Best Indoor Plants For The Office

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Adding healthy air-purifying plants to your office setting enhances to visual appeal and can add an element of privacy in shared office spaces or between cubicles.

Yucca plant indoors as an office plantPin

Yucca elephantipes plant indoors as good indoor plants.

Additionally, studies conducted by United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that plants in a small, indoor environment help clean toxins from the air, reduce stress and promote a happier and more productive work environment.

Even if you haven’t had much luck with plants in the past, you can experience success with a small office “garden.” The first step to success with any office vegetation begins with proper selection.

You’ll need to take lighting, space, your schedule and the temperature of your office into account. In this article, we will discuss some of the best office plants and provide tips to help you. Read on to learn more.

What Are The Best Office Plants For Beginners?

There are many excellent choices in office plants. Once you have a good understanding of the type of environment, you can provide, selecting appropriate plants to brighten your space will be easier.

If you are a beginner, with limited space, here are four of the best common office plants:

The Spider Plant

Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are classic houseplants that do very well in hanging baskets.

These pretty, solid green or yellow and green variegated plants have graceful, soft, blades rather than green leaves.

They reproduce rapidly by sending out long shoots with new growth on the ends.

Share with your office-mates by just snipping off new growth and popping it into a small pot of well-drained soil.

More On: Care for Spider Plants

The Snake Plant – Sansevieria – Mother-In-Law Tongue

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is also known as Mother-In-Law’s tongue. This attractive plant has long, stiff, sword-like blades that can grow to be a couple of feet high.


Sansevieria trifasciata growing in windowsills.

The plant is typically dark green with yellow edging; however, some types are solid green. These are easy to care for and hard to kill. They reproduce rapidly and need to be divided and repotted every year or so.

For an office desk, the birds-nest snake is one of the best, providing easy care with a small footprint. Add an attractive decorative pot and you have a nice green addition to your desk!

Learn more about Sansevieria Care

The Pothos – Epipremnum aureum

Pothos are very adaptable plants that do well in a wide variety of settings. They make good low light options but also thrive in bright light. It does equally well with incandescent or fluorescent artificial lighting or with natural sunlight.

Yellow Variegated Golden Pothos are a pretty plant with variegated, heart-shaped leaves and are very attractive.

The Philodendron cordatum

Philodendron climbs and makes an excellent addition to a small space. The only way to go is up! These plants like Philodendron cordatum do well climbing a trellis or pole, draping over the side of a filing cabinet or in a hanging basket near a window or under a skylight. These easy-care plants do well in most indoor settings and can tolerate a bit of neglect.

Best Toxin Reducing Indoor Plants Recommended by NASA

Although all plants perform the vital function of photosynthesis, which replaces carbon dioxide in the air with oxygen, some also remove toxins.

They do this by metabolizing some toxic chemicals and replacing them with harmless by-products of this process. Good air cleaning vegetation also incorporate some toxins (e.g., heavy metals) into their tissues, thus preventing them from circulating in the air you breathe.

If your office setting has ventilation problems or is typically filled with volatile organic compound (VOC) off-gassing plastic-based objects such as carpet and office furniture, you can find some relief by choosing from the NASA identified list as having great air-cleaning abilities.

NASA conducted in-depth studies on this phenomenon and compiled a wealth of reliable data on the subject.

Because astronauts must spend extended periods of time in small, enclosed, unnatural settings, they are subject to problems caused by stale air and the intake of VOCs as well as a number of other toxic elements.

Researchers sought remedies to this issue and found that healthy plants were just what the doctor ordered. [source]

The researchers began by testing the effect of plants in the “BioHome,” which was a very tightly sealed building made entirely of synthetic materials. It was designed to accommodate a single occupant and was termed a “closed ecological life-support system.” [source]

Initially, there were no plants in the structure and people entering the BioHome found that their eyes burned and had trouble breathing.

These are the typical symptoms of the “Sick Building Syndrome.” Researchers attributed these symptoms to exposure to VOCs.

After introducing a large number of vegetation to the BioHome the symptoms were resolved, and testing the indoor quality showed that VOC levels dropped significantly.

Here are five of NASA’s top-performing in air cleaning plants:

#1 – The Rubber Plant varieties are attractive and does well in most office settings. According to NASA, it exhibits superior air cleaning qualities.

#2 – The Corn Plant (aka Dracaena) is easy-care and grows in dense, high stands resembling corn stalks. They make a great screen between office spaces, and they do a fantastic job of removing pollutants from the air.

Another Dracaena to include which does well under the same conditions is the Red-edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata).

character dracaena marginataPin

#3 – The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is very versatile and does well in low-light office settings. It grows well, looks gorgeous and is a real champ at air cleaning.

#4 – In addition to being easy-care, Spider Plant does a good job of filtering xylene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide from the atmosphere.

#5 – Ficus Benjamina plant is a NASA champ in terms of its ability to remove ammonia, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air.

Common Plants For Offices

All plants help improve air quality to some extent, so if the specific air-cleaning champs don’t appeal to you (or if you just want to add a bit more interest) here are four easy-to-care-for options.

#1 – English Ivy -(Hedera Helix) can grow in almost any light setting. It is a lovely climbing vine that does well with a pole or trellis. It is also right at home cascading over the sides of a pot or hanging basket.

Although it is not well-known as a standout when it comes to air quality, it does quite well at removing mold and reducing formaldehyde and benzene in the air.

#2 – The Umbrella Plant or Umbrella Tree makes a nice privacy hedge in an office with plants. It does well in both low light and bright light, but you must adjust care to suit the light setting.

If you have low light, water less and keep the soil slightly dry. With brighter light, water a little more often and keep the soil slightly moist to the touch.

#3 – A Boston Fern is a classic house and office plant. These classy plants like moderate, steady light (like near a bright window) and consistently moist soil.

#4 – An African Violet is an excellent choice as a small office plant. They do very well with bright fluorescent light or bright, natural sunlight. Pretty African Violets come in a wide variety of shades and blossom types and add a cheery note to any office setting.

#5 – Beautiful Orchids and Colorful Bromeliad offer an great way to bring color into the office with minimal care. Both come in a wide array of colors and most will provide 3 -4 months of color before needing to replace or rotate them out.

Cactus and Succulents

Succulents include all cacti and a wide variety of attractive vegetation with thick, fleshy leaves. These leaves hold water to provide a steady supply even in dry conditions.

The superb survival skills of cactus make them an excellent choice for any office setting. There are many small varieties requiring little space and minimal care.

By combining varieties, you can create a compact, easy-care desktop garden that will brighten your workspace.

Small Cactus Species

While there are many great towering varieties of cactus found in deserts around the world, there are also lots of small varieties your desk benefits from. Here are four examples of cacti suitable for office settings:

  • Living Rock Cactus attains a maximum height and width of five inches.
  • Sea Urchin Cactus grows to be a couple of inches high and four inches wide.
  • Bishop’s Cap attains a maximum height of ten inches and a width of six inches.
  • Mammillaria zeilmanniana grows to be five inches high and three inches wide.

These cactus are all very hardy and can do well outdoors year-round in USDA zones 9a through 11.

There are also a number of very attractive tropical cacti which do quite well in a standard office setting. Very popular examples include Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter cactus. All are common gifts around the holidays, and an office-mate may have very well given you one.

These thorn-free jungle cacti are very happy with medium-light in the spring, summer, and autumn and brighter light in the winter months.

They require deep watering when dry and should be set upon a tray of pebbles and water to provide extra humidity to the leaves. Be careful not to allow the water touch the bottom of the plant’s container as this could cause root rot.

Indoor Succulents

Succulents are similar to cactus, but they do not have thorns. Some of the most popular choices in succulents for indoor vegetation are:

This is a small handful. There are hundreds of different types of hardy, attractive, interesting succulents to choose from.

All of these do best with, indirect sunlight and a steady, comfortable indoor temperature; however, they can adapt nicely to lower lighting and can tolerate cool temperatures (in the neighborhood of 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Good Containers for Cactus & Succulents

Large or tall plants, such as Jade, tropical cactus, and Aloe Vera do well with standard clay pots or other heavier planters that provide some aeration for the roots and a significant amount of heft to prevent the plant from toppling over.

If you have very limited space, you might try creating a small desktop succulent planter using a variety of compact cactus. Good container choices include:

  • *A large brandy snifter
  • A decorative urn
  • A fishbowl

No matter what type of container you choose, be sure to provide ample drainage in the bottom of the pot with a layer of pebbles or Styrofoam peanuts. Pot your cactus or succulent in a good quality commercial cactus mix potting soil.

How to Take Care of Office Cactus

Taking care of these is simplicity itself. Although most cactus do well in bright sunlight, they are able to adjust to standard office lighting with ease.

