Research estimates the average American office worker spends 36 hours a week behind their desk. That's a lot of time spent staring at a computer screen, wistfully daydreaming about sunny days at the beach or long walks through the mountains. According to a theory known as the “biophilia hypothesis,” it's imprinted into every human's DNA to feel happiest when connecting with Mother Earth. Desk plants are that missing link — transforming our workspaces into tranquil and engaging oases by reminding us of the great outdoors as we busy ourselves with the day's tasks.
Incorporating office greenery in pots and planters isn't only about adding a touch of color to a bland cubicle, though. The best desk plants also play a crucial role in keeping us healthy, improving air quality by removing harmful pollutants and toxins, reducing stress, and increasing creativity. But what plants are most likely to survive living in low light conditions, getting battered by aircon, and missing a watering or two when you're on vacation? Here are ten of the most tolerant species that even the laxest of plant parents will have trouble killing.
As most cacti are commonly found in harsh, arid deserts, it's probably one of the only plant species that seems to actively thrive on neglect, making them a sure-fire winner for all horticultural novices. Plus, with over 2,000 types of cacti globally, and as most are small enough to suit an office, there are plenty of shapes and colors to pick.
These little green wonders can retain massive amounts of H2O and only require watering once a week during the spring and summer and every three weeks during the fall and winter. However, they do love plenty of natural light, so are best suited to desks located close to a window.
Top Tip: To avoid accidents, make sure you place your cactus somewhere people aren't going to knock into it (unless you're sick of your coworkers always stealing your pens).
From rosettes of lime and yellow to ones with paddle-like leaves that turn from teal to bright red in the sun, there's a whole host of weird and wonderful succulents to amaze you. Similar to cacti, these desk buddies typically crop up in areas with long dry seasons and can withhold a lot of water. So only hydrate them weekly, but make sure they're in a sunny spot.
Top Tip: As a rule of thumb when choosing a succulent, the thicker and waxier the leaves, the more water it can hold, and the less you need to worry about maintenance.
3. Air Plants
Tillandsia, or air plants, are some of the most unique species available as they don't require any soil to grow. In the wild, you can spot them anchored to branches or poking out between rocks, feeding off the nutrients and moisture in the atmosphere. Indoors, they live in glass terrariums and will let you know they need water when the tips of their leaves turn brown and curl, roughly once a week.
Top Tip: Air plants can flower, displaying blooms in bright colors that can last for a few days or occasionally months, but this is the peak of the plant's life and marks the beginning of its old age.
4. Spider Plants
Don't panic — although their name might make you think they are a popular residence for eight-legged critters, in truth, they are called spider plants because of their long and elegantly arching leaves, or as they are officially known, spiderettes. Display these plants in all their glory by placing them on the corner of your desk or an empty shelf, ensuring they get watered whenever their soil looks a little dry.
Top Tip: As spider plants flourish in even the most dimly-lit corners, be prepared to cut them back every so often, as they tend to grow like crazy. On the plus side, they are extremely easy to propagate. Just pinch off small sections and put them in fresh soil, then everyone in the office can have their own!
5. Lucky Bamboo
According to Chinese tradition, the more stalks this type of bamboo has, the luckier it is and who doesn't need a bit of good fortune going into a client meeting? The perfect feng shui boost for your workspace, this plant can put up with low-light conditions and grows slowly, so you don't have to worry about it taking over. Lucky bamboo can even survive without soil as long as you submerge the stems in water.
Top Tip: To make them even more fascinating to gaze upon, some people use wires to twist the stems into fun shapes like spirals and hearts as they grow.
Ferns are some of the oldest living plants on our planet, yet they still make a stunning statement in today's contemporary settings. While certain varieties are fussy if conditions are not to their liking, others like Boston and Bird's Nest ferns cope well indoors so long as their soil is moist and the humidity is relatively high. However, if the fronds of these drama queens start turning yellowy-brown, you’ll know they're unhappy and need some attention.
Top Tip: In general, if a fern's foliage is tough and leathery, it's well suited for life as a pot plant. But those with thinner, feathery leaves do best in greenhouses where the humidity is higher.
7. Snake Plants
As tough as it is trendy, Sansevieria, or as it's more popularly known, the snake plant is no ordinary-looking flora. Each individually rooted leaf is stiff, sharp, and spiky, earning it many nicknames, including "Tiger's Tail" and, most charmingly, "Mother-in-Law's Tongue". The best part is this plant is more likely to suffer if it's overwatered rather than under, so to prevent root rot, always wait until the soil is completely dry before giving it another dunk — typically once a month.
Top Tip: Always read the label before buying a snake plant to ensure it's a dwarf variety like "Futura Superba or "Whitney," not a species that's going to grow several feet high.
Aloe vera makes a great desk plant, but only if it has plenty of bright light. Greatly valued by ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Egyptians, and Aztecs, the clear, jelly-like substance contained within its mature leaves has been used to treat everything from baldness to sunburn. To ensure this miracle worker lives its best life, grow it in a sandy cactus mix for better drainage and water moderately.
Top Tip:Aloe vera is 98.5% water, which means it can survive extreme heat and dry conditions.
9. ZZ Plants
Fortunately, the plant's hard-to-pronounce name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, isn't indicative of how tricky it is to cultivate. Ideal for beginners, the ZZ is one of the most popular pot plants around as it prospers in cooler conditions, has thick stems and bulging roots for storing water, allowing it to withstand droughts, and attracts very few pests.
Top Tip: Unfortunately, all parts of the ZZ plant are toxic, so it's not suitable for places with office pets that might want to have a nibble.
10. Peace Lily
An iconic housewarming gift due to being exceptionally straightforward to look after, the peace lily doesn't require much light and won't mind if you give it too much or too little of a bath. If you can, aim to water this plant weekly and give its broad, deep green leaves a spritz every so often during summer.
Top Tip: The diamond-shaped, white flowers that make the peace lily so appealing are, in fact, leaves. Its minute flowers can be found along the pointed spadix, growing from the stem.