Let's Talk About Low Light Plants

Let's Talk About Low Light Plants

What is considered "low light" and what plants work best in low light situations?

Jackie Maahs

November 24, 2021

6 min read

We all have that corner of our living room that just doesn’t get quite the right amount of light to support a beautiful fiddle leaf fig, jungle-y palm, or stoic cactus. But, don’t worry, a low light plant may be just what you need to bring a dose of greenery to that otherwise dull corner! Today I want to chat through what is considered a low light plant, and a few of my favorite shade tolerant plants.

What Does “Low Light” Really Mean?

Before diving into a list of my favorite low light plants I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about what low light actually means.

First, low light does not mean “no light.” All plants need light. Natural sunlight is best for plants since it contains the full spectrum of light that a plant needs to grow. The sun can provide a dose of warmth to the plant that mimics its natural growing environment. When helping our customers pick out a new plant, if someone mentions that they want to put a plant in a windowless room or office, we are always intentional about mentioning that the plant may not live long term in a windowless space. Oftentimes the artificial light provided by overhead lights is not quite enough to give the plant the “food” it needs to grow or thrive. 

Many plants can live off of artificial light sources, but the key is ensuring the light has the proper color spectrum and is close enough to the plant to provide the light intensity needed to help the plant grow. As you distance a plant from a light source, the intensity of the light drops drastically. You can test this by using a light meter or by downloading a light meter app on your phone. Light is usually measured in a unit called foot candles (ftc) and you can find charts online that will list out foot candle recommendations for different plants. 

Generally, a low light plant is one that requires about 25-100ftc of light, however exact light needs will depend on the plant. Compare this to some succulents, which will thrive in over 1000ftc. Because of their minimal light needs, low light plants may survive for quite a while in a situation where they are receiving little natural light, or only artificial light. But again, remember that surviving is not thriving, so if you are looking to have a plant long term, you may want to consider giving it at least some natural light every once in a while. With that being said - I also will not judge you if you want to add greenery to your windowless office, and are okay with simply bringing in a plant and knowing you may have to replace it in a year or two. Sometimes you just need that dose of natural greenery no matter what it takes!

My Favorite Low Light Plants

So, now that we have a better understanding of what low light means - let’s talk about my favorite low light plants! I would like to start by saying that generally, low light plants are some of my favorite plants of all time for two reasons. One, is that I can put them almost anywhere in my home and they will be happy. Because of this they provide versatility in decorating and low maintenance greenery for areas that would be otherwise difficult to bring life to. Second, low light plants generally tend to be very resilient plants. In my experience, most of the plants I am going to list below are the easiest care plants that I have owned!

1. Snake Plants

Snake plants are low light plant royalty. If you look at any list of low light plants online, a snake plant will likely be somewhere near the top of the list, and for good reason - they are incredible. Snake Plants, or plants in the Sansevieria family, have a stunning blade or spike like leaf shape, come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, and are extremely drought tolerant. I love that their structural shape allows you to stick them almost anywhere without having to worry about them sprawling all over your floor. 

2. ZZ Plants

Another popular low light plant is a ZZ plant or Zanzibar Gem. These plants, native to East Africa, come in deep, lush greens, and are known for their resiliency. Not only do they grow well in low light, but they also thrive off infrequent watering. Under the soil, the plant is made up of a cluster of rhizomes, or water trapping nodes, that allow the plant to continue to thrive when water is in short supply. This characteristic, along with its ability to withstand low light conditions make it a great plant for new plant parents - especially those that would rather not have to water their plants frequently. 

3. Arrowhead Plants

Plants in the Syngonium family, also called arrowhead plants, have delicate, beautiful leaves and tend to vine. From personal experience, I would say these plants are not quite as low light tolerant as a zz plant or snake plant, but they definitely do better than most plants in low light situations. I also love that they come in such a wide variety of beautiful colors and patterns. These are definitely a must have for rooms that have decent ambient light, but don’t necessarily get direct light. 

4. Pothos Plants

Pothos plants are one of the most versatile houseplants on the market. One of the common names for this plant is Devil’s Ivy because it is known for growing in even the most difficult of conditions. Pothos plants come in a variety of colors, leaf patterns and can be a fun plant to collect if you like lush, vining plants. I personally have a handful of these in my home, and I move them around frequently to add a jungle-y feel to a space.

5. Chinese Evergreens

Chinese evergreens, or aglaonemas, are another variety of low light, easy care plants. These tend to be a little bit larger in size, and can be found in a variety of fun colors and leaf patterns. They also can produce interesting looking flowers that you can choose to leave on the plant, or cut off if you would prefer the plant use its energy to produce more of its beautiful foliage. 

A Few More

The plants listed above are my personal top 5 favorite low light plants, but there are a number of others that you can try:

6. Philodendrons

7. Cast Iron Plants

8. Spider Plants

9. Peace Lilies

10. Haworthias

11.English Ivy

12. Dracaenas (specifically varieties with darker leaves)

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Jackie Maahs

Jackie is the Co - Founder of The Plant Supply. She really loves plants.