Cat-safe low-light plants for my bathroom?
July 31, 2017 5:29 AM   Subscribe

I want to put plants in my extremely low-light bathroom! Also I have cats, and I need plants that are not toxic if they decide to start nibbling. What plants can I get?

(How low-light are we talking? Well, my bathroom has no windows, so I figure I'll have to do some combo of leaving fluorescent lights on all day and rotating plants between the bathroom and livingroom to give them turns in the light.)

I did come across the ASPCA list of cat-safe plants but I'm finding it really overwhelming. I'm also pretty bad at plants, so ideally I want a few easy ones.

(Context: I saw someone else's bathroom with plants in it and it filled me with intense joy, and I want that joy in my life regularly!)

posted by 168 to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I've had maidenhair ferns in a room like you're describing before. They do well in low light, are very pretty, and are nontoxic to cats. I'm told that other ferns do similarly well. (That said, google the fern before you buy--true ferns are mostly ok, but lots of things are labeled ferns, but technically aren't--those are often toxic.)
posted by mishafletch at 5:54 AM on July 31, 2017

I have almost the exact same situation! I haven't gotten around to buying the plants yet, my top contenders have been African Violet and Moon Orchids for flowers and polka dot plant and boston fern for foilage. Basically, things that do well in the understory of jungles will be fine in a dark bathroom, and will find the humidity a plus. I'm also told that venus fly traps do well in bathroom for similar reasons, but I'm intimidated by them.
posted by theweasel at 6:11 AM on July 31, 2017

I got aspidistras (cast iron plants) for the same reasons (cats, low light). I am bad at plants but they do okay, and they come in different varieties, speckled, streaked, etc. I think I ordered mine online as I wasn't able to find them locally.
posted by acanthous at 6:21 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

True story:

A friend has cats that are unrepentantly fixated on her spider plant. They feasted on it over several months, and it was starting to look very bedraggled as they nibbled on the fern's "babies", the new growth that it sends out on tendrils. The fern hangs in a large window in her kitchen, which gets very diffused light in the darkest area of her large, narrow kitchen. The cat dishes are on the window sill beneath - this is quite an old house with wide windowsills through the stone walls.

What to do? She hit upon clipping leaves from it daily and dropping them right on top of their food. It's been a couple of years now, and the cats are thriving. And now so is the fern.
posted by citygirl at 9:26 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Easy-care and non-toxic and low-light? Goodness. Okay:

All three criteria met:
Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
Watermelon vine / satin pellionia (Pellionia spp.)
Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera)
Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) -- I have not personally had good luck with them, but lots of other people do. Ditto cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior and A. lurida).
Lady palm (Rhapis spp.) though they can get big, and would likely need occasional time in the living room because they can't get by on no light indefinitely.

Easy and non-toxic but would likely need very bright or very close supplemental light:
Some Begonia cvv. Rex begonias are very, very difficult, but some rhizomatous begonias are much more agreeable and look similar (if less colorful).
Earth stars (Cryptanthus spp.) and several other bromeliads like air plants (Tillandsia spp.), Neoregelia, Guzmania, and Vriesea
Rabbit's-foot fern (Davallia spp.)

Easy and low light and technically non-toxic but still best in a location not accessible to cats:
The ASPCA lists Pilea spp. (friendship plant, aluminum plant, artillery plant, Moon Valley, etc.) as non-toxic, but they technically are. Not necessarily enough so to endanger pets, and not so I would necessarily worry about it personally, but depending on your personal risk tolerance you may want to give them a pass anyway.
Spider plant / airplane plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is likewise maybe technically toxic, but I've been personally acquainted with a cat who chewed on the leaves without harm (on preview, I see citygirl has seen this as well), and they're about as easy as houseplants get, so I'd still cautiously recommend.

Non-toxic and low light but fussier than you're looking for:
Nerve plant (Fittonia albivenis) is great, except that they will not forgive you if you let them get too dry.
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura cvv.) is prone to bugs, and won't perform well with dry air or soil. Ditto for basically all the Calathea spp.
Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis and Doritaenopsis cvv.) are pretty easy to keep alive but will not necessarily rebloom in these conditions.

