Tropical Bathroom Decorating
December 29, 2016 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What (if any) plants will survive indoors from the light through glass block windows in Chicago year-round?

My bathroom has a large glass block window measuring 27" wide x 52" tall (a little over 2 x 4 feet). Although the window is South-facing there is a building ~ 12 feet away which slightly alters the angle of light coming in to that side of the apartment. I'd like to add a plant or two either hanging or in the large, tiled ledge at the bottom to make the room a bit more cozy.

Will any plants survive with only this amount/quality of light? If so, what types should I look for? This is a bathroom, so it will be humid at times, but generally ranges from 65º - 85º F throughout the year (no A/C in the summer). There is a 12 x 12" frosted window inset in the blocks that I leave open in the summer, but it adds air more than light. I mainly have succulents, as I travel frequently, but am open to trying something that needs more water a go (a fern of some sort?).
posted by Bunglegirl to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Common low light/ easy care housplants that may work:
small bromeliad 'air plant'

The final three also do fine with low/infrequent water.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2016

Best answer: Low-light loving orchids would be perfect! They will thrive in a humid environment as well. Some that come to mind:

Aerangis citrata
posted by WalkingHorse at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2016

Philodendron will grow about anywhere, lives forever, easy to propagate, and can get fairly large/long while you virtually ignore it.
posted by she's not there at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding pothos! I have one of these in my windowless office at work (it gets a little light from a nearby window when the door is open) and sits in the dark all weekend. Sometimes I forget to water it. It will also tolerate a humid climate well.

You can propagate it from cuttings in water and make it bushier by pinching off new leaves.
posted by purple_bird at 11:56 AM on December 29, 2016

Came to suggest Pothos as well; it's not the prettiest of plants, but they're near bulletproof as long as you water once in a while, and propagating new 'babies' is easy.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2016

My peace lily (Spathiphyllum) did well in a windowless office and even bloomed some pretty flowers once in a while.
posted by exogenous at 2:22 PM on December 29, 2016

My mother's African Violets loved the diffused block lighting in her bathroom.
posted by foxfirefey at 3:52 PM on December 29, 2016

I had a bathroom like that at our previous house and a Boston fern was very happy there. I've also had peace lilies and a dracaena which have been happy in front of a glass block window in my current house (but in a room that also has indirect light from another source.)The peace lily wouldn't flower there though, so I ended up moving it. And snake plants will live anywhere. I've got one currently thriving in a spare room where we forget to open the curtains for weeks on end.
posted by lollusc at 5:14 PM on December 29, 2016

Best answer: Mediumish light, 65-85F, variable but not super-low humidity, able to handle the occasional missed watering, not obviously a succulent, would fit into a 2x4-foot window for at least a couple years. Gotcha.

I came up with a big list of stuff and then cut it down to the six upright and nine hanging plants I thought made the most sense for this situation. MeMail if you want the full list.


Clivia cvv. May be somewhat toxic, especially to cats. May produce pretty, unscented flowers, usually orange. Foliage is plain but at least a nice deep green. This would be my recommendation, if I were limited to just one recommendation.

Yucca guatemalensis, spineless yucca. Non-toxic AFAIK, though leaf edges can be sharp. Hold out for a variegated variety; the plain green is fine, but the variegated ones are so much nicer.

Beaucarnea recurvata, ponytail palm. Non-toxic, non-sharp. Widely available. Technically a succulent, I guess, if you want to get nitpicky. Likely to rot if kept wet and cold at the same time, so cut back on water in the winter. May not grow very fast if light isn't very strong, but in this situation you don't necessarily want a plant that grows fast, either. Variegated specimens exist and are pretty, but are hard to find.

Billbergia nutans, queen's tears. Non-toxic, leaf edges are sometimes sharp. Mine bloom every year in November/December, with complicated green/yellow/blue/coral flowers on a hot pink stalk and no I'm not even exaggerating. Blooms don't last very long, but a mature plant will produce several. Basically just a big coarse grass when not in bloom, appearance-wise. Easy to propagate.

