If you’ve ever worked in a traditional office environment, you’re familiar with how sterile and uninviting they can be. Employees are expected to focus on productivity and accuracy, not enjoying their surroundings. Thus, office settings have typically been designed with little visual distraction.
What companies and commercial space designers are now realizing is just how beneficial a little greenery can be. Studies have shown that plants in work areas can actually help prevent illness by purifying the air, minimizing sick days as well as reducing stress. All of these are fantastic ways that help to improve creativity, innovation, and output.
Selecting Indoor Plants for Office Desks
It’s common knowledge that most plants need light. So, what if your office or cubicle has no windows? Luckily, there are quite a few plants that will do well under artificial light. By the end of this article, you’ll be well-acquainted with the best plants for windowless office spaces.
These will all be small to medium-sized plants that can handle artificial light and thrive in moderately warm (72°F) environments.
But first, let’s take a look at some key points to consider when selecting one for your workspace.
The plants below grow well with 12-16 hours of artificial light, per day. Which is roughly how long office lights remain on. Any less will result in long, spindly growth and struggling, yellowing plants. Too much and the soil will dry out quicker than you can water it.
Under poor lighting, plant stems surge outward in search of the light they need for photosynthesis. Resulting in weak, distorted growth.
Under sufficient lighting, new stem and leaf shoots will grow shorter. Creating the kind of lush and robust appearance that indicates a healthy and happy plant.
Matching a plant’s mature size to its growing location is key to its success. A baby parlor palm, for example, would sit cozy in the corner of a desk. Then, eventually outgrowing that space, reaching 3-4 ft. high. Plants of this size are better suited to larger spaces.
Rate of Growth
The mature plant size and growth speed of the plants I’ll be introducing you to vary. It’s important to note that artificial light is no match for natural sunshine. Artificial light will encourage healthy growth in the right plant. That growth will just be a bit slower.
A plant’s pot and maturity size go hand-in-hand when matching it to the best growing location. Growth rates will also dictate its repotting needs.
Yet, one of the logistical perks of growing plants under artificial light is that, given their slower growth rate, frequent repotting isn’t as necessary.
Water Requirement and Humidity
Most office plants thrive in relative humidity above 50%. Sufficient humidity also serves to prevent dehydration.
Provide your office plant with just enough water to where you start to see it draining and wait to water it again until the top ¾” of soil is dry.
Difficulty of Care
The plants I’ve chosen for this list are simple to care for. But, you’ll need to take into consideration whether your office closes during holiday breaks or drastically changes the temperature and light conditions over the weekend. It’s worth it so that you can be sure you can choose a plant that isn’t sensitive to these fluctuations.
High-maintenance plants typically have more elaborate appearances or a higher “aesthetic value”. This means more internal processes supporting those unique features, like variegation or flowers, that need our attention.
Low-maintenance plants tend to be simpler in design. But, of course, joy is not found in appearance, alone.
Some of those joyful aspects come from simply interacting with and being in the company of our plants. But, for some, there are a few downsides that need to be considered. Especially if you work from home and your “office” is often visited by small children or pets.
If you have allergies, as I do, air-filtering plants like monstera, snake plants (I have these on my desk) and aglaonema are the most efficient at absorbing common air pollutants. Other plant varieties on the below list are proficient at this, as well. Just to a lesser degree.
Toxicity to Children and Pets
Toxic plants contain oils that can result in adverse reactions in animals and people. Typically, skin/mouth irritations or intestinal issues.
But sometimes these plants can cause more serious symptoms. So, when it comes to children and pets, I recommend erring on the side of caution.
Hazards such as Spines and Thorns
Spines and thorns are evolutionary adaptations that some indoor plants exhibit. Originally intended to keep animals from crushing or eating them. While these unusual plants look visually interesting, they can break or irritate your skin. Making them impractical to grow around children and pets.
Luckily, the best plants for windowless office desks pose far greater benefits than risks. They can improve your mood, reduce fatigue, as well as lower stress and anxiety.
If that wasn’t enough, they can also reduce the occurrence of tension headaches and ease eczema and respiratory ailments caused by dry air.
