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13 Beautiful Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves

Plants covering entire walls and shelves that look like a waterfall of greenery are an interior decoration trend many of us are tempted by. Indeed, displaying your plants on a shelf is an excellent way to utilize vertical space and turn even the smallest room into a relaxing haven full of lush greenery and fresh air. So even if you don’t have a lot of free space, placing a few plants here and there can instantly spruce up your living space.

There’s a multitude of houseplants that thrive on shelves. Both smaller plants and trailing plants that cascade down from a high shelf will look beautiful when displayed on a bookshelf. But not every plant will be able to survive on a bookshelf, since shelving units are typically situated away from windows. When compiling our list of recommended plants, we’ve considered lighting, size, and growth type, so these 13 houseplants both look beautiful and grow well on a shelf.

1. Golden pothos

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Golden pothos
Plant owners sometimes joke about the golden pothos, saying it could probably survive in a cellar. While we don’t recommend testing this theory, this joke is a testament to this plant’s resilience. These low-maintenance trailing plants have long vines with glossy heart-shaped leaves, and they’re ideal for beginners because they’re very tough to kill and grow rather fast. These houseplants can survive in low light conditions and prefer to dry out completely between watering, making them a perfect candidate for shelves.

2. Cylindrical snake plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Cylindrical snake plant
These fascinating plants look like thick hard spikes. A pretty surreal appearance, right? Despite its exotic appearance, the Sansevieria cylindrica is actually a cousin of one of the most common houseplants in the world - the snake plant. Like the snake plant, it is a very forgiving plant that doesn’t require much water and only needs a drink when the soil is completely dry. Despite being a species of succulents, the cylindrical snake plant doesn’t require a lot of sun. The plant grows very slowly, which is actually a great thing for a shelving situation because you know that it will take years before it outgrows the shelf it currently occupies.

3. Rattlesnake calathea

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Rattlesnake calathea
The calathea family of houseplants is known for being very beautiful but also quite fussy, which is why most of these plants are not recommended for beginners. The rattlesnake calathea is a happy exception to that rule. It has thicker and more drought-resilient leaves than its more hard-to-please sisters. As long as you water your rattlesnake calathea regularly, it will tolerate the low-light conditions and look as pretty on your shelf as this beautiful one in the picture.

4. Maidenhair fern

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Maidenhair fern
Looking for something more delicate to display on your shelf? A maidenhair fern may be your best bet. These ferns may look rather dainty or fragile, but they can actually survive in pretty dark conditions, provided that they get plenty of water. Maidenhair ferns are also rather compact in size compared to other ferns; they don’t typically grow bigger than 12 inches (30 cm) tall. These houseplants tend to fair better in humid conditions, so if you have a free shelf in a more humid room (e.g. a sunny bathroom or kitchen), this fern will fit right in!

5. String of hearts

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves String of hearts
The string of hearts plant will make your shelf look lovely! It is a cute and delicate little trailing plant that consists of tiny, purplish-silver hearts cascading down in long strings. These dainty houseplants are very compact, so they will easily fit on small shelves. Just make sure to water this cutie regularly and give it bright, indirect light. When you put it in a place that’s a bit too dark, its leaves become pale and will eventually begin to fall off. If you notice any of these signs early, though, you’ll be able to save the plant by simply moving it to a brighter location.

6. ZZ plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves ZZ plant
The Zamioculcas zamiifolia, more commonly known as the ZZ plant, is a popular choice for those new to growing houseplants. The waxy leaves and thick branches of the plant hint at its exceptional ability to retain water in even the worst droughts. After all, the plant is native to Central Africa and has evolved specifically to deal with water shortages. This makes this interesting-looking plant an excellent choice for those who don't like to water their plants every week or two. What's more, the ZZ plant doesn't even require that much sunlight, which makes it a great candidate for your shelf.

7. Nerve plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Nerve plant
Nerve plants are just the cutest! They have tiny leaves that come in dozens of colors ranging from green and white to bright green with red veining, and even purple or pink veins. The characteristic feature of these plants is the contrasting veining of the leaves. Conveniently, these plants rarely grow bigger than 5 inches (12 cm) tall, which makes them the ideal tiny statement piece on your shelf. Nerve plants can get accustomed to different lighting conditions too, so they will likely thrive even in a shelving situation with less light.

