Walking into a fluorescent-lit, cookie-cutter cubicle every day can feel downright depressing, and it’ll only feel worse once spring arrives. An easy way to change that? Plants.

To find the most office-friendly options, we spoke with plant buyer Marlee Cooper of East Passyunk’s Urban Jungle. She shares her favorites that’ll thrive even in windowless settings, along with three top picks for those blessed with a sunny office corner.

All are considered “low maintenance” (drought-tolerant and slow growing). Although, Cooper reminds us that even the most accessible houseplants need a little love.

“Look at it as a living thing and not just a sculpture for your desk and you’ll have a lot more success,” says Cooper. “But that’s exactly why plants, even more so than art, add a whole new dimension of life to a space — they’re literally alive.”

Pro tip: drainage holes are a must. Decorative pots can double the beauty that a plant adds to your desk. Buy pots with drainage holes, which allow water to properly drain from the soil. Wet roots can easily lead to rotten roots, and, an eventual death in your plant family.

ZZ Plant
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
ZZ Plant

Fluorescent light warriors:

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Cooper calls this common houseplant one of the easiest to upkeep.

“You could grow it in a dark room with just a sliver of natural light and it’d still look great,” says Cooper, pointing out that standard overhead office lighting will keep it thriving, too.

Because the plant is a slow grower, there’s no need to worry about it outgrowing your desk. And, in a low-light setting, it only needs to be watered once a month, meaning you won’t need to find a coworker to babysit when headed on vacation. Just make sure to give the ZZ a full saturation in the sink with each watering.

*Will also thrive in bright, indirect light.

Sansevieria
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Sansevieria

Snake Plant (Sansevieria)

Another low-light tolerant, slow-growing contender, snake plants allow you to get funky. There are dozens of species, each with their own leaf variations, including some that have yellow stripes, black speckles, and multi shades of green.

“They grow vertical, so you could easily fill your desk with a few different kinds,” says Cooper.

In low light, snake plants need a full-saturation watering every three weeks, or once the soil feels dry. The tips of the leaves will start to brown if you’re not watering enough.

*Will also thrive in bright light, with up to four hours of direct light.

Pothos
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Pothos

Pothos Plant (Epipremnum aureum)

One of the best parts about Pothos is they communicate: When they’re thirsty, they wilt.

“They’re very forgiving and perk right back up when you give them a drink,” says Cooper, adding that Pothos, by nature, can also be playful. “Since they’re vines, you can wrap them around your desk, which adds a lot of dimension to a cubicle space.”

Easy to propagate, Pothos lets you spread the wealth to your desk-mates. To turn one Pothos into two, simply clip a stem at a node (where a leaf connects), and stick it in a glass of water. When roots appear, it’s time to repot.

*Will also thrive in full sun.

Chinese Evergreen
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Chinese Evergreen

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Sp.)

Most low-light plants don’t produce beautiful blooms, but Chinese evergreens offer the next best thing — pink-streaked leaves. There are also varieties with leaves patterned by white speckles, red stripes, and cheetah-like shadings of dark and light green.

Another great office perk, Cooper points out, is the tropical houseplant doesn’t need to be carried to the kitchen sink every time you water it.

“They don’t need a thorough saturation, but more like ¼-cup to a cup [of water], depending on their size,” says Cooper. “You can use a water bottle right at your desk, putting a tray underneath to catch any drips.”

*Will also thrive in bright, indirect light.

Spider Plant
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Spider Plant
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

For a rock-solid desk-mate with wild, rock star hair, place a spider plant on your desk. Like Pothos, this long-stranded species can handle a bit of neglect, and will speak up when you’ve abandoned it for too long. Go longer than two weeks without a full-saturation watering and it’ll start to grow pale and droopy. But a quick drink in the sink brings it back almost immediately. They’re also easy to multiply.

“Spider plants are another one you can easily share with your coworkers," notes Cooper. “They shoot off long stems that produce flowers and grow babies, which you can snip off and grow into a new plant.”

*Will also thrive in bright, indirect light.

Peace Lily
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Peace Lily

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Peace lilies are supposed to summon feelings of serenity. Legend has it that they gained their name because of their white spathes. This flower-like structure shoots up from their center and was said to remind European explorers of the traditional “white flag” used to signal no combat or surrender.

“You’ll see [the spathes] emerge in spring and summer, and they’ll last for a couple of months,” says Cooper.

Also in line with its name, peace lily maintenance is relatively stress-free. Water it once a week; if you forget, the leaves will droop to create a visual reminder.

*Will also thrive in bright, indirect light.

Natural light hacks: Don't have windows? That doesn't have to limit your plant options. Invest in a full spectrum UV light, Cooper says, and you can grow all of the sun-loving succulents your heart desires.


“You can get bulbs that screw into any ordinary desk lamp,” says Cooper. “Keep the plants under the light while you’re at work. Turn it off when you go home, and they’ll get by until you show up the next day.”

Philodendron
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Philodendron

Sunshine Soakers:

Philodendrons

With heart-shaped leaves and trailing vines, philodendrons can add a lot of character to a drab cubicle space.

“These do best in medium indirect light, but can also tolerate higher and lower levels, so they’re fairly adaptable,” says Cooper, noting that there are plenty of varieties from which to choose.

In high-light conditions, they’ll need a full saturation watering every 10 days, once you see the leaves in the center start to wilt.

Hoya
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Hoya

Hoya

Hoyas can tolerate low- and medium-light conditions, but it’s in bright light that they show their best colors.

“If they’re in very high light, after the plant gets to a certain age, they can flower — definitely an impressive office addition,” says Cooper.

Take your pick — blooms span a wide color spectrum, including pink, yellow, orange, and white. In high-light conditions, give them a full saturation watering once every 10 days, once the leaves in the center start to droop and loose a little shininess.

Dischidia
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Dischidia

Dischidia

The beautiful trailing vines of dischidia make the plants perfect for hanging in baskets above a bright desk space. You can also train those vines to grow upward, and with enough sunlight, flowers will eventually emerge.

Cooper notes that care for dischidia is just like that of a hoya.

“They’re like a succulent in that they’re very drought-resistant,” says Cooper, noting to watering once every seven to 10 days, once the center leaves start to droop.

Where to buy plants in Philly: