Indoor plant for my office
July 10, 2014 4:42 AM   Subscribe

About 12 months ago I started work at a new workplace. The office fit-out is ordinary; beige cubicles for the workers, (mostly) windowless little offices for the big-salary earners. We all work in a low-rise building a few ks out of the CBD. A few nice things about the environment struck me when I was new: the lovely Indo-pacific artefacts decorating the place and the abundance of lovely tropical plants everywhere.

Flash-forward to now: turns out the office-plants contract was costing AUD5000 a year. They've ceased the contract because now we have US-corporate masters who demand savings. They have offered the following deal: Each employee can buy a plant to a total value of AUD50 and take the receipt to the office manager and have it reimbursed in our salary. One time only plus up-keep/survival of office plant is our own problem.

OK. Cool. My question is... What plant? What plant works for you with little natural sunlight, a basically dry environment, and may be left unattended for weekends (of course) but also for weeks (if I'm on leave)? I've considered Succulents and my boss has gone that route with a Bromeliad and an Orchid (both of which I feel will disappoint her eventually). Bonzai? Cactus? Daciena? Fern? Some arrangement of of moss/lichen on rocks? Edible herbs under a grow light?

A terrarium? I really love my office plants. Thanks guys.
posted by evil_esto to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
little natural sunlight, a basically dry environment, and may be left unattended for weekends (of course)

Peace Lily

Mine blooms luxuriantly in a dark bedroom and just a bit of water everytime its leaves droop, which is like, once every three weeks or so. It is really the best plant for a lazy person. Not saying you're lazy but I certainly am.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:01 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want something on the bigger side, ficus benjamina is really forgiving water-wise and sunlight-wise, and although it does drop some leaves whenever it's annoyed (repotting/moving) it recovers fast.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:11 AM on July 10, 2014

I had a little jade plant for several years that was quite happy in a low-light, mostly-unattended environment. It did eventually get sick and die and I'm still not sure why, but it was well worth whatever I paid for it for the several years it lasted and made me happy on my desk.
posted by Stacey at 5:33 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Zanzibar gem. Have seen them survive that sort of environment very well.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:58 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing Peace Lily. Also, Chinese Evergreen, which comes in several varieties. It's often seen in pots on the floor next to desks. Likes being dried out between waterings. The leaves should be wiped off with a damp cloth once in a while. Tolerates low light.

The most common variety in U.S. offices is Silver Queen, tho' there are 21 varieties to choose from so ymmv in terms of choices in your area.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:02 AM on July 10, 2014

Snake plants do very well with low light and neglect, as does pothos.

Peace lilies really are quite nice though, and are one of the few eligible plants that have a bloom. I'd leave any of these plants for a week and maybe two, though they'd be happier if you got a self-watering bulb for those periods.
posted by susanvance at 6:09 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for pothos, you almost have to actively try to kill it.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:18 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing which you may want to do: if there is a general fussbudget in your office it would pay to make up a little sign that says "I've been watered today!" and leave it by your plant. Our office fussbudget has killed all the office greenery by overwatering plants that are already being cared for by their owners and no one has the heart to tell her that her abundance of plant-love and friendliness is the cause.

We have a lot of jade plants now since they're fairly inexpensive to replace.
posted by elizardbits at 6:30 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a philodendron that I inherited from the previous occupant of my office from the job prior to my current. That office (and the one I later moved to) had windows, but I couldn't bear to leave this plant when I changed jobs, and the office I now occupy has no windows at all. Philodendron has been just fine. I don't even water it as much as I should, I don't think, but it keeps on and has grown a vine down the side of my file cabinet. I think it's unkillable.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:46 AM on July 10, 2014

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) are good, and one of the few things that might bloom in these conditions, though some people have trouble getting the hang of the watering.

Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema cvv.) are one of the best plants in this situation. Though the stems do eventually get leggy (bare at the bottom, with a tuft of leaves at the top), they're slow-growing enough that it takes quite a while for that to happen, and when things reach that point, you can cut off the tops and the base will usually produce new shoots. Though that also takes a while, so I wouldn't recommend cutting all the stems back simultaneously. They won't lose variegation in low light, and there are way more than 21 varieties. (I don't recommend the pink/red varieties like 'Sparkling Sarah,' as those seem to need more light and heat than what you'll have available, but the varieties with white or cream-colored petioles like 'Brilliant,' 'Cory,' 'Golden Bay,' and 'Peacock' are just as easy as the green-petiole types like 'Diamond Bay,' 'Silver Queen,' 'B. J. Freeman,' etc., and give a more colorful impression.) Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia cvv.) looks similar but doesn't age nearly as well, so be sure which one you have when you buy.

