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Houseplants for Low Light

By Marie Harrison (can2growJune 20, 2012

One of the most frequently asked questions from novice gardeners concerns which plants can grow at various light levels in the home. Some houseplants prefer bright light and can even tolerate direct sun. Others, such as those originating on the shady bottom of a forest floor, can flourish in the low-light areas of your home.

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A plant with low light tolerance that I frequently recommend is Aglaonema, a genus of about 23 species of flowering plants in the Araceae (arum) family. Frequently seen in offices and shopping malls, these plants are long-lasting and easy to grow. Until recently, choices were very limited, the most popular being 'Silver Queen'. Rest assured, the palatte has expanded and many colorful choices are now available.
Most Aglaonemas are native to the tropical swamps and rainforests of southeastern Asia. Tolerant of low light, dry air, and drought, they are well suited for our homes. Foliage may be solid green, variegated green and silver, or any combination of green, light green, and gray. More recently introduced Thai cultivars offer an infusion of pink or red in the colorfully variegated leaves. Although the plants produce inconspicuous flowers typical of the arum family, it is the foliage that is the main attraction.
Another favorite is Spathiphyllum. Peace lilies, as they are often called, produce showy white flowers, even in low-light situations. Cultivars can be found that grow anywhere from a few inches tall to six or more feet tall and wide. Glossy green, oval leaves arise directly from the soil and narrow to a point at the tips. Grow them in any well-draining potting mix, and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Several Philodendrons offer an even wider range of choices. Among them are some of the most common and easily grown houseplants. Philodendrons can be found in many different sizes according to species. Leaf sizes range from small, 3-inch heart-shaped leaves to huge 3-foot variously shaped leaves.
One of the toughest of the philodendron group is the common heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). Tolerant of very low light, it will willing drape over the sides of containers such as hanging baskets and dish gardens. It can also be trained to grow on moss- or bark-covered boards or totems.
Many dracaenas are tolerant of low light. Try such types as 'Janet Craig', 'Warnecki', or the corn plant, Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana'. Generally speaking, the dracaenas are rugged, carefree houseplants with a tropical appearance. They are widely used in both home and office spaces. Species can be chosen that grow anywhere from 2 to 10 feet tall. Most are grown for their strap-shaped foliage which is colorfully striped in some selections.
Don't overlook Aspidistra elatior (cast iron plant). The common name aptly describes this hard-working member of the asparagus family. Since Victorian times it has been used to decorate dim parlors and smoky barrooms. Chose selections with solid green or variegated leaves.
Several other plants are tolerant of low-light conditions inside the home. Plants like Sansevieria (mother-in-law's tongue), Epipremnum aureum (pothos), and Syngonium podophyllum (arrowhead vine) have been around for a long time and have proven to be tough, long-lived plants, even in low-lit places. Other choices are Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island pine), and Cissus rhombifolia (grape ivy).
These low-light plants are popular for several reasons. Simply put, they are long-lived and tolerant of neglect that is often heaped upon them by inattentive people. The majority of them can be found at almost any place houseplants are sold. Buy them with confidence that they will perform well in areas of your home where light is limited. They may even manage to make you feel that your thumb has turned green regardless of that digit's formerly dark hue. 
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All photographs were taken by the author. 


  About Marie Harrison  
Marie HarrisonServing as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at

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