Houseplant care and cultivation have been practiced for centuries. Beginning with the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Babylonians.
As construction technology advanced, changes in the amount of natural light entering our homes began to affect the health of this tropical flora.
Luckily, these challenges were met with the cultivation of new plant species that exhibited an improved tolerance for low-light conditions. As well as plants that have naturally adapted to low-light conditions.
The quest to discover the best low light indoor trees has been fruitful. Keep reading to see which ones made the list.
Choosing Low Light Trees To Grow Indoors
Houseplants sold at local nurseries are often labeled as “low-light” or even “no-light”. This can be a bit misleading because these terms can mean different things.
Low light may indicate that they’ll actually grow in low light conditions. Or, that they require bright, indirect sunlight versus intense, bright light. “No light” simply means they’ll grow and thrive under solely artificial light, too.
The best way to determine if an indoor tree will grow in your space is to measure the light it gets using a “foot-candle” phone app or a hand-held light meter. Then, match the results to the options below to find the best fit.
Shade Tolerant Indoor Trees And Plants
Plants and trees labeled as “shade tolerant” require a minimum of 50 to 250 “foot-candles” of natural sunlight, on any given day.
But what exactly is a foot-candle? Just as inches measure distance and grams measure weight, a foot-candle measures light intensity.
Imagine a houseplant sitting on the window sill on a bright, sunny day. This plant is receiving 1000-5000 foot candles ( or FC) of sunlight. On an overcast day, only 100-500 foot candles.
Below are four examples of low-light indoor trees that fall within this range and will even grow (albeit slower) with just 10-foot candles of artificial light.
The ever-popular Dracaena releases plumes of long, broad leaves with a gradient of green hues running from stem to tip. These emerge from atop thick, textured trunks that can reach 5ft, at maturity, with foliage reaching out 3ft.
Known for being low-maintenance, this indoor tree will thrive on a minimum of 75 foot-candles of light in the spot you choose to place them. However, color and variegation will be more pronounced with brighter, indirect light.
Being a shade-tolerant tree, direct, intense light is not recommended for the Dracaena. Scorched leaves, leaf drops, and rapid moisture evaporation could leave it in distress and vulnerable to pests.
But, with the right positioning, this tree will add beauty and charm to any room with soft sunlight.
Also known as the Madagascar dragon tree, this Dracaena cultivar releases tufts of long, green ribbons from nodes along tall, thin trunks.
Each ribbon develops dark red margins as it matures, giving the plant an exotic, multi-colored appearance. Over time, older leaves will naturally drop, revealing a subtle diamond pattern on each trunk.
Like the fragrans Massangeana, the bi-colored Dracaena requires a minimum of 75 FC throughout the day. Yet, closer to 250 FC will promote more vibrant color and faster growth, as it matures to 5ft by 3ft.
This low-light tree option is full of character but it’s not a fan of bright, intense light. Leaf scorch, dry soil, and pest infestations could result.
(Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mammy’)
The Mammy is unique among the two dozen Croton cultivars grown as houseplants. Familiar yellow, orange, and red leaves take on uncommon waves and twists as they mature.
Leaves also drop from the lower trunk on the Mammy, creating the form of a tree that matures to 36” tall by 18” wide, rather than a shrubby plant.
This Croton variety can be grown outdoors in shaded areas, then brought indoors, in the fall. Be sure to provide a minimum of 100-200 FC of natural sunlight, sufficient humidity, protection from harsh light and cold, and the occasional nutrient boost from a good quality croton fertilizer.
The Fiddle-leaf fig has become a staple in high-caliber, interior design. In every style from minimalist to grand and ornate, the ficus lyrate produces deeply veined leaves of a generous size, along a single, sturdy trunk.
The color of these leaves will increase vibrancy on the higher end of a 400-800 FC range.
Occasional rotation is also recommended to ensure that every large leaf is receiving sufficient light. This contributes to balanced growth and overall health.
In lower light, this plant will still grow. But, it will be slower to reach its mature size of 10ft by 3ft. If light levels are too low, leaves will begin to drop and leaf color will begin to yellow. A sign that photosynthesis is waning.