How, exactly, do they do all of this? For starters, plants “inhale” the carbon dioxide we exhale, along with air particles. In turn, they exhale the oxygen we breathe.
This symbiotic relationship was captured in a, now famous, 1989 NASA experiment showing plants capturing and containing cancer-causing compounds, like formaldehyde and benzene.
Plants help reduce office stress
Caring for plants has been scientifically shown to suppress nervous system activity by releasing melatonin in the brain. Promoting feelings of comfortable relaxation.
Even potting soil can ease stress and anxiety, as it contains Mycobacterium vaccae. Which releases an enzyme that acts as a natural antidepressant when inhaled by humans.
Best Plants for Desks in An Office With No Windows
Now, for the stars of our show. The eleven examples you’ll see here are not the only plants that will grow well in an office setting. But, they’re the absolute best for workspaces with limited light or no windows, at all.
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lilies)
Peace lilies have long, sharply-veined leaves that present a lighter shade of green down the center. Under artificial light, these plants produce lush foliage that expands up and out 24-40”.
Position them away from HVAC vents and water only when the soil feels dry. Peace lilies are sensitive to fertilizer, so use it sparingly.
Spathiphyllum naturally improves humidity levels, helping to alleviate skin and respiratory issues and excel in removing harmful pollutants from the air.
A staple in Feng Shui design, the soft, flowing nature of peace lilies can invoke calmness, alleviating feelings of stress. In low light conditions, your Peace Lily may not bloom, but it will produce wonderful foliage.
The Pothos displays glossy green, heart-shaped leaves, with many patterned varieties. Yet, only the greenest ones will thrive under artificial light.
Pothos vines will grow 6-10’ long, even when positioned near HVAC vents. Water when the soil feels dry and only fertilizes if chronic yellowing occurs.
By increasing humidity levels, pothos plants help alleviate eye irritation, after prolonged computer usage and also filter harmful elements from the air.
This hardy plant is perfect for beginners and is the most common plant used in commercial design. This resilience greatly contributes to easing potential work stresses and inspiring creativity.
Sansevieria (Snake Plant)
Sansevieria presents tall, saber-shaped leaves that can grow up to 2’ long. Striped green centers are highlighted by yellow or white edging.
This plant flourishes in windowless workspaces. Yet, will grow slower than those near windows.
Considered a succulent, watering every ten days is sufficient. Given its slow growth rate under artificial light, repotting is seldom necessary.
This architectural flora can filter out 87% of air impurities, such as xylene, trichloroethylene, toluene, and ammonia. Even when its internal processes slow, at night.
In many cultures, Sansevieria is grown to help increase the positive energy in any given space.
This sumptuous plant grows to a mature size of 2ft, all around and produces large, lance-shaped leaves with mottled, green, and silver variegation.
Aglaonema has adapted to limited natural light, so it’ll grow quite successfully under artificial lights. For a lush appearance, water these deeply every 1-2 weeks.
Also known as Chinese Evergreens, these filter air pollutants better than other desk plants. Absorbing and containing contaminants from both leaves and roots, in high concentrations.
Conversely, the Aglaonema “exhales” more clean oxygen than other plants. Which refreshes the body and mind and increases productivity.
This colorful plant grows to 12” tall by 18” wide. Including large, rounded leaves with varying patterns (depending on the cultivar) of green, red, and yellow.
Out of 50 varieties, the maranta leuconeura grows best under artificial light. Each night, folding its leaves upward, in conjunction with its natural circadian rhythm.
Water prayer plants every 2 weeks, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Aerated water is recommended, as Maranta plants are sensitive to hard water deposits.
Day or night, this help reduce noise pollution by deflecting and refracting sound. Reducing amplification and echo inside open spaces.
Glowing with glossy green (sometimes variegated) leaves, this weeping fig cultivar stands a mature 6ft tall, on a sturdy, light-gray trunk.
A popular tree in corporate environments, this graceful plant can live quite happily under 12-14 hours of artificial light. Chronic leaf drop is a sign that it’s not getting enough light.
The focus is a bit more high maintenance than other plants we’ve seen so far. But, once you have the light and water requirements down, your lovely tree will perform well in filtering out the typical air pollutants found in commercial spaces.
