As my kids get ready for college, I think (as all gardeners do) of suitable houseplants for their dorms. My twins will be at different colleges and from orientation tours I know the light level in these rooms will be very low. Quite possibility the plants may not get watered but I think their green will be appreciated and viewed as “decoration.” Unbeknownst to my kids, the plants will be functional. They will improve air quality by removing chemicals and carbon dioxide and supplying oxygen. Plus, they will provide a positive psychological impact by increasing memory retention and concentration and reducing stress. Quite possibility the presence of plants will remind my kids to text their parents every now and then but this remains to be seen.
I knew I would not be able to drag them to a nursery so I showed them photos of five low light, low maintenance plants. I explained that I picked these five because of the variety in shape and color and they don’t have to worry about watering often, it won’t interfere with their studies. For all of these plants, the soil should be kept barely moist and fertilized only once a year.
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
The ZZ plant is native to eastern Africa. The unusual botanical name comes from the cycad genus Zamia because the foliage is similar to cycads and culcas, the Arabic name for elephant’s ear plant (Colocasia). I thought this fact alone would endear them to my 18-year-olds. But they liked the ZZ plant’s distinctive glossy, dark green foliage. The pinnate leaves are about a foot long with 6-8 pairs of leaflets, about 3 to 6 inches long, spaced in such a manner that they look like a ladder.
The plant can grow to a few feet tall so it is not a desktop plant. The roots are actually swollen rhizomes, which means the plant can tolerate very dry conditions. Although ZZ plants are not grown for flowers, they do bloom at the base of the plant with peace lily type flowers. I doubt this will happen in a dorm.
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)
Chinese evergreen plants vary in color and size. Although it is an upright plant that grows to a foot or two, it is possible to purchase a young small one for the desk. There are plants with variegated green and cream leaves or green and silver leaves, and there is a new variety called red aglaonema with red, pink, and green leaves.
Arrowhead plant (Syngonium spp.)
Like the name suggests, arrowhead plants have arrow-shaped leaves. They are often sold as small plants for terrariums, which make them suitable for desks. There are also full grown plants about a foot tall. The leaves usually are white and green but there are gold and green varieties and plants with a blush of pink. As the plant matures, the leaf shape and color changes so that mature leaves can be all green.
Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.)
Snake plant is very popular with its foot long, sword-shaped leaves. Leaves are usually a mottled green, with yellow, gray or silver margins. There are varieties with more yellow or silver coloring in the leaves. For a new take on snake plant, look for Bantel’s Sensation, which has narrower leaves with white vertical strips or the cylinder snake plant with very narrow, cylindrical leaves. There are some very short, almost stunted versions, that are suitable for desks. Usually they will be tall enough to grow in a container on the floor or on a stand.
Devil’s ivy or golden pothos (Scindapsus spp.)
Devil’s ivy or golden pothos has heart-shaped leaves with green and yellow or green and white variegation. There are golden varieties as well. In the tropics, this is a vine so it has a trailing or cascading effect when grown indoors. It is available in small containers and can be grown on a desk. The stems also can be allowed to cascade down by placing containers on top of shelves or closets. Cuttings of the stems root very easily, which makes a great plant to share with friends or grow in a vase of water.
My daughter and son chose the ZZ plant as their top choice for its distinctive foliage. My daughter’s second choice was the Chinese evergreen and my son’s second choice was the snake plant. Try showing this article to your kids to see what they would prefer and surprise them with their choice when you visit in the fall during parents’ weekend!