Lots of folks think that perhaps all that will grow in a north window is ivy or maybe a fern. Happily, nothing could be further from the truth!
Of course, if you truly have a deep, dark north window shaded by another building where there is no daylight at all, perhaps your best bet is to supplement the light. After all, nothing grows without light!
But if you have a regular north window where light comes in from the outside, you have plenty of options. Here are some of your choices.
Sansevieria (Snake plant) This is a great plant to clean the air of many common household toxins like formaldehyde, benzene and tolulene. It also comes in many different shapes and colorings–there are at least 30 different varieties. Best of all, in a relatively “dark” exposure like a north window, it will not need a lot of water. It can most likely go without water for 2-3 weeks at a time depending on how cool your home might be.
Dieffenbachia (poisonous!) This plant excels at removing xylene and toluene. These chemicals are common in beauty supplies so if you have no pets or small children you might consider one in your bedroom. And there are so many lovely leaf variations on these plants. Not a particularly fussy plant about water–once every week to 10 days in most homes, depending on temperature and pot size.
Dracenas are another plant that take just about every chemical studied by NASA out of the air (except ammonia). And they too offer lots of choices in leaf coloration and even leaf size–wide leaf or narrow leaf. They can get fairly dry before needing water. Depending on the temperature of most homes, they will need to be watered every 7-10 days.
Spathiphyllum (peace lily, white sails) This plant is the “queen” of the plants tested by NASA and other groups. It will remove formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ammonia and trichloroethylene! These easy care plants belong in most homes! They do require a decent amount of water though–probably at least once a week in most homes.
Pothos—this is the plant most folks mistakenly call philodendron. It is not. It comes in golden leaf and white leaf variations. It can tolerate drying out although in my personal experience the golden variety is a little more tolerant than the white splashed one.
Finally there is the ZZ Plant (zamioculcas zamiifolia). You can still occasionally find these around–in fact, I saw them paired, with, of all things, poinsettias, last year at BWI airport! These plants are tough as nails and behave more like succulents than like traditional green house plants. If they are in a north window I would definitely water sparingly–every 2-3 weeks until you are sure you are not going to rot them. Perfect for someone who travels–or who is a sporadic waterer at best!