Actually Low-Light Plants That Don’t Need a Lot of Sun

First, what does “low light” even mean?

I’ve found that a lot of sources are pretty deceptive about what “low light” actually means when it comes to houseplants. So before we get into anything else, let’s start off by clarifying this term!

First off, annoyingly, a lot of websites suggest species that actually need quite a bit of light to thrive. This is a bit misleading and will inevitably lead to disappointed houseplant lovers and dead plants.

We’ll correct that later by discussing nine ACTUAL low-light plants below.

Secondly, houseplant enthusiasts are being given unrealistic expectations about the definition of low light.

A windowless bathroom, for instance, isn’t low light; it’s no light! The same goes for a space way across a room that only has a small window, or an unlit nook. In places like these, plants will survive for a while, but they’re always slowly dying.

Even with the certified low-light plants below, it’s important to be realistic. All houseplants require light to thrive. Photosynthesis is just their thing. If you’d like to spruce up a no-light corner without constantly having to replace ailing plants, it’s probably best to look into buying some grow lights (or sticking with faux greenery).

How can I measure light?

When I say low light, I mean an area that gets around 100 to 250 foot-candles (FC). This unit for measuring light comes in very handy when you’re trying to figure out whether a spot in your home is light enough to sustain a houseplant.

So you know: 1 foot-candle equates to 1 lumen per square foot.

You can measure foot-candles using a light meter, which is pretty inexpensive to buy (here’s a decent, no-frills model that I recommend) and a great tool to have in your arsenal if you like growing houseplants.

You just hold it over the location you want to place your plant, and it tells you the brightness in FC. If the reading ends up being less than 100, you’re dealing with a “no light” location that isn’t really suitable.

If you don’t want to buy a light meter, there are also phone apps you can use. They’re not very accurate, but they do give you a rough estimation to work with. 

Lastly, in case you want to go the non-digital route, you can kind of gauge light levels visually.

Imagine you’re the plant. Do you have a direct line of sight to a window? Is the window less than 10 feet away? If the answers to these questions are yes, then your chosen location is probably suitable for low-light plants. If not, then supplemental artificial lighting will probably be a good idea.

As for higher-light plants, those need to be directly in front of a window, or at least less than 2 feet away. Some, like succulents and cacti, don’t really thrive indoors at all without the use of grow lights. They just need more sun than our puny windows can offer! 

Tip: Are you growing a houseplant in low-light conditions and noticing it starting to stretch? When the distance between each leaf becomes larger and larger and a houseplant leans towards the nearest light source, that means things are just too dark.

This phenomenon is called etiolation and it will lead to a sad, limp plant. You may want to look into some grow lights or moving your plant if this happens.

9 truly low-light houseplants for your urban jungle

1. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

I’ve pretty thoroughly tested the low-light capacities of the humble devil’s ivy vine (better known as Pothos) throughout the years, and it absolutely comes out on top when it comes to low-light houseplants. Some of my poor plants are a whopping 20 feet away from the nearest window and yet they grow pretty well!

Scientifically known as Epipremnum aureum, Pothos is one of the most popular houseplants out there thanks to its unfussy nature. It doesn’t just not care much about light levels, but it’s also beginner-proof and very easy to keep alive. 

For the best results, go for one of the darker-leaved varieties, such as the classic golden Pothos (available in any plant store), and avoid variegated types like Marble Queen Pothos (which need extra light since they’re less efficient than green plants at photosynthesizing).

2. Dragon tree (Dracaena sp.)

Another absolute winner and a total lifesaver for the lazy houseplant lover is the dragon tree, better known as Dracaena.

I have Dracaenas in a bunch of the lower-light spots in my home (up to 10 feet away from a window), and although they don’t tend to grow much, some have stuck it out for years now with no signs of suffering.

The nice thing about this plant is that there are a good few varieties to choose from. Just avoid the lighter-leaved cultivars (like Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’, which needs a bit more light) and you’re golden. Dracaena fragrans ‘Compacta’ is probably my personal favorite.

3. Sansevieria (Dracaena sp.)

As longtime houseplant enthusiasts may be aware, the various species that used to belong to the genus Sansevieria were moved into the genus Dracaena a while ago following studies that revealed they’re very closely related.

Still, I feel like they’re not one and the same, so I wanted to discuss them separately here.