Low Light Indoor Palm Trees
It’s a common misconception that palm trees will only thrive in tropical climates. Not so! The following three examples will thrive indoors, even in the coldest of hardiness zones, provided that they receive sufficient light, humidity, moisture, and nutrients.
Now, sufficient light doesn’t necessarily mean blazing equatorial sunshine. These three palm varieties will survive and thrive with less. So, you can incorporate the same peaceful, relaxing elements into your indoor spaces, no matter where you live.
The fact that these also provide excellent air filtration in indoor environments, only adds to their appeal.
Feathery sprays of green bud along tall reeds emerge in one clump from the plant’s base. Together, these can reach 5ft tall and wide, at maturity, provided that they receive enough light to fuel vigorous growth.
The Areca palm prefers at least 150 to 300 FC of light. Yet, grows best when light availability is closer to the 300 FC mark. This palm can tolerate a few hours of direct sunlight, though. As well as artificial light that falls between 500 and 1000 FC.
These features make the Areca palm a natural choice in warm climates. But, they’re particularly beneficial in cold, northern regions where winter days are much shorter with more intense sunlight, as it reflects off the snow.
Perfectly at home in living rooms, family rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms, the Parlor Palm develops elegant, arching fronds with larger leaflets than the Areca. Giving it a fuller, softer appearance, as it matures to 7ft tall by 3ft wide.
This palm variety will also thrive in lower light than the Areca, making it easier to maintain in winter. Just 50-150 FC of indirect, natural sunlight, solely artificial light, or both, is all it takes for vibrant color and steady, healthy growth.
An east or north-facing window is the best place for your Parlor palm, regardless of the season. Too much light can burn delicate fronds, increase moisture evaporation and invite pests and disease.
The Lady Palm releases combs of long, glossy leaflets from tawny, bamboo-like canes that shed their papery skin as they age.
Leaflets on this cultivar are much larger than on the previous two palm varieties. Despite thin canes and stems, this unique characteristic offers a more hardy appearance.
With the Lady Palm, less is definitely more. A range of just 200-500 FC, throughout the day, will promote consistent, healthy growth that will reach 7ft tall by 5ft wide, at maturity. The Rhapis excelsa and other similar hybrids carry the same sensitivity to direct sunlight as the Parlor palm, making indirect or artificial light ideal. But, the risk of pests and disease is significantly less.
Tall Low Light Indoor Trees
So far, we’ve seen some gorgeous examples of indoor trees that will grow in relatively low light. Not to mention, add vibrant life and charm to any room in your home.
But, say that room is a large, open space with 2-story ceilings and east or south-facing windows. Or, a dimly-lit, attic living space with a pitched roof-line? That’s where these seven tree recommendations come in.
The mature height and width of each will not only grow in limited light with few issues but add substantial color, texture, and interest to any oversized or unusually shaped room.
Despite being native to forested regions in the South Pacific, the Norfolk pine has shown an impressive tolerance for indoor environments. Particularly those with limited light.
When positioned near east, west, or south-facing windows, with a minimum of 300 FC, this evergreen will reach a mature size of 8ft tall (or more) by 5ft wide. Once placed, however, it shouldn’t be moved. Significant changes in light can result in dropped needles and fronds that often don’t grow back. But, once established in one place, robust growth will follow.
Wispy, green fronds will emerge in a dense, spiral pattern around a thick trunk. Adding a soft, woodsy feature that’s perfect for decorating, come winter.
Don’t let the “dwarf” designation fool you. This low-light indoor tree can still mature to 15ft tall by 8ft wide. As it grows, so does its versatility.
You can grow this in a natural, bushy form or remove the lower leaves to create a trunked tree. You can even braid individual stalks, while they’re still young and pliable.
This dwarf requires a minimum of 250 FC and can be moved throughout the year to catch the best light. This effort will result in showy, bright green pinwheels that emerge from the tips of long stems, like umbrellas.
This and three other umbrella tree cultivars can all be grown in limited light. The next one is equally as impressive.
The Schefflera Trinette more closely fits the profile of a dwarf, maturing to just 6ft tall with a 3ft spread. Despite its shorter stature, a pair of these flanking an east or south-facing window would look sensational in a large room.