African violet (Saintpaulia cvv.) are easy if you can water properly, which I personally can't. May not bloom well in low light; I'd recommend adding an artificial light close to the plant if you're going to try. Ditto for flame violet (Episcia cvv.).
Wandering jew (Tradescantia zebrina) and purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) sap may be mildly irritating to skin of animals and people, though the irritation is very unlikely to have veterinary consequences. The leaves' color will be much stronger in bright light, even if it's only spending every other week in the living room.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) and satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus) both contain microscopic needles of calcium oxalate which can cause pain and irritation if leaves are chewed. The effect is basically immediate, and I'd think would be enough of a deterrent to prevent a cat from repeating the experiment, but they might not be good choices for households with particularly stupid or stubborn cats. (Effects are supposed to be limited to pain, increased salivation, and possible diarrhea.) Both are otherwise very easy low-light plants, though. Make sure you can tell the difference between these and Philodendron hederaceum, which looks similar but may be more harmful to cats, before buying.
Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) is also technically toxic to some insects, though as far as I know it's not a problem for mammals. (It also doesn't age well IMO, and will suffer if allowed to get too dry, which is reason enough to give it a pass as far as I'm concerned.)

Avoid, avoid, avoid, no matter what anyone tells you:
Snake plant / Mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia cvv.)
Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), even/especially as a temporary home decoration
Crown of thorns, pencil cactus, African milk bush, African milk tree, etc. (Euphorbia spp.)
Chinese croton (Excoecaria cochinchinensis) or croton (Codiaeum variegatum)
Pregnant onion (Albuca bracteata, still better known as Ornithogalum bracteatum)
English ivy (Hedera helix) and Algerian ivy (H. canariensis)
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum cvv.), even/especially as a temporary home decoration
Daffodil (Narcissus cvv.), even/especially as a temporary home decoration
Heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:10 AM on July 31, 2017 [16 favorites]

One addition to Spathe Cadet's excellent avoid list:
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), even/especially as a temporary home decoration. It's not HUGELY poisonous, just mildly, but avoid anyway.

I'd also advise avoid any lily, not just Easter lilies. I have an accidental Peace lily—it was just greenery in an arrangement that I re-potted. I only figured out what it was when it flowered. Thankfully the cats don't touch it, but I still now keep it up high mostly out of reach.

One idea: back when I had a really low light bathroom and some really high energy curious cats I bought a real-looking fake hanging plant. Cheating, but it looked nice and I didn't have to worry.
posted by clone boulevard at 11:17 AM on July 31, 2017

My cat is currently nomming on a spider plant, which does cause him to throw up.

He's also a stupid cat and eats the aloe too (which is mildly poisionious and causes nausea ) though supposedly cats don't like them because they 1) taste bad and 2) are spikey. He's 15 and is super healthy . We chase him away but he's stubborn.

Never has deterred my guy.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:43 PM on July 31, 2017

In my experience Maidenhair ferns can pass through a cat's digestive track intact and stick out the other end. The ferns are now kept out of reach.

Also the ferns drink about half a cup of water every few days.
posted by poxandplague at 4:05 PM on July 31, 2017

I was just looking into this exact question elsewhere online! One suggestion I found was a moss terrarium - a larger one sufficiently enclosed in glass that the cat cannot access it, or multiple tiny ones hung on the wall out of reach seems like they might do the trick. Air plants can also easily be used in terrariums and/or hung out of cat reach and would be happy in a humid bathroom environment I think, though I don't know what sort of light they need.
posted by eviemath at 5:59 AM on August 1, 2017

This is a longshot given I don't know your living situation/climate/bathroom position in relation to top floor, but if at all possible - get a SolaTube! I am houseplant obsessed and longed for bathroom ferns, until one day my husband just did the damn thing. It was $150 and about an hour of work to install, serious life upgrade.
posted by le_salvo at 6:28 PM on August 1, 2017

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