I wouldn't recommend jade plants (Crassula ovata) for a low-light situation and am not sure why other people are. (The new growth will be weak and stretched if there's not enough light, and it sounds like you don't have much.) Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) and ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) can both stay alive with very little light, but again, the new growth tends to be weak and stretched, and they won't look as good a year later.

Dracaena deremensis and D. fragrans varieties (D. d. 'Lemon-Lime,' 'Janet Craig,' 'Warneckei,' 'Ulises;' D. f. 'Massangeana,' 'Sol') tend to be pretty easy to care for, though they'll get kind of ugly if the moisture level fluctuates too wildly, and as dissolved salts in the water build up over time, the leaf tips and margins will sometimes burn. I'm not a fan of D. marginata personally, but I suppose that would work too if you like it.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:17 AM on July 10, 2014


Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) works well in office environments. Heavily variegated types like 'Marble Queen' or 'N'Joy' may revert to solid green if light is too low, but they'll stay alive, and even plain green leaves are nice. The heart-leaved philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) looks very similar (self-link), to the point where a lot of people think they have one but actually have the other. Philodendron has more color range. (also a self-link) Philodendron mexicanum is also a good vining plant, with long, dark green, arrowhead-shaped leaves that are dull red underneath, though I almost never see it for sale and I don't know why.

Chlorophytum 'Fire Flash' is a good choice for low-light situations, is one of the few brightly-colored options (a vivid coral-orange and green) and is drought-tolerant as well. The leaves are somewhat sensitive to direct sun, cold temperatures (below ~50F/10C), and salt buildup in the soil, but the first two of those don't sound like they'd be problems in your situation, and the last one is something you have some control over. Spider plants (C. comosum) are similarly easy to keep alive, though salt buildup is more of an issue and they're not particularly fashionable now.

Parlor palms (Chamaedorea elegans) are supposed to be good low-light plants, but I haven't had very good luck with them. Metallic palms (C. metallica) are harder to find, and something of an acquired taste, visually, but seem more resistant to spider mites and more flexible about watering. They do get leggy over time, but they're slow about it.

Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum) does reasonably well in low light, and there are a lot more color variations out there than there used to be. Vining plants can get kind of unwieldy over time, but Syngoniums can always be restarted from cuttings, or just hacked back to the size you want. Also good: Syngonium wendlandii, which is dark green and velvety-looking, with a white stripe down the center of each leaf.

Umbrella trees (Schefflera actinophylla or S. arboricola) will do okay in spaces where there is decent light, just no direct sun. They mostly differ in size, with actinophylla being much larger. Both are awfully prone to bugs, so if you go that route buy from someone who'll guarantee their plants, or who you trust to tell you if there are bugs on it.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:18 AM on July 10, 2014

Lucky bamboo is pretty and hard to kill. Aloe plants are also hard to kill and are very nice.

These are the only two plants currently surviving in my home. I should water them more but I just forget.
posted by danabanana at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2014

Rhapis excelsis (spelling?) also known as lady palm, is a beautiful shade-loving palm that would add a fine tropical feeling. (No access to research just now but it might even be native to your region.)
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:25 AM on July 10, 2014

Generally, I would avoid palms in dry office environments because they are so susceptible to mites and other bugs in low humidity. Sansevieria ssp. will do fine for quite awhile as long as you don't over water them. Aspidistra ssp. are known as "cast iron" plants for a reason- they do well in very dark shade and poor air quality. Certain shade tolerant bromeliads do okay in office settings for awhile: Vriesea ssp. and Guzmania ssp. with softer, (mostly) green leaves come from lower light conditions and grow slowly, requiring minimal care. Be sure to avoid heavy fertilizing of slow-growing plants.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:47 PM on July 10, 2014

Peace lillies need to be watered more frequently than most plants. Every other day, honestly. You can't leave it a week without some care.

Chinese evergreen does well in low light.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:11 PM on July 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all, I've got some research to do this weekend! I want my plant to be the envy of my co-workers and to awe visitors. Thanks for the suggestions.

Elizardbits: Never hard the term 'fussbudget' before although I completely understand. Laughed aloud.
posted by evil_esto at 2:01 AM on July 11, 2014

A ponytail palm! We keep one in our office and it is watered about once every other week. The plant is as happy as can be. We keep it in a smallish container so it doesn't get huge. Our customers love the plant!
posted by cobain_angel at 10:10 AM on July 11, 2014

Oh, I guess I was thinking of the lucky bamboo plants and not jade plants. idk what happened there.
posted by elizardbits at 10:56 AM on July 11, 2014

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