For some reason or another, cats seem to enjoy munching on greenery. But cats and unknown plants are not a good combination. It’s part of being a responsible pet owner to know what plants are safe to grow inside your home.
Every plant‐loving cat person deserves a handy list to consult when choosing a plant that’s safe for their feline companion and will live well in low light conditions indoors.
In this article, we will go over ways to grow low light plants safe for you cats, some other more fussy indoor plants for advanced indoor gardeners, and lastly how to protect your indoor garden from your little furry monster.
Some low light cat-safe plants are the cast‐iron plant, watermelon vine, bromeliad and peperomia species. Boston fern, bamboo palm, and snake plant are all safe plants and are topnotch air pollutant filters. Marantas and Fittonias can be finicky in low light but are also safe for cats.
Low Maintenance, Non‐Toxic, Low‐Light Plants that are Safe for Cats
If you don’t have a cat, or are trying to kill him, (just kidding, just kidding) you might not care if your low-light plants are kitty safe.
If you do love your feline friend, here are some good choices for low light plants that won’t hurt Whiskers.
Cast‑Iron Plant ~ Aspidistra elatior, A. lurida
True to its name, the cast‑iron plant is sturdy and nearly indestructible. Where other, less hardy plants would shrivel and die, the cast‑iron plant is a happy camper. It’s perfect for cat owners who want that dash of greenery at home but don’t have the patience, time nor experience to take care of them.
The cast‑iron plant is perennial and grows up to 3 feet. It fares well with low light and loose watering schedules. Cast‑iron plants would rather be too dry than too wet. They are not very particular with light conditions and temperature so you can pretty much place them anywhere in the house.
Watermelon Vine ~ Pellionia spp., Pellionia daveauna
Pellionia will burn easily if exposed to unfiltered sunlight. They want to be watered regularly. Do not let the soil dry between watering. This ornament is commonly called watermelon vine or trailing begonia. As the name suggests, it’s a trailing plant that looks good when hanged from the ceiling and allowed to cascade to the ground. That said, even though they are sometimes called trailing begonia, this plant is not a true begonia.
Beware that members of the true Begoniaceae family are mostly toxic to cats.
Bromeliads ~ Bromiliaceae
Fun fact: the Bromiliaceae is a big plant family that includes pineapples. The houseplant species have lovely foliage and are remarkably easy to grow. The Vriesea spp. thrive in low light. They are the bromeliads most tolerant of deeper shade and make great desktop ornaments.
The Neoreglia spp. cultivars are the most popular bromeliads and do well in the shade but will develop more vivid coloration if exposed to bright indirect light. The Guzmania spp. are taller than many in the bromeliad family and are available in an array of colors. These hybrids are sensitive to the sun so avoid exposure to straight rays.
Ponytail Palm ~ Beaucarnea recurvata
The Ponytail palm tree or Bottle palm tree is not actually a true palm nor a tree. It’s a succulent with an unusual shape and looks like, well, a ponytail—with its thick, tapered trunk ending in dark green leaves. The long, wavy and thin foliage looks like hair tied in a ponytail, thus its name. You may want to take into account that the ponytail palm can grow as big as a tree. Indoors, it may be better to keep them no higher than 4 feet.
The plant enjoys bright sunlight but can tolerate lower light conditions. You can get away with placing them in an east facing window that only receives weak morning light.
The Peperomias or radiator plants get a section on their own because of their diversity. There are more than a thousand different Peperomia species and most of them grow well or are very tolerant of low light, especially the ones with darker green foliage. Generally, peperomias don’t like direct sunlight.
The cool thing about them is that one species can look nothing like another. You can probably have a whole room of different species of this plant and have a brilliant display of variety in shapes and textures. Some popular and easy to grow peperomias are Pepper Face (Peperomia sandersii), Emerald Ripple (P. caperata), Beetle Peperomia (P. quadrangulari), Stealth Peperomia (P. puteolata and P. tetragona), Isabella (P. hoffmanii), Teardrop Peperomia (P. Orba) and Dwarf Melon Peperomia (P. verschaffeltii).
Peperomias should be watered thoroughly every
7‐10 days after the soil has dried. They hold water in their leaves and stems
and don’t like soggy soil. Be mindful as overwatering is one of the most common
mistakes of new Peperomia owners. Actually, it’s very common with novice plant
owners, in general.
The federal agency, through their Clean Air Study, has released a very useful list of air‐filtering plants. Unfortunately, most of them are either unsafe for cats or cannot live in low light, or both.
Luckily, there are three that meet these requirements of being good low light plants that are safe for cats.
Boston Fern ~ Nephrolepis exaltata
The Boston fern is one of the most forgiving and easiest ferns to grow. In order to thrive, you can place the plant in a cool corner with indirect light and relatively high humidity. A bathroom is an ideal place for this plant.