Aglaonema cvv., Chinese evergreen. Technically toxic if chewed or eaten, but not enough to cause serious or long-lasting damage. Produce weird greenish flowers a couple times a year. Will eventually get long, floppy stems and need to be cut back and allowed to resprout. Leaves may get blemishes if they're in direct contact with a cold window during the winter. I don't recommend the newer Aglaonemas with red and/or pink in their leaves, as they seem to insist on a lot more light than the green/white/silver/yellow ones, and seem to be touchier about cold.

Murraya paniculata, orange jasmine. Non-toxic. In good light, will produce white flowers with a scent similar to orange blossoms. Foliage isn't super-exciting, but it's at least fuller than on actual orange or lemon trees, and it seems less bug-prone than edible citrus.


• Various pothos-like plants: Philodendron hederaceum (heart-leaf philodendron), Epipremnum aureum (pothos), and Scindapsus pictus (satin pothos). All three are technically but not dangerously toxic. Easy to propagate. I'm not aware of any cultivars of Scindapsus, but there are all kinds of varieties of Philodendron and Epipremnum.

Tradescantia pallida, purple heart or purple queen. Contact with sap causes skin irritation in some people/animals. Very, very fast-growing. Strong purple color in intense light, greenish-purple in lower light. Occasionally produces small pink flowers at the tips of the stems. Needs to be restarted periodically but it's absurdly easy to do, and you can propagate everything you cut off. Deserves more respect than it usually gets.

Plectranthus verticillatus, Swedish ivy. Occasional sprays of lavender flowers in good conditions; the flowers are kinda meh. Sap can stain skin temporarily orange (like for an hour or two); not sure if it stains clothing as well. Non-toxic. Needs occasional pinching of stems to promote branching. Absurdly easy to propagate, but cannot be propagated in damp dog hair so stick with water or soil.

Schlumbergera cvv., holiday cactus or Christmas cactus. Lots of blooms in white, pink, red, orange, yellow, magenta, and shades in between, usually beginning in late October, peaking in mid- to late November, and then continuing sporadically until March or April. Bud set is sensitive to temperature and night length, though the new hybrids are less rigid about this than the antique heirloom "Christmas cactus." Non-toxic. Dropped flowers can be a little messy if you have a large plant, or a lot of plants. Easy to propagate.

Hoya lacunosa. Small clusters of scented flowers, mostly in the summer for me but I think that's just when the light is best here. Scent is approximately the smell of a florist's flower cooler, and begins around 8-9 PM. The flowers aren't much to look at on their own, but I think the smell makes up for it. Non-toxic.

Saxifraga stolonifera, strawberry begonia. Non-toxic. May bloom in summer, though the flowers are more weird than beautiful, and don't have any scent I've been able to detect. Produces baby plants on runners, which hang down and can be potted up on their own. Leaves are gray-green and hairy, with red undersides and petioles.

• I'm not personally a fan of arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum or S. wendlandii) -- I find it boring -- but it's pretty much built for this kind of situation. Technically toxic but not dangerously so. Some varieties have pretty white, pink, or yellow variegation; S. wendlandii is dark green and velvety with a white stripe along the midvein. Older plants get longer spaces between leaves, which isn't as attractive and full-looking as younger plants, but you can cut the stems back and they'll start over. Easy to propagate, though IME the offspring are never as full and pretty as their parents.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 5:25 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in the Chicago area with a glass-block windowed bathroom - and i have the aforementioned "boring" arrowhead vine. Yeah, not super exciting, and mine doesn't even hang, just the common green version, but it's pretty and is thriving despite the low light. It's nice to have some greenery in the bathroom, really brightens up the small room! (Thanks for the detailed info Spathe Cadet, some new ideas!)
posted by j810c at 5:43 PM on December 29, 2016

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