracaena will require fertilizer periodically to maintain strong growth, especially if grown in good light and after flushing with distilled water as described above (since this leaches out beneficial nutrients too).

Overall, D. dermensis is one of my favorite low light indoor office plants – and with its good height an upright growth, it makes an outstanding and low maintenance office tree as well.

7) ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Last but certainly not least is the “ZZ” plant, more technically named Zamioculcas zamiifolia – this is definitely one of the most intriguing office plants of all.

While this African native has been known to botanists for over a century, it seems like the ZZ plant has only recently taken hold as a staple figure in mainstream interiorscaping.

The ZZ plant makes an interesting and low-maintenance addition to the office.
ZZ plant in office setting.
Nelson Pavlosky – CC BY-SA 2.0

The ZZ plant presents a somewhat odd picture indeed, with cycad-like features, a thick tuberous base and almost scaly leaves that seem misplaced among other more familiar houseplants. However, it is a member of the Aroid family, a common source of many indoor plants including the peace lily discussed above.

Due to it’s adaptation to the slightly drier grassland and savannah habitats, you will want to keep this plant in fast-draining soil and take care not to leave it wet soil. Beyond that, however, simply water as you would any other houseplant by letting the surface soil layers dry slightly between waterings.

While the ZZ plant can store water as an adaptation to periods of drought, you should water it regularly to avoid encouraging dormancy and/or leaf drop.

Aside from it’s peculiar good looks, the ZZ plant is very well-known for tolerating varying light levels, including everything from bright indirect and filtered direct light, down to fairly dim lighting typical of most office spaces. Protect it from hot, direct light.

This is a very slow-growing species that usually tops out at a meter in height for a large specimen. Fortunately, it seems very resistant to most houseplant pets and requires very little attention overall. Fertilize as you would an ordinary houseplant.

Another very interesting fact about the ZZ plant is that it can be propagated from leaf cuttings inserted into a light seed starting medium. However, brace yourself; according to this source, you may have to wait at least nine months for a plantlet to form! It seems that truly everything about this plant is slow.

Featured (top) photo credit: by Kate Bunder under CC BY-NC 2.0