When comparing terrariums to other types of vivaria, a hobbyist will usually aim to create something dryer or more arid. On the contrary, terrariums aren’t always dry setups. Terrarium plants require just as many resources as any other vivarium plant. These cases are just enclosures that do not have defined aquatic areas.
Terrariums can actually be arranged in a number of natural ways. They can be constructed as humid as a tropical jungle or as arid as a desert. With that in mind, picking the right vivarium plants can mean the difference between a successful habitat or a failed ecosystem. This guide will list an array of plants suitable for life in a terrarium based on their natural environment.
What Are Terrarium Plants?
Terrarium plants are flora that can easily thrive in an enclosure with or without animals. These types of foliage are usually miniature or at least grow slow enough to tolerate the confined spaces of a terrarium. This specific niche of plants can range in care requirements, from low to high lighting, to moisture parameters.
When considering good candidates to choose from, it is ideal to pick plants that have similar care requirements. To simplify searchability through infinite possible terrarium plants, I like to categorize them by terrain. If you are considering building a terrarium, it will more than likely have an ecosystem that resembles a tropical, woodland, or desert theme.
Open Terrarium Plants vs Closed Terrarium Plants
Before we go into depth regarding the categories based on terrain, I want to touch on rather the terrarium being built, has to be open or closed. For those who are new to the hobby, it may seem challenging to figure out when a terrarium should be open and closed. To make it really easy to understand, some terrains maintain higher levels of humidity than others.
Open terrarium plants are native to ecosystems that have an arid environment. That doesn’t necessarily mean dryer elements, but rather elements that are drought tolerant. The difference being these plants won’t require water in the air (humidity) or consistently moist substrate in order to thrive. This is where desert terrarium plants do best.
Closed terrarium plants are native to ecosystems that regularly keep a high amount of humidity the majority of the time. Mimicking these surroundings usually requires the terrarium to have a lid in order to keep water in the air and substrate constantly moist. Tropical plants do best in these tanks.
Woodland terrarium plants are an interchangeable selection of foliage. These tanks will usually do fine in either opened or closed terrariums. The only aspect that really changes here is the number of care requirements needed to maintain the ecosystem.
Tropical Terrarium Plants
Tropical terrariums are amongst the most popular types of terrariums made. These enclosures are thought to be the easiest to make and very rewarding due to the rapid growth of its plants. Tropical terrarium plants require consistent humidity, moist soil, and low to moderate lighting. Common picks for plants that fit this environment are bromeliads, carnivores, mosses, ferns, and vines.
Common Tropical Plants
While browsing tropical terrariums others have created, there is a common theme with plant selections that may or may not have specific species categories. I like to refer to these as common tropical terrarium plants. These are the usual suspects like Fittonia or Pilea you see in almost everyone’s tanks. The reason being is that they are generally easy to come across and even easier to care for. Here is a list of tropical terrarium plants found in terrariums:
- Dracaena Braunii (Lucky Bamboo)
- Fittonia Albivenis (Nerve Plant)
- Hemigraphis Alternata (Purple waffle)
- Hemigraphis Repanda (Dragons Tongue)
- Pilea Involucrata (Friendship Plant)
- Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’ (Corkscrew Rush)
- Anthurium Spp. (Laceleaf)
- Cyperus Papyrus (Dwarf)
- Dieffenbachia Spp. (Dumb Cane / Leopard Lily)
- Dwarf Palm Neanthe Bella (Parlor Palm)
- Maranta Leuconeura (Prayer Plant)
- Spathiphyllum Spp. (Peace Lily)
Air Plants (Bromeliads)
For a while, bromeliads were thought to be an absolute necessity when stocking a tropical terrarium. The trend still holds strong when considering inhabitants like frogs or skinks. These air plants thrive in closed terrariums and add a sense of character few species can match. Since there are literally thousands of bromeliads hobbyists could consider for this type of vivarium, I will list general species most commonly found in terrariums:
- Aechmea Spp.
- Billbergia Spp.
- Cryptanthus Spp.
- Neoregelia Spp.
- Vriesea Spp.
Carnivorous plants are becoming a new trend in modern terrariums. Now that the stigma of difficulty in caretaking is being overlooked, many enthusiasts are exploring the realms of carnivores in terrariums. The bog conditions of a tropical enclosure make it very suitable for these marsh foliages to acclimate. Here are the recommended carnivorous plants many have proven will thrive in a terrarium:
- Cephalotus Spp. (Australian Pitcher Plants)
- Drosera Spp. (Sundews)
- Heliamphora Spp. (Sun Pitcher Plants)
Mosses are probably the most common flora used in tropical terrariums due to the fact they are virtually care-free. The consistently high levels of humidity make it easy for these plants to get everything they need from the environment. Aquatic mosses will even thrive in these conditions and spread the same way terrestrial mosses will. Here are my picks for suitable moss to consider:
Ferns are another type of plant abundantly found in tropical areas. This flora will further enhance the jungle theme many strive for when setting up these kinds of tanks. There are many types of ferns that either be placed in a well-drained substrate or set up vertically as an epiphyte. Here are the most common ferns easily considered good tropical terrarium plants:
Vining plants are another very adaptable species of flora that thrive in varying conditions. As a tropical terrarium plant, there are many that will do better than great you could consider. Most vines on this list are naturally marginal plants but will grow to the same extent given the fact the humidity is so high in these enclosures.