8. Heartleaf philodendron

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Heartleaf philodendron
Philodendrons come in many varieties and sizes. This specific variety - the heartleaf philodendron - is a trailing plant with palm-sized dark green leaves. If you’re going after that cascading waterfall of leaves look on your shelf, this plant will definitely give it to you. What’s more, these plants thrive in a variety of lighting conditions, including low light, so they’re a universal favorite among plant lovers. There’s no need to water this plant too often either - wait for the top of the soil to dry out completely, and only then add more water.

9. English ivy

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves English ivy
The ivy needs no introduction. This list wouldn’t be complete without the cascading showpiece that this plant becomes when your place it on a high shelf. This plant loves the shade and doesn’t need much care at all. Water the plant when the soil dries out, and you’re good to go. You may also be happy to learn that ivy is one of the best air purifying plants: its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and cleanse the air is superior compared to other indoor plants.

10. Boston fern

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Boston fern
The lovely fronds of Boston ferns are like a green waterfall on their own, so placing one of these beauties on top of a shelf can be rather irresistible! Even though these can grow rather large, you can purchase a smaller plant to fit your shelf. Apart from their striking appearance, the advantage of these ferns for shelves lies in their preference for low-light conditions. Do make sure that you keep the soil of a Boston fern moist; the plant cannot tolerate drying out.

11. Birds nest snake plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Birds nest snake plant
Here’s another snake plant variety. The advantage of the bird’s nest snake plant lies in its size. Unlike most snake plants, Sansevieria hahnii is quite small - it won’t grow beyond 8 inches (20 cm) in height. At the same time, this houseplant shares all the remaining advantageous characteristics of snake plants, including its ability to thrive in low light. Lastly, don’t worry if you forget to water this plant either. It actually prefers drying out between watering. What a low-maintenance plant!

12. Spider plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Spider plant
Here’s another plant that needs no introduction - the aptly named spider plant. The plant got this name for its ability to spawn baby plants that remain attached to the mother plant, like baby spiders clinging to their arachnid mother’s legs. The spider plant is highly adaptable, and it will survive in any lighting situation, which makes it a great option for your shelves. The plant will also tolerate underwatering, so you can easily put it on a shelf and forget about it for weeks.

13. Prayer plant

Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves Prayer plant
Prayer plants will shine on a shelf because they grow by trailing and their leaves fold together in the evening, which creates a very dynamic display in your interior. Importantly, these plants can also survive in low light, which is always an advantage when choosing plants for a shelf. There are many kinds of prayer-plants too: ones with bright pink, orange, and purple stripes and spots. Note that these plants love humid environments, as they have originated from the Amazon. Watering the plant too often isn't a good idea and can cause root rot, but the plant does favor moderately-moist soil.

Tips for keeping houseplants displayed on shelves healthy:

  • Rotate plants that are displayed on shelves frequently. The back of the shelf is always dark, so the plant will start reaching for the sun and become asymmetrical. Rotating helps even out the shape of the plant.
  • To see if the plant gets enough light on a shelf, check if your hand cast a shadow when you put it in front of the shelf. Even shade-loving plants require 3-6 hours of indirect sun daily.
Houseplants That Thrive on Shelves plants on shelf
  • Check the plants that live on shelves for symptoms of stress and not enough sunlight: wilting or yellowing leaves, bugs, or soil that remains wet or doesn’t fully dry out for weeks.
  • If a plant doesn’t get enough sun, move it to a sunnier location for a short time and switch it to another plant. Once the plant recovers and starts growing again, you can put it back on the shelf. Regularly switching and moving around your plants like that can refresh your interior too!
  • Lower shelves are typically darker, so it’s usually best to display plants on the shelves that are higher, especially if the shelf in question doesn’t get much sun throughout the day.
  • Water plants sparingly to avoid overflow or spillage, as this could damage the shelf. Or even better - remove your plants into a sink or bathtub before watering to protect your shelving units.
  • Avoid having large plants or too many plants on a single shelf. Long shelves without support may bend under the weight of the plants, or could even be knocked off.

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