If your office has natural light, select an area that provides bright morning sun and shade in the afternoon. If not, you’ll find cactus do quite well under consistent fluorescent lights.

If your office does not have fluorescent lighting, or if the lights are turned off a significant amount of the time, add a fluorescent lamp or small LED grow lights to your desk. Add a timer to be sure they get ample light, even on holidays and weekends.

When you initially add your desktop plant, potted cactus or succulent, water well to moisten the soil uniformly. After that, water moderately when the soil is dry.

Do not allow your office-mates to water these, as over-watering is a common cause of death among cactus and succulents.

Improve Workplace Energy With An Office Feng Shui Layout

According to Feng Shui principles, people change the flow of good energy (qi) by building places to live and setting up spaces to work. The effect can be positive or negative. The greatest arrangements allow qi to flow freely and steadily. In Feng Shui, the location of hills and streams (earth and water) is crucial.

The ideal setup for a garden or home setting is to have the space surrounded by hills on the sides and back and open on the front (ideally the north) side. Water should ideally run circuitously around the center and pool at the front.

While all of this may not be possible in your office cubicle, you can refer to Feng Shui principles in your arrangement of plants and small water features (if allowed) in your workspace. [source]

Feng Shui for Office Desks

In addition to their ambiance and air-quality enhancing properties, according to Feng Shui principles, indoor vegetation can also jump-start positive energy in the workplace.

Lucky Bamboo is a classic for Feng Shui. However, there are many others that brighten the spirit in your office and clean the air.

Many of the positive energy plants are also those recommended by NASA for improved air quality.

Add a Feng Shui element to any plant you choose for your office by simply introducing it at the right time.

When you add your new plant to your office at New Year’s or at the start of the month, you are symbolically introducing good wishes for a healthy new start for yourself and those around you.

Here are four more ways you can use indoor vegetation to support Feng Shui principles in the workplace:

#1 – Counteract the negative energy generated by technology. Place a plant within a three-foot circumference of your computer workstation to help filter out electromagnetic energy.

#2 – Bring the outdoors inside. Follow Feng Shui placement principles to soften the harsh angles and straight lines of your office setting. Strive to set up a natural looking setting incorporating smooth, flowing curves.

TIP: Choosing plants with rounded leaves creates a softer, smoother look and helps generate money because rounded leaves symbolize coins.

#3 – Make low ceilings look and feel loftier. If your office has sloped ceilings or low ceilings with heavy, exposed beams, try placing taller plants in the corners. This will provide the visual effect of making the ceilings seem higher.

#4 – Balance the element of water. Place low light plants in office restrooms to symbolically dry up the element of water and restore balance to the room.

9 Best Feng Shui Options

Many of the best plants for Feng Shui are also easy-care, NASA air-cleaning picks!

#1 – Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)is the classic Feng Shui plant. This easy-to-grow choice doesn’t need much sunlight and can grow in water. These two attributes make it an excellent choice for low light areas such as restrooms, break rooms and/or office kitchens.

#2 – Heartleaf Philodendron grows nicely in any light. The heart-shape of the leaves brings the element of fire to your setting. This adds emotion and warmth to darker, colder areas of your office.

#3 – The Peace Lily’s are lovely flowers that brings positive energy to your office setting.

#4 – A Ficus tree makes a great office space divider. Surprisingly, this is a good Feng Shui choice for an office with a low ceiling because its height symbolically lifts the ceiling.

#5 – Bamboo palm – Chamaedorea seifrizii does well as office dividers. They also lift the impression of a low ceiling and help remove formaldehyde and xylene from the air. These chemicals are often off-gassed by carpeting.

You could also include the Rhapis palm – (Broadleaf Lady Palm), and the Kentia Palm (aka Howea forsteriana).

#6 – The rounded leaves of the Rubber Plant symbolize wealth, abundance and good luck.

#7 – English Ivy’s trailing vines naturally soften harsh lines in your workspace. In Feng Shui parlance, it’s said to ward off “poison arrows” (strong, attacking energy) that may be pointed at you and your space.

#8 – The Boston Fern provides a cheery welcome when set on a pedestal at the entrance to your business or at the door of your office.

#9 – African Violet’s rounded leaves make it a good choice for anyone who is interested in using Feng Shui to attract wealth.

