It might be helpful to clarify here that all plants need light to grow, but it doesn’t have to be sunlight. As long as the light energy is of the correct frequency (color spectrum) and strength, the plant doesn’t care where it comes from – the sun or a power station.
Back to indoor plants. In the first place, the light they need depends on the type, or species, of the plant.
Light needs of house plants are categorized as low, medium, or high.
When you read about a plant, or even look at the tag on it in the store, it should say at the very beginning if it’s a low, medium, or high light plant. (Just to remind you, we’re talking about indoor houseplants only; outdoor plants are labeled completely differently, in terms of full sun, partial sun/partial shade, and shade plants.)
If you like to measure things, the amount of light can be expressed in footcandles (FC).
Low light is usually figured as something between 25 – 200 FC;
medium light is 100 – 500 FC;
high light is 500 – 1000 FC.
By way of comparison, outdoors in the sunlight is usually figured as something like 10,000 FC.
While outdoors in the shade might be anywhere from 2000 – 5000 FC.
You either need to match the plant to the existing light conditions in your home, or you may have to adjust the light to the plant that you get.
It’s easier, especially for beginning houseplant enthusiasts, to get plants that fit the light you have.
So how do you determine what kind of light you have?
So, there are two main ways of approximating your light levels – working level, and shadows.
WORKING LEVEL –
- too low – if there’s not enough light to read by (talking reading from paper, here, folks,) there’s not enough light for a plant to survive.
- You can keep plants in such a spot, but you either have to add electric light, or rotate them with plants that live in higher light.
- low – if you can read there, but not for long (like maybe only 15 minutes), only low light plants can survive there.
- medium – if you can work comfortably all day, as in most offices, or if the area is close to an east or north window, low and medium light plants should be able to survive there.
- high – if the area is close to a south or west window, medium and high light plants should be able to survive there.
- very high – right in front of an unobstructed south window may provide enough light for those plants needing the highest levels of light.
Hold a piece of plain white paper in the area where you want to put a plant, and hold your hand 6″ above the paper.
- too low – there won’t be any shadow on the paper
- low – the shadow of your hand will be very indistinct
- medium – the shadow of your hand will have fuzzy edges
- high – the shadow of your had will have sharp edges
How much light does my plant need?
Now that you know a little more about estimating the light level in your home, here are some of the most common plants to fit those light levels.
Remember, while you can grow any of them in a level higher than where they’re listed, they won’t do well in a level lower than their classification.
Also, I’m listing botanical names as well as what I think of as the common name – in different parts of the world, different plants have different common names, but the botanical name is the same everywhere. (spp. means ‘species’ – there are a number of species or varieties commonly sold, any of them will do.)
Also, they’re listed from lowest to highest within the light category. Be aware that any low light plant in low light won’t do much growing, but it will stay alive, while higher light plants in that low light will die.
Also, these are estimations – while you’re not likely to get a high light plant to survive in low light, many of the medium light plants will work if the low light isn’t super low.
Low Light Indoor Plants
- Sanseveria spp. (Snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue);
- Zamioculcus zamifolia (ZZ plant)
- Aspidistra (cast iron plant)
- Chamadorea elegans (parlor palm)
- Dracaena massangeana (corn plant, mass cane)
- Epipremnum aureum (pothos, devil’s ivy).
medium light indoor plants
- Spathiphyllum spp (peace lily)
- Hoya spp. (wax plant)
- Aglaonema spp (Chinese evergreen)
- Dracaena ‘janet craig
- Dracaena warnecki
- Dracaena marginata (Madagascar dragon tree)
- Pleomele reflexa (song of India, song of Jamaica)
- Dieffenbachia spp. (dumb cane)
- Schefflera arboricola (dwarf umbrella tree)
- Philodendron scandens (heartleaf philodendron)
- Chamadorea sefrizii (bamboo palm)
- Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (areca palm, butterfly palm)
- Howea fosteriana (kentia palm)
- Rhapis excelsa (lady palm)
- Beaucarnea recurvata (pony tail palm, elephant foot)
- Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree)
- Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant)
- Ficus decora (rubber plant).
high light indoor plants
- Ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig);
- Ficus benjamina (weeping fig)
- Nephrolepsis exaltata (Boston fern)
- Crassula ovata (jade tree)
Hopefully this will help you better understand houseplants and their light. If you have questions, you can contact me through the comments.