green plant on desk in office

Adding a touch of green to your workspace carries proven wellness benefits, from boosting productivity to purifying the air. But windowless cubicles and wacky watering schedules can bring most plant varieties to an early demise. Which makes picking the perfect office plant challenging.

Avoid getting stuck with a sad plant cemetery on your desk by choosing one of these air-cleaning, mood-boosting varieties that are also nearly impossible to kill.

For a little extra guidance, scroll down for a list of plant-at-your-own-risk picks you should skip at work.

1. Spider plant

Perfect for high shelves and hanging baskets, the low-maintenance spider plant thrives in partial sun or shade — making it ideal for your cubicle or windowless office. As an added bonus, spider plants carry loads of benefits for improving indoor air quality and reducing stress at work, as noted by researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A report published by the university’s Cooperative Extension Service cited the humble spider plant as one of the top varieties for removing VOCs and other pollutants from indoor air. Air-cleansing plants also boost relative humidity and decrease particulate matter (aka dust), which can have a relaxing effect on workers and reduce common allergy symptoms, according to the report.

Indoor air pollution is a major problem in many offices and the spider plant is highly effective in cleaning that air. This makes the spider plant our number one office plant pick!

Spider plant
Spider plant. Image: HoiCM Whsivi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Care instructions: Plant your spider plant in a size-appropriate pot or hanging basket with rich potting soil. This pick is resilient enough to withstand infrequent watering and thrive with little more than fluorescent light. But if you notice droopy or brown leaves, simply move your plant to a brighter location for a few days to bring it back to its full glory.

SHOP: spider plant

2. Lemon Balm

Super-fragrant lemon balm plants can tolerate full sun or full shade, meaning they’ll be happy even if the nearest window is all the way across the office. In addition to being seriously hardy, research suggests that having a lemon balm plant around may also improve your mood and boost workplace wellness.

An Ohio State University study showed that while the scent of lemon doesn’t carry the medicinal healing properties touted by some aromatherapy proponents, its sweet smell did show a clear mood enhancement. So, for the often stressful office environment, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

lemon balm
Lemon Balm. Image Source: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski

Care instructions: Plant your lemon balm in a size-appropriate pot with good drainage and rich potting soil. Your plant will thrive in almost any light conditions but it should be kept moist, so don’t forget to water it!

SHOP: lemon balm plant

3. Philodendron

The lush and leafy philodendron is nearly impossible to kill and research from the University of Technology, Sydney — one of Australia’s top tech institutions — indicates this pick may also be good for your health.

Researchers from the university’s Centre for Environmental Sustainability listed philodendrons as one of the top varieties for freeing indoor air of VOCs and excess carbon dioxide, which can be harmful to human health. The study cites all-day exposure to VOCs and high CO2 levels (even at imperceptible levels) as a frequent cause of headaches, drowsiness, and loss of concentration. So, adding an air-cleansing variety like this one could go a long way to boosting productivity at work, researchers concluded.

Philodendron. Image Source: Flickr/Cliff

Care instructions: Plant your philodendron in a pot or hanging basket with rich, loose potting soil. Keep the soil fairly moist by watering about two times each week.

SHOP: philodendron plant

4. Peace Lily

Peace lilies love the shade, so they’ll do just fine even far away from a window. This eye-catching variety is also one of the best plants for improving indoor air quality, according to NASA research.

A 1989 study published by B.C. Wolverton, an environmental scientist working with NASA and the U.S. military, concluded that peace lilies removed more VOCs from the air than nearly any other houseplant.

Since then, its cleansing properties have been recognized by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Penn State University, and National Chin-Yi University of Technology in Taiwan, just to name a few.

Peace lily
Peace Lily: Image Source: Flickr/Tahmid Munaz

Care instructions: Plant your peace lilies in rich, loose potting soil, and make sure the pot provides adequate drainage. Check the soil every few days and water as necessary. To ensure healthy leaves and frequent flowering, never allow the soil to dry out.

SHOP: peace lily plant

5. Golden Pothos

Golden pothos was also noted by NASA researchers as a top air-cleaning plant, and it’s famously low-maintenance to boot.

Its lovely heart-shaped leaves removed up to 73% of VOCs and other pollutants from sealed chambers as part of the NASA study, and the plant experts at Better Homes & Gardens called the variety “one of the best indoor plants for low-light situations” — making it perfect for your desk.

Golden Pothos
Golden Pothos. Image Source: Flickr/Forest and Kim Starr

Care instructions: Plant your golden pothos in a size-appropriate pot or hanging basket, and keep the soil slightly on the dry side. Don’t worry about re-potting as the plant grows. This pick actually enjoys being slightly root-bound.

SHOP: golden pothos plant

Plant at Your Own Risk

Succulents. Source: Flickr/Paul Saad

Unless your workplace provides ideal growing conditions (and you have plenty of time to care for your plants), you may want to skip these picks at the office to avoid a sad floral fatality.

  • Succulents: Succulents need very little water, so they may seem low-maintenance at first. But these babies require plenty of sunlight for healthy growth. So, unless you’re lucky enough to have a window office, you may want to save this pick for your windowsill at home.
  • Tropical flowers: Tropical flowers like hibiscus and passion flower need bright, sunny conditions and plenty of water to thrive — making them a bit too fussy for most workplaces.
  • Wax plant: Wax plants are known for being low-maintenance, but they also require plenty of sun. So, they’re likely not ideal for your dimly lit cubicle.
  • Butterfly palm and other dwarf palms: As tropical plants, these picks like plenty of water, lots of sunlight, and high humidity — meaning they’re likely to brown in the office.

Ready to get started boosting your productivity? Order four of the best air cleaning plants and enjoy a stylish desk and better workplace wellness for years to come.

Feature image: Shutterstock/

By Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.