It's another little irony of life: While it's easy to find houseplants for a sunny room, in a low-light room, where plants could brighten and lighten the ambiance, it's more of a challenge. But the plants you are looking for are out there: gorgeous, leafy, lush houseplants that love or tolerate low light conditions. Big or small, upright or cascading, flowering or attracting attention with stunning foliage, here are eight less-common low-light choices that might work for you.
Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
The Madagascar dragon tree isn't a palm but it looks something like one with thin palm-like leaves. But the spiky green foliage, up to 16 inches long, is trimmed with an elegant edge of red-burgundy. Dragon tree plants grow to 20 feet in the wild, but stops before 7 feet indoors, and you can easily control the height of an indoor plant by pruning. These exotic-looking plants are happiest when growing in partial shade and are guaranteed to make a splash in your living room.
Our pick: Bloomscape Dracaena Janet Craig, $195
Cathedral Window (Calathea makoyana)
"Cathedral window" may seem a very dramatic name for a small plant that never gets above 20 inches high, but once you see the Calathea plant, you'll understand why it merits this evocative common name. The broadly oval leaves are up to 10 inches long, dark green on top, pinkish-maroon underneath. Fine lines extend from the central vein to the leaf edges, and, in the same area, you'll also see finger-shaped smudges slightly darker than the leaf surfaces. This plant is native to eastern Brazil where it lives in the undergrowth of rain forests. It cannot tolerate bright light and grows well in a warm, humid area in shade.
Our pick: The Sill Calathea Medallion, $62
Flame Violet (Episcia cupreata)
The genus name of this lovely plant comes from the Greek "episkios" meaning "shaded," so you can be sure that this one will thrive in low-light areas with proper humidity. This African violet relative will wilt and die in direct sun, but does well in light shade. It has a creeping habit, and its crinkled green leaves — flecked with copper and purple — spill winningly over the edge of a hanging basket. As the common name suggests, the flowers are a brilliant orange-red, often with fringed lobes.
Our pick: Btown Violets, $7.99
Paradise Palm (Howea forsteriana)
There are palms aplenty out there in commerce, and many will do well as low-light houseplants. Why not skip over the common ones in favor of a supremely elegant, tough palm that will make that shady living room an exotic refuge? Paradise palm, also called Kentia palm, grows to 10 feet and offers flat fronds with elegantly drooping leaflets that fan out to fill a corner. In addition to the pleasure offered by their elegant, architectural structure, they are super easy-care and known to clean toxins from the air.
Our pick: 9EzTropical Kentia Palm, $118.88
Fancy-Leaved Caladium (Caladium bicolor 'Rosebud')
Many prefer showy indoor plants with dramatic foliage, and fancy-leafed Caladium fits the bill for areas of partial or even full shade. Think of coleus on steroids. Their big, heart-shaped leaves are paper-thin but explode with colors and patterns, making them showy houseplants with all the visual impact of flowers. The 'Rosebud' cultivar presents leaves with deep pink centers surrounded by white and edged with green, and the pink "bleeds" beautifully into the veins. The leaves grow on petioles up to 10 inches tall and require a humid location.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
The ZZ plant offers everything you might seek in a low-light houseplant. It has wide, attractive, dark-green leaves that are shiny enough to bounce any bit of light around the room. It stops growing at about 3 feet high and tolerates low-light conditions well. It is also an extremely low maintenance plant and has no noteworthy pests. The ZZ plant is also a champion air-purifier, removing toxins from the air. The downside: it's poisonous, so no nibbling.
Our pick: The Sill ZZ Plant, $44
Venus Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)
For those seeking a low-care houseplant to add texture and interest to a low-light room, consider the Venus maidenhair fern, with its rapidly growing, finely textured leaves. This fern makes an attractive addition to a shady corner with its multitude of lacy, fan-shaped leaves and drooping or cascading habit. Like all ferns, the maidenhair requires high humidity and regular water to remain healthy and happy. It grows its finely textured foliage quickly as long as it is placed in partial to full shade.
Our pick: The Plant Chica Maiden Hair Fern, $32.99
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
The common name says it all: the cast-iron plant is tough and tolerant, called indestructible by many but there's no need to test this. The cast-iron plant is a Japanese native, growing in the wild on forest floors in dense, deep shade. Some gardeners swear it can thrive in total darkness. It certainly makes a good plant for any room that gets little light, and is also great for beginners since it tolerates neglect, dust, wet soil and cold as well. It offers a profusion of lush, leafy, lily-like leave blades to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Our pick: Swamp Life Cast Iron Plant, $34.99
- Gardenista: Everything You Need to Know About ZZ Plants
- Epic Gardening: Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) Care Guide
- Plants Rescue: Cathedral Window
- University of Vermont Extension: Ipisia
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Episcia cupreata
- Joy Us Garden: An Elegant Plant For Lower Light: The Kentia Palm
- University of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program: Caladiums
- University of Vermont Extension: Growing Ferns Successfully Indoors
- Monrovia: Cast Iron Plant
- Plant Care Today: Cast Iron Plant
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.