I always feel like seasonal affective sadness gets worst for me in February — an arbitrary time, but maybe just the point at which my endurance for winter and snow and darkness and having to pack water and rations if I want to make the days-long trek to get, like, toilet paper and tortilla chips from CVS. While Heather, as always, has you covered with the actionable and practical tips, I am here with the band-aid ones that satisfy the seasonal depression urge to buy something, anything, so you feel alive again. For real, though, plants can make your living space or office space feel brighter and more alive when everything outside is cold and dead; caring for them can provide some helpful structure without being overwhelming; and some of them have (arguably negligible) air-purifying properties, which is nice to think about if you, like me, live somewhere so cold that opening the windows for fresh air is dicey.
Unfortunately, many of the truly chic house plants that Plant Instagram has convinced me will cure all that ails me are toxic to pets, and having to pay $700 to bring my cat to the vet in a Minnesota snowstorm without a car is definitely going to make me feel worse, not better. So no monsteras or birds of paradise for me, unfortunately, or maybe for you. But there are so many options left for beautiful, easy-to-care for houseplants that will make you feel more like there’s life in the world and motivate you to care about something without being so demanding that you want to break up with it by telling it you just really aren’t in a place to commit to anything right now! Here are some of them.
These are very hip on Plant Instagram right now, and for good reason! They’re unique-looking and pretty, easy to take care of, and have the added bonus of propagating new baby plants inside their pot, which can be replanted elsewhere or gifted.
Much like friendship itself, this plant is cute and pleasant, just enough work in terms of maintenance, and won’t kill your pets. It’s easy to grow from cuttings, which means once you have a healthy one, you can easily share new plants with your pals or with cuties whose level of commitment issues you’re trying to evaluate.
(Blue Echeverria, Burro’s tail, Zebra Haworthia, Sempervivum)
Succulents are a great go-to depression plant because they’re beautiful and make spaces greener with an EXTREME minimum of care; forgetting to water them is, in most cases, the best thing you can do for them. The only time a succulent is maybe not the right choice for you is if you live in a very dim environment or if your particular brand of coping mechanism means that you would overwater them. Despite their near-perfection in other ways, some kinds of succulents are in fact toxic to animals; these species are not, and are also very aesthetically pleasing!
Baby Rubber Plant
Some rubber plants are (somewhat) toxic to pets; this one is not, and also the tiny leaves are alarmingly adorable in a way that triggers the same hormonal response in me as like, a comically small reproduction of a normal object like a frying pan.
A surprising number of ferns are toxic to cats, which is unfortunate as they are basically built like cat toys. This one is not! You can buy it only to have them completely tear it to ribbons and everyone’s needs here will be met. Except maybe the plant’s.
For aesthetic gays, the variegated leaves on the prayer plant will be very satisfying among a sea of plain green leaves or just your dirty laundry, whichever. A neat fact about prayer plants is that their name comes from the way leaves fold closed at night, like hands folding together in prayer, which is a helpful marker of time if your days have become an indistinguishable, timeless haze ever since the sun started setting at 4 pm.
The Christmas cactus looks kind of like amaryllis, a popular plant which will unfortunately poison your pets. Not only will the Christmas cactus not poison your pets, but it will bloom once a year during the holiday season, which will hopefully alleviate a little bit of seasonal depression and the fact that your parents still call your girlfriend your roommate at Christmas.
For large, dramatic floor plants that make you feel like you’re living in a rainforest and are seeing sunlight on a regular basis, nontoxic to pet options are unfortunately limited — but the areca palm is here for you, and your cat, and your desire to pretend that you’re in the first act of a Jurassic Park movie and can see graceful brontosaurus in the distance and also the sun is out, a powerful visualization technique against seasonal depression.
