Believe it or not, there was a time when humans roamed free. They spent their 9-to-5—and all other hours of the day—outside of office walls. Yet in 2018, the average American works 8.56 hours on a weekday—and 5.48 hours on the weekend. Desks, chairs, and fluorescent lighting have become part of our natural landscape.
The upside of this situation? We won’t get rushed by a wooly mammoth during morning meetings. The downside? We’re removed from the flora and fauna that improve our health. According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, offices without any decoration are “the most toxic space” possible for a human being. Clearly, even though we’re upright and wearing suits, the human race still benefits from being surrounded by nature. (There’s even an academic term for the feeling––biophilia.)
The Office Plant Advantage
Nature is scientifically proven to improve our mood. According to the European Commission, being around greenery increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the body, and decreases salivary cortisol—which decreases stress. Plus, plants clean the air. That’s great, considering the office environment is typically comprised of ink cartridge fumes and recirculated pizza smells.
Thankfully, you don’t need an office overhaul to get the benefits of greenery. In fact, a simple addition of some potted office plants can transform your workplace into a healthier, more enjoyable environment.
Whether you’ve got a green thumb or a black one, this diagram will help you become a happy plant parent. (Without needing a second assistant to take care of your new officemate.)
The Chinese Evergreen can handle almost every indoor condition, is small enough to fit on a desk, and grows slowly. If you’re constantly traveling for work—or simply forget to water your plants—then the Chinese Evergreen is your new best friend. Southern Living even deemed them “the easiest house plant.”
“I would wash the leaves off once a month or so,” says Lauren Tecosky, Teacher Education Coordinator at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. “They’re pretty big, so they get lots of particulates on them. Cleaning a plant is pretty meditative, so it’s great when you’re trying to procrastinate.”
The philodendron is perfect for anyone whose office doesn’t get a lot of natural light. While this office plant can adapt to any setting, it thrives in indirect sun. While you can ideally put it right outside of the sun’s rays, this trooper can make it work anywhere. “Philodendrons can get too large for a lot of spaces,” Amber Freda––AKA the Gotham Gardener––told us. “Make sure you have adequate room for the plant once it matures.”
The Golden Pothos is ideal for anyone who wants their office plant to make a statement. This viney creature can grow up to 40 feet! However, it can be easily contained to 10 feet if you ravel it up in a container. “Golden pothos is the quintessential vining houseplant that you see cascading from bookshelves and hanging baskets everywhere,” Freda told us.”The reason it’s so ubiquitous is that it is so easy to care for. It does well in bright, indirect light with moderate moisture. The best rule of thumb is to water as soon as the soil appears dry to the touch.”
If your office tends to feel more like the North Pole than Tahiti, Jade is the office plant for you. The plant can handle a subarctic climate, and is a champ at removing toluene, the chemical associated with paint thinners, from the air.
You probably recognize these trendy plants from your local Urban Outfitters. The Tillandsia is a common component of “air gardens,” AKA hanging plants that need zero soil to thrive. Throw one in a vase with some rocks, and you’ll immediately be the coolest person in your office.
“Most people I know kill these pretty quickly, because they need high humidity,” says Tecosky. “A good trick is to submerge it in water once or twice a week to keep it alive in a dry office setting.”
If you have a tropical vacation in the works, you might want to grab some aloe for your office ASAP. Not only is this office plant easy to care for, but it’s also anti-inflammatory and wound-healing. Buy some today, and you’ll have a soothing balm to apply to your skin later.
“Aloe is nature’s neosporin,” says Tecosky. “Low light is okay, but it will appreciate a slightly brighter window. And very low water—water once a week and never let it sit in water at the bottom of the pot.”
If purple is your favorite color, look no further than the African violet. While it requires more maintenance than some of the other office plants—like placing the flower 3 feet from a south- or west-facing window for the right lighting—it will make a beautiful addition to any desk, no matter the size. And if you’re really doubting your ability to grow one of these beautiful plants, here’s a 234-page book solely dedicated to the topic.
“You want to pull it away from windows because they hate drafts,” says Tecosky. “They also have a bit of fur on leaves, which reacts to oils on our hands, so you to touch them because it will hurt the leaves.”
Another African violet pro-tip from Tecosky: “They also prefer day old water—take whatever you didn’t drink yesterday and pour into bottom of plant, not the top.”
A mini cactus won’t just give you extra leverage in an office dispute. It’s also a low-maintenance plant–– so if you skip on the watering for a few weeks, you won’t have the guilt of killing your deskmate. In fact, according to Amber Freda, “ Most people kill them from too much love – I.E. too much water.”
If you’ve got some room for a potted plant on the floor in your office, give dracaena a try! These large, palm-like plants are too big for your desk, but they make a great addition to office common areas.
“Dracaenas do some air filtration,” says Tecosky. “They’re low light, low maintenance and pretty!”
Peace lilies are ideal for anyone who wants a light scent in their office. Yet if fragrant flowers give you a headache––or you’re sensitive to pollen—avoid them at all costs. For those of you don’t have allergies, you’ll enjoy an office with an aesthetic boost and an environment with less ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.