This original essay by gardening expert Jon VanZile coincides with the release of his new book, "Houseplants for a Healthy Home: 50 Indoor Plants to Help You Breathe Better, Sleep Better, and Feel Better All Year Round," published by Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster.
If you’re lucky enough to work at a high-flying tech company, you might be lucky enough to have a Ping-Pong table or yoga studio tucked into your office — but if you’re like the most of us, you’re dealing with a work space that’s big on fluorescent lights, fabric-walled cubicles, and a never-ending fight over the thermostat.
But no worries. There are still things you can do to brighten your working space (and make it a little bit healthier) by adding some houseplants. No matter what your work space looks like, there are plants that will survive and maybe even thrive in your space, which can improve your mood, brighten up your desk, and even increase air quality. Some of the best options include:
- Lucky bamboo. This is probably the best office plant known. Lucky bamboo isn’t actually a type of bamboo (it’s technically a Dracaena sanderiana), but it is an exceptionally tough plant that can survive in the typical low-light, drafty environments most of us work in. Typically grown in water without soil, the key to keeping them alive over the long haul is to use the right kind of water. Avoid tap water, which has chlorine, and instead use distilled or spring water. If possible, provide the plant with filtered light, but if you only have indoor fluorescent light, that will do too.
- Bromeliads. Bromeliads are not the first plant many people think of when they think of office plants. These spiky little epiphytes are typically native to South American jungles, where they grow attached to trees in the muggy, warm rainforest. They adapt surprisingly well to dim office environments, however. Always remember to water your bromeliad from above, filling the little cup with water every few days. And while you’re caring for them, bromeliads can help care for you: They have been shown to remove toxins from the air and increase oxygen in the living environment during the day.
- Pothos vines. Sometimes called devil’s ivy, the pothos vine (Epipremnum aureum) is almost indestructible. Native to rain forests, where they grow into tree-swallowing giants, pothos vines can be grown indoors in soil or even directly in water (although they won’t like it much). Give your plant as much light as possible and keep the soil regularly moist, and you should be rewarded with a sturdy performer that might cascade across your desk. Pothos vines are also known for filtering toxins from your environment.
- Succulents. There are many types of succulents available, including cacti, which are a type of succulent. These plants are hardy desert plants that have adapted to very low water and humidity, which makes them excellent for the benign neglect experienced by many office plants. Keep a single succulent, or display a tray of mixed succulents. These beautiful plants are very easily overwatered, so it’s better to err on the side of too little water and let the soil dry between waterings. They can survive in low light as well, although they may grow very slowly.
- Spider plant. The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a very pretty plant with narrow, striped leaves that sends out baby plantlets on long, arching stems. Over time, they can form a lovely cascading display of baby plants hanging beneath the mother like so many juvenile spiders. Spider plants prefer slightly moist conditions, so you’ll need to water this one more frequently and mist it every so often. Still, they are pretty tough plants and can often survive for a long time in suboptimal conditions. Also, spider plants are good at filtering the air and can even remove solid particulates.
Master Gardener Jon VanZile’s articles on gardening have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications, the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), Orlando Sentinel, among others. He also was the houseplants and indoor gardening expert at About.com (now Spruce.com) for almost a decade.