Monstera (Non-Variegated Varieties)
Out of the 48 known cultivars, the solid green monsteras perform best under false light. Variegated varieties, with fewer chlorophyll cells, will struggle.
Monstera adansonii (seen above) is one variety that thrives in artificial light. The naturally forming holes reduce the amount of chlorophyll and light needed for photosynthesis.
Even in low light, these grow quickly. Your little desk monstera may soon end up as a floor fixture.
In NASA’s 1989 study, monstera plants were shown to be one of the most effective for reducing air pollution. The bigger your adansonii gets, the more effective its air filtration properties are.
The Chamaedorea elegans is one of the most popular indoor palms in the world. Easily thriving in windowless workplaces, where others may struggle.
Sporting long plumes of slender leaflets, this beautiful palm can grow to a mature size of 4ft. Yet, given its slow growth rate under artificial light, there’s no need to constantly report them.
This particular variety is prone to over-watering and root rot. Water them only when the top 2” of soil feels dry.
This elegant plant, with excellent air purifying properties, will quickly change your workspace from cold and lean more towards tropical and tranquil.
Lucky Bamboo is the one plant most widely seen in workspaces. Tufts of long, thin leaves on strong stalks thrive under artificial light, as it rises to a mature height of 3 feet.
It’s also the only plant on this list that will grow with no sunlight or soil. Pea gravel, alone, will do.
They don’t need a lot of water, either. In gravel, water is just enough to cover the roots. Soil shouldn’t be too moist or dry.
Cultural folklore asserts that two stalks represent love. Three encourage happiness, wealth, and long life. Six stalks promote good luck and wealth.
The dracaena is a well-loved ornamental. With long-glossy leaves on a thick, stout trunk, this hardy plant will grow to a compact height of 3 feet.
Not all Dracaenas thrive in artificial light, though. Variegated cultivars struggle. But, those with solid green foliage do quite well.
Water your Dracaena when the top inch of the soil is dry. It tolerates dry conditions well, so there’s no worry if you miss a watering.
All plant varieties in the Dracaena family are great air purifiers. The one seen above does wonder in removing toxins like xylene and formaldehyde.
Cast Iron Plant
Lastly, the cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) provides low-maintenance greenery that’s hardy in artificial light, with low humidity and temperature fluctuations.
Growing to a mature 3ft tall and wide, you couldn’t ask for a better plant option. Especially if you work from home. As this plant has been deemed non-toxic by the medical community and the ASPCA.
Water it when the soil is dry and fertilize only when necessary. Best of all, like all others on this list, this plant removes excess CO2 and other pollutants from the air. And being long-lived, it can do so for quite a long time.
FAQs Best Plants for Office Desk With No Windows
In the past, one drawback of artificial light sources was the high levels of heat generated from fluorescent bulbs. Today, offices are switching to more energy-efficient light sources, thereby increasing the number of plant varieties you can grow on your desk.
Plants to Avoid Having in An Office With No Windows
The plants above will easily grow in windowless offices. But, there may be other small plants you’re thinking of. Flowering plants and succulents can be the perfect choice for desks and cubicles. But, only if they have access to natural light.
Hardy succulents may survive without natural sunlight. But, they will not thrive. Eventually, they’ll exhibit signs of distress. Unable to photosynthesize, the faded color will develop. Elongated stem growth will result from their efforts to find sunlight. Grow lights are available for succulents. But, the heat they emit may not be admissible in an office setting.
Small cacti varieties, especially those that flower, harness specific light waves from natural sunlight to fuel photosynthesis and flower production. Since these lightwaves are typically not present in artificial light sources, cacti may fail in office environments with no windows. Or at the very least, grow extremely slowly.
Plants with Extreme Variegations
Variegation results when plant leaves produce inconsistent amounts of chlorophyll cells. Beautiful, flowing patterns emerge. But, this means the plant needs to work harder to photosynthesize. Low or artificial light puts undue stress on a plant that is already in need of more sunlight to survive.
Flowering indoor plants, such as bromeliads, will thrive under artificial lights. But, they probably won’t flower. The red and blue wavelengths in sunlight trigger enzymes within these plants to produce buds. Typical office lighting, LED or otherwise, lacks these wavelengths.