5 idiot-proof houseplants that can live for weeks without water

Sure, it's easy to stay alive when you're outside.

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Sure, it’s easy to stay alive when you’re outside.
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Forest and Kim Starr – Flickr

It can be tough keeping plants alive indoors, especially as the dry winter months approach.

But if you can keep them thriving, indoor plants are have all sorts of benefits. Plants can regulate indoor humidity. Norwegian office workers report that having plants at work helps them stay productive and healthy. In Japan, they fight crime: a Tokyo neighborhood dealing with a spate of break-ins planted flowers and saw burglary rates fall 80%.

Even rocket scientists agree: when NASA studied houseplants in the 1980s, the space agency found that they can remove dangerous organic chemicals from indoor air, like formaldehyde, benzene and the industrial solvent trichloroethylene.

Business Insider spoke to New York City plant expert Matthew Schechter, who’s been in the family plant business since he was born.

Here are his top five “idiot-proof” plant picks that are perfect for anyone who lacks a green thumb. None of these plants need to be watered unless the dirt they’re sitting in is dry to the touch. They are built to survive for up to a month without watering.


The Cast Iron Plant is originally native to Taiwan and Japan, but was brought to Victorian England in the 1800s, where it was a status symbol plant for the rich. Schechter said these low-lying bush plants have evolved to adapt to “basically any kind of climate.”

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The Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior, aka the bar room plant)
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Wikimedia Commons

The glossy leaves on this Janet Craig plant are super-hearty. Schechter said one tough Janet Craig plant once lived in a dark closet for two months and it survived to see the light of day.

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Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis)
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Interior Foliage Design

Schechter says this one is known as a “workhorse plant” because “not all plants have that big, bushy look, but can tolerate low levels of light.”


The Mexican Ponytail Palm is pet-friendly and used to dry, arid conditions. It can go for two to three weeks without water.

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Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata, aka elephant’s foot)
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Flickr – Creative Commons

It’s ASPCA approved as non-toxic for dogs, cats, and horses.


The Ponytail Palm’s massive trunk stores up water, and it can do well in low and indirect lighting conditions.

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Forest and Kim Starr – Flickr

“They evolved to be able to withstand periods of dryness” in arid eastern Mexico, Schechter says.


The Snake Plant is sometimes called “viper’s bowstring hemp.” The leaves are so strong that the plant fibers were once used to make actual bow strings.

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Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata aka mother-in-law’s tongue)
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Forest and Kim Starr – Flickr

The plant is desert-ready and stores water in its leaves, so “if the soil’s wet, don’t add water,” Schechter says. That rule of thumb applies to all the plants on this list.


The Snake Plant has “got good juju going for it,” Schechter said.

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Forest and Kim Starr – Flickr

In Nigeria and Brazil the snake plant is considered sacred. Brazilians call it “espada de São Jorge” (St. George’s Sword) and often plant it outside their homes because it’s believed to have protective qualities.


The cactus is the only plant on our list that needs a sunny spot to thrive. Cacti are best for places with southern exposure, and at least two hours of morning or afternoon sunlight.

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Cactus (Cactaceae)
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Kat Grigg – Flickr

“You only need to water cactus once a month,” Schechter says. “And that’s being generous.”