Good Choices Generate Good Energy

No matter which kinds of plants you settle on, be sure to put a great deal of thought into your selections. Accept only healthy, lush, vigorous plants to enhance the appearance of your workspace and boost energy and a positive outlook.

How To Choose The Healthiest Office Plants

Much indoor vegetation (at least the ones on the desk) are sourced as holiday or birthday gifts picked up by well-wishing coworkers at the local garden center or grocery store.

When this is the case, all you can do is hope for the best in health and well-being; however, you should (discreetly) examine gift plants before introducing them to your office “garden” to ensure you are not introducing any pests.

When examining plants (either gifted or those you consider buying) look for specimens that exhibit healthy looking leaves.

In most plants, a medium-to-dark green shade is preferable. Of course, some naturally exhibit spots and splashes of color or variegation. If you are unsure what is normal for a plant you are examining, do a little research.

If a plant has brown leaves or exhibits unnatural yellow spots or other blemishes, pass it by.

Sometimes is it tempting to rescue a bargain bin plant that only seems a bit sick. If it is unhealthy at the store or nursery, it is not likely to recover on your desk.

Examine for pests. Look at the undersides of the leaves. If you see webbing, spotting, rusty scale or tiny little creepy, crawlies, don’t buy that plant (or introduce it to your other plants).

If it is possible to look at the roots, do so. Some are easily tipped out of the pot and then set back in.

If this is the case with the indoor plant you are considering, check to make sure the roots are white, clean and do not have a moldy smell.

Be advised that some plants (e.g. Dracaena deremensis) may have brownish or tan roots naturally. If this coloration is not accompanied by a bad smell, don’t worry.

If you are buying a Boston fern, don’t be put off by rows of brown structures on the undersides of the leaves. These are natural, reproductive spores.

Match the Right Plant with the Right Lighting

Most of the plants we referenced do well in low lighting; however, they generally prefer bright, indirect sunlight, and some would appreciate the bright direct light. Yucca cane and ferns for example!

If your desk is located near a window, be sure to allow the it to enjoy the natural light of the sun, just be careful not to overdo it as some can sunburn, especially if they are not accustomed to bright, direct sunlight.

Are There Plants That Grow in the Dark?

Many people wonder if there are plants that can grow with little or no light. While there are many very low light houseplants and many more that thrive in artificial light, there are not any that can survive without light at all.

Plants need light to perform photosynthesis and produce energy to survive and thrive. Luckily, there are lots of good ways to give them artificial lighting indoors and make any setting welcoming and conducive to healthy growth.

Plants That Grow in Fluorescent Light

If you have very little or no window space in your office, existing overhead fluorescent lighting may provide enough light for your plants.

If you find they need more light, investing in a standalone desk lamp with a fluorescent bulb or a grow light bulb will help.

Many offices are equipped with fluorescent ceiling lights that stay on 24/7. This type of lighting can be ideal for low-to-medium lighting requirements.

Umbrella plants grow quite happily under overhead fluorescent lighting, as do Peace Lilies, Lucky bamboo, English Ivy, Ferns, Ficus trees, philodendrons and Aloe vera.

If you want to grow plants needing lots of light (e.g. tropical cactus, some cacti, phalaenopsis orchids, bromeliads) set up a standalone lamp with a full spectrum fluorescent bulb. This will give out lots of light without lots of heat.

Plants can do well with fluorescent lighting 24/7; however, they prefer to have about 12 hours of darkness or low light daily. For happier growth, add a timer to turn your desk lamp off and on at pre-set intervals.

Indoor Plants That Don’t Need Sunlight?

Some can do well with old-fashioned incandescent lighting. Standard light bulbs can provide enough light for very low-light choices such as some dracaenas, Aglaonema, Snake plants, Cast Iron (Aspidistra elatior) and the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Remember that incandescent lighting puts out a lot of heat, so it is not a good choice for one’s needing lots of light.

Only ten percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is emitted as light. Ninety percent is emitted as heat, so plants needing lots of light (e.g. tropical plants) would be cooked alive by enough incandescent lighting to supply their need for light.

Brighten Your Office Environment With Plants!

If you’ve never kept houseplants before you may be a little nervous about bringing them into the office, but you needn’t be.

Start small with just one or two of the easy-care choices presented here. Provide consistent lighting and a consistent, moderate temperature. Of course, you could go all out and create a visual impact with a wall of plants!

Most of all, be careful not to over-water as this always leads to root rot. For most plants, moderate watering when the soil feels dry provides plenty of water for health and growth.

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