Woodland Terrarium Plants
Woodland terrariums resemble forest floors and boscages. These tanks are simple yet specific to the types of elements used to make them. Woodland terrarium plants can tolerate moderate amounts of humidity that often range throughout the day. Choose plants sparingly since not a lot of species are actually found on the forest floor in nature. This category of terrain will typically consist of ferns, mosses, and vines.
As I mentioned earlier, ferns are great for elevating the tropical theme. In a similar way, they can also enhance woodland themes when applied correctly. There are a few good species of mini fern out there that are native to forest floors and evolve to tolerate these conditions. Here is a list of ferns commonly used as woodland terrarium plants:
- Davallia Tyermanii (Rabbit Foot Fern)
- Platycerium Spp. (Staghorn Ferns)
Woodland terrariums are another very suitable tank many moss species will thrive in. The moderate fluctuations of humidity in these enclosures will limit choices though. For example, aquatic moss may struggle to survive with the lack of consistency in air water. Consider vivarium mosses that are native to forest floors and can tolerate small periods of complete dry out.
Being so variable, vining plants can very easily work in the ecosystem of a forest-themed tank as well. This category of foliage is a very determined plant that has the ability to adapt to their surroundings. They climb high when they need more light, and carpet out consumes more moisture in lower depths of terrariums. I like to use these plants sparingly in wood-like environments to avoid taking from the aesthetics of that particular theme.
Desert Terrarium Plants
Desert terrariums have become hugely popular in recent times. More than likely due to their unusual aesthetics, these enclosures are often made in bowls and open-top terrariums. Desert terrarium plants often require good airflow and are evolved to tolerate periods of drought. The wet/dry approach is recommended where watering is given only after the substrate has completely dried out. Common plant choices suitable for these conditions are air plants, grasses, and succulents.
Air Plants (Tillandsia)
Coming back around to air plants from the tropical list of foliage, tillandsia is a species more commonly used in desert terrariums. Compared to bromeliads, this type of flora has evolved to tolerate drought far better. These terrarium plants prefer the wet/dry approach to watering and have very similar care requirements to many other types of desert terrarium plants. Here is a list of the most popular air plants used in these arid conditions:
- Tillandsia Aeranthos
- Tillandsia Brachycaulos
- Tillandsia Funkiana
- Tillandsia Stricta
- Tillandsia Xerographica
- Tillandsia Abdita
- Tillandsia Bulbosa
- Tillandsia Caput-Medusae
- Tillandsia Lonantha
- Tillandsia Tectorum Ecuador
Grass-type plants are a very underrated selection of flora slowly gaining more attention as a desert terrarium plant. It seems more common to find them as a riparium plant but many species of grass are often found in this type of ecosystem. I honestly can’t think of a better species of plant that will embrace the desert theme… Except, of course, cacti!
- Aristida Pungens (Needle Grass)
- Cenchrus Ciliaris (Buffel Grass)
- Pennisetum Setaceum (Fountain Grass)
- Schismus Barbatus (Mediterranean Grass)
- Boscia Senegalensis (Hanza)
- Festuca Glauca (Blue Fescue)
- Hordeum Jubatum (Foxtail Barley)
- Panicum Repens (Torpedo Grass)
Last, but far from least, are succulents. The crown jewel of desert terrarium plants. In recent times, succulents have become so popular, they have carved out a niche of their own. There are literally tens of thousands of species that are great for open terrariums. This list is comprised of a few of the most popular and easy to care for:
- Dudleya Spp. (Chalk Lettuce)
- Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana (Flaming Katy)
- Kalanchoe Tomentosa (Panda Plant)
- Parodia Magnifica (Ball Cactus)
- Sempervivum Tectorum (Hens and Chicks)
- Sedum Spp. (Stone Crop)
- Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant)
- Echeveria Harmsii (Plush Plant)
- Euphorbia Milii (Crown of Thorns)
- Haworthia Recap (Zebra Plant)
- Hoya Spp. (Wax Plant)
- Mammillaria Spp. (Pincushion Cactus)
- Senecio Haworthii (Wooly Senecio)
Terrarium plants come in all shapes and forms. They range in care requirements so I recommend starting with the terrain in mind and build around it. Using nature as inspiration will make any arrangement of plants easier to choose from. Furthermore, understanding the specific care needs of your terrarium will defy your ability to replicate an ecosystem like a natural green thumb!