The plants formerly known as Sansevieria are succulents. They actually prefer to receive lots of direct sun, but the nice thing about them is that they’re very sturdy and can also make do with a lot less. I’ve had good success growing them (especially my favorite, Sansevieria cylindrica) in spots with very limited light.

4. ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Another low-light classic! The ZZ plant is a fixture in malls and offices because it can thrive on very little.

Originally from eastern Africa, this species is not a succulent—it’s actually an Aroid—but its leathery leaves and thick rhizomes can store a good bit of water. 

Like Sansevieria, the ZZ plant is sturdy and doesn’t mind drought or having to make do with less light.

I also personally just love its fabulous looks! Those long stems with shiny, almost feathery-looking leaves really make this species a great centerpiece.

You can plant your ZZ in a well-draining soil mixture. If you’re growing it in low light, let the soil dry out halfway in summer and fully in winter before watering again. Overwatering can cause the tubers to rot, so it’s usually better to under- than overwater these houseplants.

5. Cast iron plant (Aspidistra eliator)

It’s not called that for nothing. Like cast iron, Aspidistra eliator is known to be almost indestructible! That’s probably why it has been around in our homes since all the way back in the Victorian era, when people first started growing exotic houseplants.

Native to Japan, this species has tall, sword-shaped, glossy leaves. It can grow quite large.

Combine its looks and size with its ability to survive in low-light conditions, and you’ve got the perfect plant to cheer up some of those corners that are too dark for most other houseplants.

As long as you provide your cast iron plant with a well-draining soil mixture and water it when the soil is about halfway dry, you really can’t go wrong. It doesn’t really care about unstable temperatures, a lack of light, low humidity, or even the occasional watering mistake.

6. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

I’m going to wager a guess and say you’re probably familiar with the spider plant. It has been a solid “top 5” houseplant in terms of popularity for years, and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change any time soon.

It just looks cool with those striped, grassy leaves—plus, it’s incredibly easy to care for.

Although I wouldn’t classify the spider plant as “ultra-low light” like a Pothos or cast iron plant, I’ve got to say that I’ve treated mine pretty badly over the years and they’ve always survived. Despite some of them being quite a ways away from the nearest window, they never stopped growing or died off.

Plant your spider plant in regular houseplant potting soil with a handful of perlite mixed in.

If growing in low-light conditions, water the plant when the soil has gone halfway dry. Flush regularly using distilled water, as this species is a little sensitive to the minerals in tap water and can develop brown leaf tips if these are allowed to build up in the soil. 

7. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)

If you belong to the former group, you’ll be delighted to know that this pretty bloomer doesn’t need loads of light to do well. I’ve had a large one in a shaded spot for years now, and despite the lack of light it still produces the occasional flower.

I think the key to keeping a peace lily alive even in low-light conditions is to keep an eye on your home’s humidity.

They hail from warm and humid forest floors, so they just really don’t respond well to dry air. Yours might benefit from being grouped together with other plants or the use of a humidifier. 

Peace lilies can be planted in regular houseplant potting soil with some perlite. They need consistent watering to prevent their long, sword-like leaves from drooping, but it’s important not to overdo it. Let the first few inches of the soil dry out in summer, and try letting it dry about halfway during winter. 

8. Satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus)

It belongs to the genus Scindapsus, which hails from the Asian jungle. You can recognize it by its patterned, velvety leaves. It’s quite a looker!

This ordinarily wouldn’t have been the first plant I’d think of when discussing low-light houseplants, but I confined one of mine to a pretty dark spot around two years ago and I’ve been surprised with its performance. It hasn’t grown much, but it definitely doesn’t look stretchy or sad either. It gets my low light seal of approval.

9. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.)

How gorgeous are the many varieties of the Chinese evergreen plant?! Mottled pink, silvery green, stark white and even bright orange… there really is an Aglaonema for everyone.

Although you’re best off choosing a green cultivar for lower-light spots in your home (colored plants need a brighter location), this absolutely doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a boring plant. 

A Chinese evergreen will do fine even when placed a bit farther away from the window. It’s just important to make sure you don’t overwater it. I like using well-draining soil and letting the medium go about halfway dry before watering again. 

Some beautiful green Chinese evergreen varieties you could consider for your home include:

  • Aglaonema ‘Maria’
  • Aglaonema ‘Silver Bay’
  • Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’
  • Aglaonema commutatum