When it comes to building a terrarium, plants are the cornerstone. The right choice of plants plays a huge role in creating a thriving plant ecosystem. And no, not just any plant can be used in a terrarium.
If you just want a quick recommendation, my go to plants are ferns and mosses. These are well-adapted to a high humidity, low light environment and will generally thrive in most terrariums with little maintenance. They’re a great start for beginners.
Generally, your selection of plants should be mostly limited to something that likes humidity, can tolerate shade/partial shade, and doesn’t grow too big (for closed terrariums). It would also be preferable to find something that doesn’t grow too fast if you’re not too interested in more frequent maintenance. On the other hand, growth can be more interesting than a plant that stays stagnant.
Ficus pumila (creeping fig)
If you’ve done a quick search on google for top terrarium plants, you’ve probably heard of the Ficus pumila (for good reason). It’s very easy to take care of and is well adapted for a humid terrarium environment. Generally, most plants of the ficus variety will share some of the same characteristics.
The ficus pumila tends to creep (as the name implies) aggressively, but will also withstand aggressive pruning because of its root structure. That allows you to shape this plant into something that suits your specific terrarium.
It’s roots are found along the stems and can easily propagate even if one of it’s stems has just a surface-level contact with the soil. Just remove a stem in the early spring and place it in a sterile potting mix for a constant supply of ficus pumila for your terrariums.
There are hundreds of fern varieties (Birds nest fern shown in the photo above). All ferns tend to prefer light to heavy shade, high humidity, and a consistent supply of water. Because of this, generally any fern you can find in a garden shop will probably do just fine for you.
The only thing you might have to watch for is the size at maturity. Depending on the species, you could have ferns growing only an inch high to huge tree ferns growing 30-80 ft tall. Preferably, you would want to choose ferns that stay relatively small such as the ones you can buy on Amazon here..
My recommendation is to buy a fern bundle like the one you can buy on amazon here to get a little more experience with a small variety of different ferns to get a feel for how to care for ferns in general.
Hypoestes phyllostachia (polka dot plant)
The polka dot plant is a really cool addition to any terrarium. It’s eye-catching, brightly spotted leaves can come in a variety of colors including purple, red, and white spots with a green or pink base. If you want to add some color and variety to your terrarium, this is definitely the way to go.
They are very easy to grow and thrive in high humidity, warm temperatures. They have a moderate growth rate and remain relatively small at about 1 ft tall and 1 ft wide at maturity. These characteristics make the polka dot a great choice for anyone looking to have high chances at growing a successful terrarium.
Moss is the staple plant for any terrarium. Sagina subulata (Irish moss) is shown in photo above.They do a great job of filling up space and creating a green, fuzzy texture in your terrarium.
Moss is a type of bryophyte, a category of non-vascular plants that tend to like high humidity and a consistent water supply, which happen to be the exact features of a terrarium. Moss is a terrarium favorite because they do not compete with other plants and they can be placed pretty much anywhere (rocks, logs, soil, wherever). Liverworts and hornworts also fall under the same category and also happen to do well in terrariums for the same reason.
You can buy a bag of sphagnum moss if you’re not sure where to start or which of the 11,000 species to choose from. Really, any moss you can harvest around your area will do just fine for a terrarium.
Bergenia Cordifolia are tough, hardy plants that have bold, leathery green (or bronze in the winter) leaves that can add some texture to any terrarium. They tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions and prefer moist soil and a consistent supply of water, all conditions characteristic of a terrarium.
In mid spring, you might see a stem of magenta-pink flowers rise above the foliage which can be cut/pruned for a flower bouquet. Including the flowers, they can grow 12-18 inches tall and 18-23 inches wide. A terrarium with a decent amount of space would work best for these plants, however with some pruning, they may be able to fit into a smaller terrarium.
I couldn’t find any full grown plants ready for purchase on Amazon (just the seeds), but they are easily grown from seeds in a couple months’ time and might be available at your local plant nursery.
Isotama Fluviatilis (blue star creeper plant)
The blue star creeper is a hardy, low maintenance plant that grows about 3 inches high and spreads about 18 inches wide at maturity. It can survive in full to partial sun, so it can handle a bit more sunlight than many other terrarium plant varieties, in case you were planning to have your terrarium sitting on the windowsill.
It’s short dark-green foliage is a great option to add some color to any outdoor walkway, but will also do great to cover up the substrate of any terrarium. Another plus to the blue star creeper is that you might be able to see some small, soft-blue flowers bloom around the summertime.
15 Terrarium Plant Recommendations from the Web
Here’s a list of some recommendations that I’ve seen elsewhere if you’re looking for more options. These will also do well in a terrarium environment:
- Pilea glauca
- Small philodendrons
- Syngoneum podophyllum
- Tillandsias & bromeliads
- Crymptamphus bromilleads
- Black mondo grass
- Moon valley friendship plant
- Starfish plant
- Air plant
- Asplenium bulbiferum