Parlor palms may look familiar from dentist waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and the like, part of why they have their name. They’re pretty, come in various sizes and are easy to care for as long as you have some level of humidity and medium to low light, as for other palm varieties. Parlor palms are very long-lived if well cared for, and can be “often passed from generation to generation,” a reassuring thought when time seems to have come to a standstill or at least a sort of Russian-Doll-esque endless loop of digging out your car.
Are the claims that spider plants can ‘purify your air’ true? Allegedly, although you are said to need “a large amount of plants” for that to work, which may not be the amount of commitment you want — or maybe you’re a Cancer and overcommitting to 15 different spider plants is exactly what will get you through this winter, go with God. Spider plants are great hanging plants, which will give you something to look at if you’ve been spending a lot of time lying on the floor.
If you have always kind of wanted one of those ginseng plants they sell at IKEA and then stood on the IKEA showroom floor and googled whether they would poison your cat and then found that yes, it will, and once again had to leave IKEA with only a lighting accessory and one of those furry rugs they use on Game of Thrones — you will be pleased to know the ponytail palm looks sort of similar and will not poison your plant.
Cast-iron pans are essentially forever; even if you treat them horribly and let them rust beyond recognition, they can pretty much always be brought back to working order. Similarly, this plant is very hard to kill, and is large enough to be a nice floor plant, a change from the rest of the options here which are more cute tabletop situations. It’s also called the barroom plant for its ability to survive in less than hospitable environments, a good fit if you’re planning on smoking heavily or hosting karaoke in your apartment.
For those with real issues around commitment and caretaking, please consider the plant that doesn’t even need dirt and is described by this article as being “for those with a fear of houseplants.” Want to be able to pack up at any moment to go road tripping and play sad songs on the hood of your car about your ex-girlfriend? This plant can come.
Plants and me always had difficult relationships, so I lived a lovely plant-free life for almost a decade. But then 2019 came and with it a february with 50 horrible shades of grey and now, somehow, there are bonsais in the house. The cat thinks they’re a new kind of food but they are tough little beings. I think I might like them …
Awww Rachel, I just want to give you and your plants and your cats a hug!
And let me just say that my Christmas cactus has seen me through a lot a rough winters. It’s 28 years old, it came from a clipping from my mother’s Christmas cactus and it’s ginormous. It needs a month of cool temps to actually bloom – my mother used to put hers on the porch for October. I just leave mine next to my leaky windows in my sunroom and it usually blooms throughout the winter. My late cat Chester would hang out next to it and I have dozens of (maybe hundreds? Who knows?) photos of them together.
My mom has a Christmas cactus too. Hmm, she’s coming to visit soon, maybe I should ask her to bring me a clipping.
OK I love this whole article but feel particularly called out by this:
“The only time a succulent is maybe not the right choice for you is if … your particular brand of coping mechanism means that you would overwater them.”
Why do I feel compelled to water plants daily? Is it because I’m an Aquarius??
(Side note: THANK YOU, Rachel, for including pet-safety info for these! V. helpful!)
Wow, just @ me next time…
Seriously though, this is hilarious. Bravo!
wow as a seasonally depressed gay with cats and a dead cat i really needed this
here for u
This must speak to so many of us and our needs. Genuine public service article right there.
Personally “the tiny leaves are alarmingly adorable in a way that triggers the same hormonal response in me as like, a comically small reproduction of a normal object like a frying pan” really sparked joy in this young reader. I am assuming you mean the actual cooking pots they sell for things like single eggs for single ladies, which you can actually get in IKEA I believe, which I might have bought and boxed up across two house moves without ever troubling it with heat (or egg).
This article may have turned me into a plant gay!!
YES my work here is done
You’re saying it planted a seed? The idea of plants has taken root in your mind? Plants are growing on you? Sow, let us know how it turns out.
February is one of my worst times too. I can’t wait for it to be over and spring to happen and daylight to be a real thing again.