A range of 250-1000 FC is needed to sustain the intricate variegation patterns that leave acquired with age. While this plant does fine in lower light, these patterns will be more vibrant and distinct in brighter, diffused light.
Just remember to balance your watering of it with the amount of light it gets. Over-watering is common in low light. As are potential pest issues if allowed to dry out in brighter sunlight completely.
(Schefflera t. Winged Phoenix)
This final Schefflera option offers its own unique twist. Not in a leaf pattern, but in growing habit. Long, arching stems, tipped with rings of lance-shaped leaflets, reach out like wings from tall, sturdy stalks. It is maturing to an impressive 15ft tall and wide.
This stately umbrella cultivar can be grown on a shaded patio in the summer months, as well as in large indoor rooms, where it will receive between 250-1000 FC of natural light.
Indirect or diffused light prevents leaf scorch, pest infestations, and disease. In optimal conditions, however, this umbrella plant will not only thrive but may even produce sprigs of pale green florets that evolve into purple berries.
Commonly known as the Burgundy Bush, the ficus elastica makes an eye-catching statement in indoor spaces where it can mature to 8ft tall by 3ft wide.
Broad leaves unfurl with random patterns of red and burgundy before the top side ages to a deep, glossy green. One of the most prevailing issues with this ornamental plant is insufficient light.
A minimum of 800 FC, coming from an east or west-facing window, will encourage healthy growth and support proper photosynthesis in every season.
Rubber trees will tolerate lower light levels and subtle changes from time to time. But, too much, all at once, may result in leaf drop and yellowing. Well as consistent exposure to bright, direct sunlight.
Ficus plants, in general, are fantastic options for low-light spaces. The Ficus Alii, in particular, is not as sensitive to being moved or to changes in light as other cultivars might be. But, it will not tolerate bright, intense sunlight.
Preferring 400-800 FC throughout the day, this “Banana Leaf” Ficus gives palm trees a tropical run for their money. Slender, pendulous leaves change from red to green with maturity and have a relaxed, weeping quality about them as they drape from long stems.
Just as with umbrella trees, young ficus stalks can be braided for added visual interest, as the plant grows to 5ft tall by 3ft wide. Or simply remove any lower-sprouting stems to give it a lollipop topiary look.
When indoor ficus trees are mentioned, this is typically what people think of. The Benjamin Ficus is a popular houseplant for good reason. It thrives in low-light environments and is considered low-maintenance.
While 400-800 FC of light is preferred, this ficus cultivar actually likes an hour or two of direct light. This increases photosynthesis activity in its small leaves, leading to improved health and growth.
Any more than that, however, may lead to a negative response, like severe yellowing and leaf drop. Which can get messy. The same can actually happen with too little light. Once the light is right, you can just water it, feed it and let it go.
Pet Safe Low Light Indoor Trees
With all this talk of beautiful, low-light trees, there’s one critical aspect to include here. Are all these options safe to grow around pets?
Houseplants are generally not intended for consumption and should never be ingested. Yet, knowledge of their toxicity levels is invaluable.
Many plants contain varying levels of tiny crystals that can get lodged in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, causing vomiting and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
If your pets are overly curious about your houseplants, it’s best to train them to steer clear or keep plants above where they can reach.
The one indoor tree that is widely accepted as “pet safe” is the Money tree.
The Money Tree is an attractive, low-light bonsai that can be kept small or allowed to mature to 7ft by 3ft, when positioned where it will receive a minimum of 300 FC of natural or artificial light, on any given day.
Glossy green leaves will fan out from long stems atop a tall, coiled trunk. Its low-maintenance and safe nature should ensure a top spot on your list of choices.
Verdict: Best Low Light Trees For Indoor Growing
If you’d like to add some vibrant greenery to your indoor spaces, but were concerned about there not being enough light, you now have 15 stunning options to choose from.
Using a downloadable phone app or hand-held meter, you can measure the light intensity of your space in foot candles. Then, simply pick a favorite from the above list that will grow within your measurements, and off you go!
Remember, for smaller living spaces, a Dracaena or Fiddle-leaf Fig is perfect. Looking to add some luxury to your bathroom? Add a Parlor or Areca palm. In larger spaces, enjoy the striking beauty of an Umbrella or Ficus tree.