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Plants need light to photosynthesize water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, but some can flourish in low-light environments.
Plants love light; it’s one of only three things all plants need to survive. Just as nature has equipped some plants with an internal sunblock to protect them from excessive direct light, low-light plants can optimize the little sun they get to produce the food they need.
Every home will have at least one dark room, but that doesn’t mean you can’t brighten it with plants. Many plants will flourish in low-light conditions, but before we explore them, let’s ensure we understand what we mean by low light.
Low Natural Light
Light can get into spaces; it all depends on how big the windows are and how many obstacles the indirect light has to bounce off. Light is measured in lux, lumen (metric), or foot candle (imperial).
Merriam-Webster defines lux as a unit of illumination equal to the direct illumination of one candle (lumen) on a meter-square surface one meter away. The strength of a single candle is also called a lumen, and a lux is one lumen per square meter.
On the other hand, a foot-candle is the light intensity of a lumen one foot from a foot-square surface.
Low light is classified as anything between a 25-foot-candle and a 250-foot-candle (269 to 2690 lux). The University of Florida limits low light to 25 to 100 foot-candle (269 to 1073 lux), while the University of Minnesota classifies plants that need 50 to 250 foot-candle (538 to 2691 lux) as low-light plants.
We’ll take both as accurate and spread the classification to include i.e., 25 to 250 ft candles.
Bright Indirect Light
You will notice that some plants classified as low light recommend bright indirect light. This generally refers to rooms with occasional morning or evening light from East or West windows.
Lighter wall colors can boost indirect light, while darker interior walls tend to create medium indirect light.
I will specify the best rooms I recommend for low-light plants. Some low-light indoor plants can flourish in darker rooms with only a tiny north-facing window allowing only moderate light to shine.
Other plants classified as low light need the medium light offered by larger north-facing windows or a dark corner in a brighter room.
Fluorescent lights are a great way to bring bright light into a dark room and are ideal for indoor plants in rooms that offer too little light. They are inexpensive to operate and are twice as economical as incandescent sources.
Fluorescent lights can also be found in varieties that primarily emit red and blue light, generate relatively little heat, and have a longer lifespan. They come in various sizes and forms, but the most common ones are straight tubes in lengths of 2, 4, or 8 feet.
Other options include LED light strips that emit medium light and can be controlled remotely. Now bright artificial sunlight is possible indoors and even in underground growing rooms.
Low Light Indoor Plants
This is my selection of indoor plants that you can confidently grow in low-light areas, some even as hanging baskets.
Let’s take a look at them individually and some plant care tips. Some of these were also included in my low-light hanging basket article.
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
The asparagus fern needs less than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day. They don’t only tolerate low light; they thrive on it.
This indoor herbaceous shrub-like plant can grow up to 3 feet tall and spread or be thickly confined. The Asparagus fern prefers moderate temperatures and ample water from spring to fall (less in winter) and will not tolerate soggy soil.
It is also called the bird’s nest fern.
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
The bamboo palm should get some like. It prefers dappled sunlight, so a room with an East or West-facing window would do well.
It’s a beautiful plant that can serve as an accent plant. They are used to the humidity and will do better if you keep the room above 50% RH.
The bamboo palm prefers medium light but will survive in low light conditions. Keep the soil slightly moist but watch out for wet feet.
Needs deep shade (less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) or dappled sunlight (shade all day)
Begonias are fabulous in not-so-bright rooms, adding vitality to a dropped environment. They are moderate bloomers, producing large clusters of small, pink flowers from summer to fall.
Their leaves are deep green when mature, with red veins on the underside. The begonias need some heat, so avoid temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the plant does well in low-light environments, increased lighting will improve foliage vibrancy. Begonias must be kept out of direct sunlight,
Keep temperatures and humidity levels constant for a healthier plant, and watch out for overwatering.
Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Cast-iron plants need deep shade (less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) or dappled sunlight (shade all day)
When growing the cast-iron plant indoors, you don’t need to watch it as it thrives, even when neglected constantly – the perfect plant.
Cast iron plants prefer partial to full shade and are intolerant of direct sun. Some bright indirect light will boost foliage color.
Flame Violet (Episcia cupreata)
Needs deep shade or dappled sunlight – a natural low-light plant
This herbaceous perennial is frequently grown indoors in indirect light. It requires potting soil that drains properly.
Flame violets make excellent desk plants or low-light hanging baskets and offer delightful variegated leaves and vivid blooms. These indoor plants prefer environments with medium light, moist soil and medium to high relative humidity and dislike recurrent cold drafts or dry air.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
The peace lily prefers dappled sunlight or deep shade, less than two hours of sunlight.
The ‘Peace Lily’ is one of my favorite indoor plants and likes moist but not soggy soil. It would be best to allow the soil to dry between waterings but not to a wilted state.
Use room temperature water free of chlorine and fluoride. You can remove these by letting the water sit for 24 hours before use.
Spathiphyllum does well in lower light environments (dark room) but will do better with some bright indirect light. Do not, however, place the plant in direct sun.
Philodendron (Philodendron selloum)
One of my favorite aroid indoor plants that do better with some indirect light. Philodendrons, of which there are several, can cope with most light environments. In their natural habitat, they grow under the protection of a forest canopy.
However, as they mature and as epiphytes, they climb trees for better light and are hugely adaptable to higher light levels. The dark green leaves are perfect for harvesting sunlight.
That said, they also do great as low-light indoor plants. As I said, our Philodendron family is quite adaptable. Variegated species need some bright light, but it’s always advisable to see the needs of the plant parents and follow these.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Pothos is probably one of the leading low-light indoor plants. It’s a toss between the pothos and the peace lily for the prize – though both are excellent low-light indoor plants.
Low-light intensity plants typically need between 25 and 250-foot candles per square foot. A handful of the plants in this group can be kept alive with as little as 10-foot candles of artificial light.
Ten to fifteen watts of fluorescent light per square foot of growing space should be provided for low-light plants. Your Pothos needs a single fluorescent tube, such as a 2-foot 20-watt tube or a 4-foot 40-watt tube.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants need deep shade or dappled sunlight – one of the natural low-light indoor plants.
The spider plant adapts to most environments and is a popular houseplant. Although it can survive in low light, spider plants prefer moderate light conditions. It can’t handle direct sunshine.
Like most houseplants, keep the soil moist but not wet and relative humidity at around 50 – 60%. Maintain a temperature above 50 °F (10 ⁰C). Avoid watering plants with tap water since the fluorides and chlorine might burn the tips of the leaves.
Cut on irrigation in winter, and watch humidity levels in summer. Avoid overfertilizing, as this can reduce the production of plantlets.
Plantlet development is light-sensitive, requiring short days and long nights for at least three weeks. Under these conditions, stolons and plantlets develop.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
The ZZ plant is last on my list of ten because it is alphabetized. Regarding popularity on the low-light-indoor-plants list, it could be first.
I tried to ensure that most plants in this list will handle deep shade well. I could have included others like the prayer plant and parlor palm, but these don’t do as well in low-light situations as in the list.