A lot of my plants need repotting and empty (RIP the weird succulent, rosemary and sage) pots need new plants so I’m going to use some of these suggestions. I like the look of the Boston fern. Though my mother-in-law’s tongue (not safe for cats but lovely) is currently the happiest thing in my flat and is growing an unreasonable amount so may take over every single pot I own. And possibly the rest of the building.
I made an Autostraddle account after many years of passive reading just to say that my depressed Cancer self and my 17 (yes, 17) spider plants feel *very* called out by this article. That’s not counting the half dozen Christmas cactuses, dozenish aloes, and various other plants crammed into a duplex with my mom and two cats.
wow!! mazel to you and your 17 spider plants! i wish you a verdant future!
But the burning question is, how pure is your air???
I’ve never had it tested, but given the number of plumbing mishaps and the status of the roof and windows in this ill-maintained rental, I think my plants are doing a darn fine job keeping the air fresh!
I’ve killed air plants before, what does that say about me? :/
I have also killed air plants and my house is FULL of greenery. Try a spider plant!
Some bit of folklore that wedged itself my brain (but the source didn’t) is this thing about plants protect people from evil and when your plants die it’s cause they absorbed evil directed at you.
Take that to mean what ever you want it to mean.
I think it might mean you’re human, and fallible, but still quite lovely.
I would love to have so many house plants that people start to question how sane I am, but, unfortunately, even if the plant isn’t toxic to cats, my cats will bite the leaves off and chew them up, or bite them off and leave clumps and trails of them all over my apartment *headdesk*
One word: cactus!
Seriously though, you might try a plant that’s just mildly irritating to a cat if they eat the leaves, like a ZZ plant. Cats tend to have a strong sense of self preservation. My plant attacking cat left the ZZ plant alone. Or try spraying the leaves with soapy water.
I’ve thought of a cactus! But then I’m afraid they would be too stupid to leave it alone and I’d have to take them to the vet to have the cactus needles removed from their face! I have a stupid cat that eats fabric and tennis shoes, so I wouldn’t put it past her >___<
Spider plants make great hangers
I’ve thought about hanging plants too but I don’t have any hooks in my apartment! I’ll have to see how hard it is to set one up.
Honestly, bless you, Rachel.
Our kitten has made it her life’s mission to get up to my windowsill full of succulents and knock them to the ground, and I’ve been losing my mind trying to find cat-safe plants I can put on the floor to distract her away from the tiny delicate ones. Thank you for doing the research for me.
Cats sure are jerks, aren’t they?
I realise this is a bit late but you mention your cats knocking stuff down.
Ours loved to do that too. One of the things that I did to save special knockdownables was to sit their bases on pads of stuff that’s marketed here (Australia) as BluTac. It doesn’t leave marks on furniture or other surfaces and provides a strong enough grip on your special stuff so that the Cats have trouble making it budge. They tend to loose interest.
Hopefully you might see this and it might work for you too.
Let me also propose:
African violets! I have one of these little guys on my windowsill and she’s got 6 (6!!!) flowers going right now. She also doesn’t need much water.
Cilantro, Dill, and Basill! They taste great if you cook, and smell great if you don’t.
Aluminum plant! Also for the aesthetic gays. Has cute little silver-variagated leaves.
Purple Waffle Plant! This one’s good if your brand of sad does include overwatering your plants. It likes evenly moist soil.
They’re all safe for cats too. The ASPCA has a pretty comprehensive safe-plant-database if you need more inspiration
Kitchen witch coming to point out if you can successfully grow cilantro you can get coriander out of it too. Coriandrum sativum babes.
And uh rosemary isn’t fatally toxic to cats, but it can upset their lil tummies if they go hog on it. Same with some of the other common herbs.
WOW THANK U RACHEL 💚 🌿 EXCITED TO BUY SOME PLANTS THIS WEEKEND
because of how they’re shaped and how they react to being batted about, winona fell in love with and promptly tore to shreds every single air plant that i’d been keeping alive since 2015. but it’s ok because i love her more than my plants.
