12 Indoor Plants for Low Light (Top Picks)

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Indoor potted plants
Although most plant species require ample light to survive, there are a handful of ornamental plants that can survive in low-light conditions. F. D. Richards, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, a plant may seem like the perfect addition to a bare yet dimly lit corner of the home or office. Plants have a way of brightening up indoor spaces, breathing color, life, and form into them. Unfortunately, most, if not all, species require ample sunlight to grow to their full size and to reveal their best features. There are a handful of well-known ornamental plants, however, that have evolved to survive in low light (i.e., in the dim understories of forests).

Though there’s no guarantee these plants will max out their average lifespan and spread beneath suboptimal lighting, they should at least last for quite some time. A good way to sustain a moderate rate of growth would be to alternate their location between brightly lit zones and poorly lit spaces. Once they have become fully acclimated to low light, however, they may begin to show sensitivity to direct sun exposure.

Before purchasing a low-light plant, it would be wise to evaluate the conditions in which they were propagated or grown from seed. Specimens raised in indoor setups can be placed in low-light spaces without prior acclimatization. Those grown outdoors should be gradually exposed to reduced light regimes. Keep in mind that, though “low light” may refer to the absence of direct sunlight, no plant will truly survive in darkness.

1) Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)

Indoor snake plant
The snake plant is a low-maintenance, beginner-friendly plant that can survive for quite some time with a minimal amount of sunlight. Enzo Rippa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to West Africa

Given its reputation for being one of the most undemanding and beginner-friendly houseplants, the snake plant is a no-nonsense addition to indoor spaces. Though this tough, tropical succulent is found in brightly lit habitats in the wild, it can survive for quite some time with minimal sunlight and water. In fact, along with its close cousins, it’s one of the few species that has a knack for tolerating low-light conditions in bathrooms, where there is usually very little natural light.

Named for its snake-like pattern of bands on its lengthy, sword-shaped leaves, the snake plant is more prone to dying back due to overwatering than to lack of light. Excess moisture is likely to cause its roots to rot. To ensure that a healthy specimen can survive indoors, it would need to be rooted into well-draining soil and placed in a pot or container with drainage holes. Over time, its roots should gradually expand; mature rosettes may even produce plantlets.

2) Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

Potted devil's ivy
Devil’s ivy is one of the hardiest trailing plants and looks great as a potted plant. Ben PL, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to French Polynesia

Also known as pothos, devil’s ivy is a phenomenal trailing plant with the capacity to scale massive trees and tall walls. It tends to be most productive under bright light, though its leaves may easily become scorched under direct sun. Filtered or dappled light, in partly shady indoor spaces, can truly bring out its leaves’ eye-catching colors and patterns. It does survive in low-light conditions, but bear in mind that excess shade will slow its rate of growth and may prevent its leaves from growing to their full size.

Devil’s ivy looks great as a hanging or potted plant in office spaces, bedrooms, and living rooms with low to moderate lighting. It can even be grown in a jar containing only clean, fresh water. Undoubtedly one of the hardiest of trailing plants, it is capable of sending out stems that boast a full length of up to 40 feet (12 meters)! Aerial roots, equipped with adhesive components, can anchor the stems to textured walls or supporting structures.

3) Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)

Boston fern
Boston fern fronds can reach lengths of up to 4 feet in optimal conditions, but in low light, the fronds are usually around 1 – 2 feet long. Dinesh Valke / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to Central and South America

Bright green and highly textured, ferns are among the most beautiful of indoor plants. These specialized, non-flowering species are characterized by their complex fronds. Those of the Boston or sword fern are divided into alternately arising leaflets (scientifically termed ‘pinnae’) that are attached to a lengthy, brown midrib. In optimal conditions, a single frond may boast a maximum length of 4 feet (1.2 meters)!

Of course, Boston ferns seldom grow to this hefty size indoors. In low-light areas, the fronds tend to maintain a maximum length of just 1 – 2 feet (30 – 61 cm) long. To draw attention to the fronds’ graceful arch and dense arrangement, this variant is often grown in hanging baskets or raised pots. Moderately warm temperatures are necessary for maintaining the quality of the leaflets. Note, also, that some cultivars (e.g., ‘Dallas’) are more likely to thrive in low-light conditions than others.

4) Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Potted zanzibar gem plants
Zanzibar gem is an evergreen perennial that can tolerate low light levels and minimal amounts of water. Mokkie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to eastern Africa

The Zanzibar gem, ZZ plant, Zuzu plant, or emerald palm has become increasingly popular as a houseplant due to its potential to help cleanse indoor air of toxic pollutants. Though studies that have looked into its efficiency continue to be inconclusive, there’s no denying that it deserves a spot in just about every home because of its eye-catching, glossy foliage borne on upright (sometimes arching) succulent petioles.

An evergreen perennial, the Zanzibar gem grows to a full height of about 2 feet (61 cm). It can tolerate low light levels and can survive with minimal water, making it a perfect candidate for adding color to the shady and typically dry zones of homes and gardens. Horticulturists surmise that its capacity to survive in suboptimal conditions is due, in part, to the longevity of its leaves. Capable of storing a relatively large amount of water, the leaves and petioles appear to be drought-resistant.

5) Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

Potted parlor palm
If cared for properly, parlor palm can live for decades indoors! Pluume321, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Mexico and Guatemala

A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, the parlor palm is a slow-growing houseplant. Though it favors bright, indirect light, its healthy specimens can survive in low light and moderately cool conditions. Its wild stands are found in rainforests, where they must make do with the sparse, dappled light that penetrates through and in between tree canopies. It is usually grown, from seed, in adequately sized pots.

Given proper care, a parlor palm can last for decades in indoor locations. In winter, healthy palms may even survive in near-darkness. Come spring, however, specimens should be exposed to a slightly higher intensity of filtered light to ensure that new leaves may be produced. Healthy leaves tend to spread out fully and may have a slightly arched orientation. These should not be situated too close to windows, particularly those around which a cool draft may seep.

6) Peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)

Potted peace lily
In indoor or fully shaded locations, the peace lily has a maximum height of around 3 feet. Ben P L, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Southeast Asia and tropical regions in the Americas

One of the few perennials that are known for flowering in low-light conditions, the peace lily is remarkably hardy as an ornamental houseplant. This member of the Araceae or arum family is set apart by its deep green foliage and its tall flowering stalks, each of which bears a textured spadix and its accompanying white (slightly greenish in some varieties) spathe – often compared to a white sail. The leaves are attached to a specialized creeping stem, which is found mostly underground. Note: peace lily leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals and are toxic to pets.

Though this plant may grow to a full height of about 6 feet (1.8 meters) in the wild, it seldom measures more than 3 feet (91 cm) tall in indoor or fully shaded locations. Maintaining warm indoor conditions and high humidity levels should help maintain the quality of the foliage in low light. Keeping the soil moderately moist, with very brief periods of dryness in between watering sessions, should also promote healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing this aroid, especially if its pot already contains some organic matter; excess nutrients can damage the leaves.

7) Watermelon peperomia (Peperomia argyreia)

Watermelon peperomia
Watermelon peperomia gets its name from its leaves, which look like the rind of a watermelon! William Crochot / CC BY-SA 4.0

Native to South America

Truly one of the most adorable indoor plants, the watermelon peperomia is perfectly suited to pots and small hanging baskets. This tropical shrub grows to just 8 inches (20 cm) tall and can maintain a bushy habit due to its spritely leaf stalks. Each petiole bears a round, succulent, and peltate leaf with a pattern that strikingly resembles the rind of a watermelon. Decorative and glossy, the leaves are best situated in medium light. However, they can persist in low light levels for extended durations.

In the wild, this species typically grows in mossy or peaty soil found on the tropical forest floor or in the crooks of large trees. It is definitely a slow-grower and can thus be kept on a tabletop or in a small space. This makes it ideal for adding life to an office desk or a kitchen countertop! Porous foliage is a must, as excess or prolonged exposure to moisture can quickly damage the roots.  

8) Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)

Heartleaf philodendron
In its native habitat, heartleaf philodendron can be found clinging to tall trees. Alialb, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Central America

As suggested by its common name, this attractive philodendron has perfectly heart-shaped leaves with smooth, well-defined margins. Glossy and evergreen, the leaves fare well in indoor locations, where they are protected from direct sunlight. Though medium light levels should promote rapid growth, low light levels are tolerated, particularly when humidity levels are optimized. A tropical climber, this species favors moderately moist substrates and warm temperatures.

