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.
Finding 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Latin Name: Sansevieria trifasciata
Origin: West Africa
There are many snake plants, but perhaps the most popular is Sansevieria trifasciata. Renown 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
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
Latin Name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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