Spider plant, spider plant
Does whatever a spider plant can
Hang it up when you’re down
Keep your cats safe and sound
chandra, thank you
This post understands me and I love it. That friendship plant is adorable!
So about two weeks ago, we gathered all the houseplants in one spot to flea-proof the house. I took the opportunity of counting them.
We have 104 (of about 60+ species). Which is really impressive because they don’t take that much space?
The cat leaves them alone, we’re lucky.
All this to say.
Plants + AS = two loves in one. Thank you.
If you, like me, have already gone all in on plants (and cats), might I suggest developing a planted aquarium youtube habit, convincing yourself this is very practical (“more plants! Cat tv!”) investment in a life filled studio apartment in endless Montana winter.
And then we can discuss how to procure obscure plumbing paraphernalia and culture chlorella and daphnia in our homes while really we should be studying for our qualifying exams. Just me? Okay, fine. Back to reddit to swap aquatic plants with a stranger in Indiana.
It’s 4am and I have no idea what woke me up and has kept me up, but maybe it was an unknown need to read this article. My lovely fellow queer roomies just broke up and the house is changing and maybe we can pour some of the excess feelings into caring for these bbs. Thank you 💗
I am a strong plant queer…. My partner and I have well over 100 plants in our apartment, go check it out on instagram @beantownplanter !
Wow ok thank you Rachel! I’ve already got a spider plant for this via my own research and I’m growing lemongrass and catnip too! I’ve killed the lemongrass so maybe not easy enough :/ I’m gonna go grab some of these stat
I’ve had a few plants over the years, but my current favorite is a clear plastic cup with grass. It also has googly eyes, a pom pom nose and purple papler shoes.Harry was planted at the library for story time and watching her hair grow makes me happy!
“…or maybe you’re a Cancer and overcommitting to 15 different spider plants is exactly what will get you through this winter, go with God.”
Now, hold on a minute… Lol, as a Cancer who owns 15 different plants but has own (and killed) at least three plants from this list, including spider plants, I feel like this is a hilariously directed comment on an already hilariously targeted post. Definitely planning to see if I can get my hands on the rest of these, thank you!!
(Also, *please* tell me the tiny pan comment under the “baby rubber plant” section a reference to Roxane Gay’s tiny pan that she frequently shows off on IG!!)
As a mentally ill queer who loses all sense of time and space sometimes, I can wholly recommend using an app to help remind you when your plants need to be watered.
Also, my town has a ‘plant shelter’, run by a lovely woman who takes in neglected houseplants, nurses them back to health, multiplies and rehomes them. She gave me a spider plant and a scindapsus (toxic to pets, unfortunately). How awesome is that concept?
At the end of the Ponytail Palm section it says it “won’t poison your plant” when it should say cat.
I really enjoyed this article.
It is so rediculously difficult to figure out exactly which plants are toxic to whom. I’ve seen some lists that say buy these cat safe plants and then other lists call the same plants toxic. And then the nursery uses some weird name so who knows. My cats like to chew on my Norfolk Island Pine. They don’t eat it or pull leaves off but it seems to have a good mouth feel? And prayer plants are definitely not toxic. Mine is covered in kitty teeth marks and everyone is just fine. I’ve cleaned my partners aloe (and dirt) out of the sink three times in the past two weeks because someone small and furry keeps knocking it off the windowsill. The pot finally broke so I think maybe she’ll decide to move it somewhere safer? When we first got our kitten she used the money tree pot as a litter box for a over a week before we figured out she didn’t like our litter choice. I had to move it outside and it was literally dripping cat pee out of the drain hole. My partner still can’t figure out why it died. I don’t have the heart to tell her that her beloved baby killed her precious tree. So the moral of the story is that the cats are toxic to the plants. We have a room that is a cat free zone and all the plants we care about go there. Pro tip: get some decorative stones to cover the dirt and prevent digging and peeing. Live and learn.
Thank you Rachel for including pet-safety!