In its native habitat, the heartleaf philodendron persists as an evergreen perennial. Its adventitious roots help it cling to the bark of taller trees, where, as it makes its way toward the canopy, it might access higher levels of filtered light. Low-maintenance, this recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit can be rooted into moderately-sized pots or propagated using only water! You might wish to experiment by placing cuttings in a vase (with clean water, replaced every few days), in a low-light area, to determine how reduced lighting would affect their growth. 

9) Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plant in hanging basket
Spider plant is a great choice for hanging pots and baskets thanks to its plantlets that cascade down. Forest and Kim Starr / CC BY 2.0

Native to southern Africa

Often described as one of the toughest indoor plants, the spider plant has a knack for surviving in suboptimal conditions. One of the best houseplants for beginners, this grass-like member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) is characterized by rosettes of lengthy, arching foliage, some of which measure up to 18 inches (46 cm) long! Those of some cultivars, such as ‘Variegatum’ or ‘Vittatum’, have 1 – 2 white streaks running along the length of each leaf.

The humble spider plant can thrive in low-light areas, where its seemingly energetic leaves should thoroughly brighten up the space. Known for producing dozens of plantlets, which cascade from raised or hanging pots, it is a safe, non-toxic choice for rooms that are often occupied by pets or children. This species has also shown potential as a natural air purifier, able to remove a low concentration of harmful pollutants in small households.

10) Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Prayer plant leaves
The prayer plant cannot tolerate direct light and requires filtered or low to medium light exposure. Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Brazil

The prayer plant is a truly dynamic addition to indoor spaces as its leaves move with the rhythm of the rising and setting sun. This flowering species, which produces carpets of its eye-catching foliage throughout the forest floor of its native habitats, is unable to tolerate direct light. Filtered or low to medium light exposure is necessary for bringing out its deep leaf coloration and colorful patterns. Brush stroke-like streaks are symmetrically arranged on the upper surface of its oval-shaped foliage.

Hardy to USDA zones 10b – 11, the prayer plant requires warm temperatures throughout the year. In temperate zones, it will only survive if it is kept in humid, indoor spaces. Ensuring that its leaves receive just the right amount of filtered light and humidity may be challenging but rewarding. In the right conditions, a mother plant can quickly extend its networks of rhizomes, which can be divided and propagated to create a clonal community of prayer plants!

11) Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

Potted cast iron plant
The cast iron plant is a great choice for homes with low humidity levels. Nino Barbieri, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to China, Japan, and Taiwan

The cast iron plant has a reputation for being able to thrive in neglect. Tolerant of heavy shade in outdoor areas, it follows that it can thrive in low light indoors. Unlike some of the plants listed above, this species is especially ideal for homes with low humidity levels. As long as its soil is regularly provided with water, it should continue, albeit slowly, to send out new leaves. Deep green, the lengthy, upright, parallel-veined leaves arise directly from the rootstock. Its purple blooms, which are level with the soil surface and quite insignificant, are rarely produced by indoor specimens.

This well-loved houseplant is also known as the ‘bar room plant’ because of its capacity to survive in conditions that one might describe as abusive. Healthy specimens can easily survive through brief droughts and in nutrient-poor substrates. Due to its popularity as a low-maintenance plant, it now comes in more than a dozen cultivars, some of which are variegated.

12) Nerve plant (Fittonia albivenis)

Nerve plant leaves
The Silver Fittonia group of nerve plant cultivars is known for its well-defined networks of white veins. Mokkie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South America

With wild stands tucked deep within productive rainforests, the nerve plant is no stranger to dim conditions. As it doesn’t demand light at all and may actually dry out or become scorched under direct sun, it is perfect as an indoor plant. Also known as ‘mosaic plant’ or ‘jewel plant’, this evergreen perennial is self-spreading and can form clonal carpets. As it grows to a maximum height of about 8 inches (20 cm), it can be kept in small pots, hanging baskets, and terrariums.

There are two major groups of nerve plant cultivars. The Argyroneura group (‘Silver Fittonia’) is distinguished by its well-defined networks of white veins. The Verschaffeltii group is incredibly striking due to its light pink to fuchsia veins. Both groups favor high humidity levels and can survive in medium to low light. Due to their preference for indirect light, they are often used as desktop plants in heated offices or as living décor in hip cafes.

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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