Boston Ferns are great because they remove toxins from the air that you might not even know you are there.
Some may not be aware, but paper products like paper towels, table napkin, paper bags and facial tissue, contain formaldehyde. Its levels can even be higher indoors than outdoors. Yep, that’s also the chemical used as a preservative in funeral homes. Yikes!
Xylene is a chemical found in house paint, leather, tobacco smoke and rubber products. It’s known to cause mouth and throat irritation, liver and kidney damage and heart problems.
The Boston Fern has been found to effectively filter out both of these pollutants. Won’t your cats just love that formaldehyde‐ and xylene‐free air? Not that Fluffy will ever thank you for it. That’s cats for you.
Bamboo Palm ~ Chamaedorea elegans, C. seifrizii
Bamboo palms are hardy and live in low light conditions. In the wild, they grow at the foot of rainforest trees, under shade and high humidity. Bamboo palms are short and slow‑growing. They don’t usually grow above 3 feet. Keep the soil moist for this plant but provide proper drainage as they do not like standing water.
The Bamboo palm is assessed as an efficient formaldehyde and benzene filter. Benzene is a common indoor pollutant that is found in plastics, dyes, drugs, car exhaust, furniture glue and detergent, among others. According to the American Cancer Society, Benzene is one of the top 20 widely used chemicals in the United State and is known to cause cancer.
Spider Plant ~ Chlorophytum comosum
This popular foliage must be planted in loose soil with good drainage as they’ll want to dry out between each watering. Spider plants are low maintenance and can grow rather fast. Indoors, they should be placed under indirect sunlight.
Along with formaldehyde and xylene, the spider plant is also known to purify air from toluene. Toluene is a substance produced in making gasoline from crude oil. It is used in producing paint thinners, nail polish and adhesive. Toluene is more prevalent in places with heavy vehicular traffic. Repeated exposure to high levels can cause vision and hearing problems and permanent cognitive impairment. The effects of toluene on humans are similar to its effect on cats and other pets.
Click the links to read more.
The Fussier, Non‐Toxic, Low‐Light Plants
This section is for cat ‘pawrents’ with a green thumb or the patience and time to take care of finicky plants.
If you’re already taking care of a cat the chances are high that you DO INDEED have patience.
Prayer Plant ~ Marantaceae
Marantas prefer a humid environment and can be sensitive to temperature fluctuations. They grow well in low light but colors are more vibrant when exposed to bright, albeit indirect sunlight. Think, curtain‐filtered windows.
They may not be the easiest of houseplants to take care of but prayer plants have this neat trick of folding their leaves upwards during the night as if raising them in prayer.
Nerve Plant ~ Fittonia verschaffeltii
Nerve plants are moderately difficult to grow. They can tolerate a small amount of sun but you will have to be vigilant as their leaves will burn under direct sunlight. Like most low light plants in this list, they prefer moist, well‐draining soil and a humid environment. Grow the nerve plant in a deep bowl or vase with drainage holes.
OK, so we’ve talked about keeping your cats safe from toxic plants, but what about keeping your plants safe from toxic cats?
Let’s face it, as much as you might love Tabby, there are times when he gets into things that you wish he wouldn’t.
If you treasure your plants, you might want to take steps to keep them safe from curious felines.
Making Houseplants Inaccessible and Unattractive to Cats
There are plants that do well in low light and may be classified by the ASPCA as non‐toxic to cats but may cause mild stomach upset when ingested. And sometimes, there are just beautiful plants that are too pretty to pass up, whether toxic or not. After all, it’s not the plant’s fault that they’ve developed defense mechanisms to help them survive. It’s nothing personal.
Seal them off
The most effective way to deter cats from a plant is to take their access away in the first place. You can move these plants to a designated room where the cats are not allowed.
Keeping inquisitive cats out is another subject entirely.
Other than keeping the door closed and placing a “No Cats Allowed” sign on the door, I really don’t have any suggestions on this.
Position plants in high ledges or on top of very tall furniture. If your cat loves to climb places, it may be best to hang plants from the ceiling. A rope hanger is a charming option. You can also mount plants in baskets on the wall. Make sure that the wall is free of objects that cats can use as stepping stones or launching pads.
Pebbles and Peppers
Cover the soil with some pebbles, foil and glass beads so cats won’t be drawn to dig. Spray pet deterrents are also available for purchase or you can make your own using cayenne pepper.
The Better Option
Crowd your plants with delicious and healthy alternatives that are sure to distract a cat from their target, such as cat grass, catnip, valerian root and mint.
Give cats a firm “no” to show your disapproval and be consistent. Reinforce their good behavior through rewards like treats, praises and petting.
There you go, these low light indoor plants will bring a bit of the outdoors inside your home without putting your cat’s health at risk. Bring this list the next time you go plant shopping and worry about toxic plants no more.