Growing with Phipps: These plants will stand up to the harsh conditions of any
Saturday, December 18, 2004
By Karen Daubmann and Margie Radebaugh, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical
Office plants need to be tough. Many offices don't have much natural light, the
heating and cooling can be extreme and rarely is there a dedicated plant tender
who will water, fertilize and repot each plant based on its specific needs.
Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
A peace lily will grow well in low light.
Click photo for larger image.
But we have some suggestions for the perfect plant to add a personal touch to
your office or cubicle. These are also the best plants for those with brown or
Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is a fantastic choice for low light
conditions. A classic interior plant that is making a comeback, it has thin
stems that broaden into leaves that can be as wide as 5 inches and as tall as
Breeders have developed some interesting new cultivars. 'Asahi' has white tips
on the upper third of its leaves, while 'Lennon's Song' has a centered vertical
stripe of muted yellow. Aspidistra lurida 'Ginga' has 18-inch-long leaves that
are green speckled with creamy white.
Dracaena is a large genus of plants, with lance-shaped leaves that are arranged
in a spiral from the stem. The species deremensis and fragrans contain the
plants we use most often in interior plantscapes.
Deremensis cultivars have bluish-tinged leaves and include'Janet Craig,' a
bushy plant with long, dark green leaves that are about 3 inches wide.
'Warneckii' is similar, but the leaves are slightly narrower and have a white
stripe down each side and a milky green stripe in the center.
Dracaena fragrans is generally grown as thick canes with green leaves coming
out of clusters near the tops. This is an excellent tall, narrow plant. Its
name comes from the fragrant white flowers that appear on mature plants in late
summer. D. fragrans often has greenish-yellow or green and white striped
leaves. A popular cultivar is 'Massangeana,' which has leaves striped with
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a classic houseplant that is often grown in
hanging baskets. This variegated plant with heart-shaped leaves is a very tough
viner whose runners can reach 30 feet long. Keep the soil moist and fertilize
weekly from March through August.
The peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is one of the smallest plants on the list
and is often tabletop-sized. It has dark green, lance-shaped leaves and
long-stemmed white type flowers. This plant will grow well in low light but
needs a little more light to bloom. It is happy with a weekly dosage of weak
fertilizer during the spring and summer months, as well as added humidity (or
misting) on warm days.
Kentia palm (Howeia forsteriana) is graceful, easy to grow and tolerates
adverse conditions, including low humidity, temperatures and light. Each leaf
resembles a feather, and the leaves can reach 10 feet long on mature plants.
Kentia palms are slow growing but tend to be wide spreading, so they will need
some space. Water regularly but let the soil dry between waterings. This plant
should be hosed off a few times per year to remove dust from the leaves.
Sweetheart plant (Philodendron scandens) is a fast-growing vine with solid
green, heart-shaped leaves. Often grown in hanging baskets, these vines can
reach 20 feet in length The leaves get up to 4 to 6 inches across. Use a
balanced water-soluble fertilizer during the spring and summer months to
Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum) is a trailing or vining plant with
variegated, arrowhead-shaped leaves that can get as large as 5 inches across.
This plant prefers temperatures in the mid-60s and moist soil.
Our favorite plant for the office is the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia).
Named foliage plant of the year in 2002 because of its ability to withstand
abuse and neglect, the ZZ plant has glossy, dark green leaves, which stay true
in low-light situations. Because it stores water in its underground tubers, it
can go for months without being watered. The ZZ grows in a clump form; new
growth begins as side shoots which grow into larger clumps. Plants can reach 30
inches tall, but it is quite slow growing.
Plants grown in low light generally grow very slowly, so they can be used in
the same space for a long time. Because they are slow growers, care must be
taken not to overwater or overfertilize.
This is one of a series of periodic columns by staffers of Phipps Conservatory
and Botanical Gardens. Karen Daubmann is Phipps director of horticulture and
Margie Radebaugh is director of education.