Looking for your own exotic slice of nature in the home? Then buckle in, because closed terrarium plants have a lot to offer – and there are plenty to choose from.
Honestly, there’s a huge diversity of tropical species that thrive in sealed terrarium environments. The challenge (and fun) lies in mixing and matching them for best growth and aesthetics.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know.
How to identify and understand the different types of sealed terrarium plants, and how to choose the right ones for your project and needs.
Ready? Let’s dig in.
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What Makes a Good Closed Terrarium Plant?
Closed terrariums are essentially tropical rainforest generators, so as you might imagine, we’re looking at exclusively tropical species here.
That being said, in order to thrive in a sealed environment, your terrarium plants need to meet a number of criteria. They must:
- Thrive in the warm temperatures and humid conditions of a sealed terrarium.
- Fit in the container of choice (it’s totally okay to prune, but we need to be realistic).
- Manage with minimal airflow.
But, as long as your plants meet those conditions and share similar lighting requirements (bright indirect light being the gold standard) then you’re free to choose!
What Are the Best Plants for Closed Terrariums?
Honestly, the best closed terrarium plants are those that fit your style and project best.
Every terrarium setup is different, so your ideal plants are going to be unique to you. That being said, there tends to be a variety of species within every genus that stand out as clear choices to consider.
In this guide, the plants are split into 4 categories for your easy browsing: Ferns, Vines, Foliage (and Caveats).
Need a TL:DR version of my top picks? These are some of the best closed terrarium plants.
- Nephrolepis cordfolia “Duffii” (Lemon Button Fern).
- Pellaea rotundifolia (Button Fern).
- Nephrolepis exaltata (Fluffy Ruffles Fern).
- Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’ (Silver Ribbon Fern).
- Selaginella uncinata (Peacock Fern).
- Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig).
- Peperomia prostrata (String of Turtles).
- Pilea glauca (Aquamarine).
- Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ (Dwarf Arrowhead Vine).
- Fittonia abbivenis (Nerve Plant).
- Pilea cadierei (Aluminum Plant).
- Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant).
- Pilea mollis (Moon Valley Pilea).
- Biophytum sensitivum (Little Tree Plant)
- Peperomia caperata ‘Rosso’ (Radiator Plant).
Now, for those who want a deeper dive into each type – follow me!
1 | Ferns for Terrariums
Ferns are perfectly suited to life in closed terrariums.
They love the consistent heat and humidity that sealed terrarium environments provide, plus they tend to make up a significant number of suitable low-light terrarium plants.
With terrarium ferns ranging from compact tropical ferns and tiny epiphytic species to miniature varieties of common houseplants – there’s a lot to choose from.
Next, we’ll be going over a variety of fern types that are fantastic terrarium species, breaking down where they can be useful and how to make the most of them!
The Nephrolepis Sword Ferns may only be a small genus of 30 ferns, but they’re hard to ignore.
With their sword-shaped fronds in vibrant green, they bring so much character to a terrarium. Though, they can actually appear both sharp or soft depending on the species and variety of fern.
The Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is a mainstay fern in many modern households, but it can get pretty big. Like several feet tall kind of big.
Thankfully the genus does have a few dwarf varieties that are a much more manageable size (‘Marisa’ and ‘Fluffy Ruffles’) or some other species like N. cordifolia ‘Duffii’ are much more compact too.
Check out our list of Small Terrarium Plants for more micro plant inspiration.
- Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ (Lemon Button Fern)
- Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ (Dwarf Sword Fern)
The Maidenhair ferns are beautifully delicate ferns, prized for their frilly foliage. Originating from the tropics, they make great houseplants but even better terrarium plants.
That’s because they have a bit of a reputation amongst houseplant owners for being super sensitive to drying out. Which is absolutely not an issue in closed terrariums where they can access constant moisture.
Most varieties tend to remain quite compact – making them great for terrariums of all sizes – but there are some extra small species too that really stand out.
- Adiantum raddianum (Delta Maidenhair Fern)
- Adiantum hispidulum (Rough Maidenhair Fern)
Pteris ferns truly have a shape and appearance like no other.
Where other ferns are often soft and delicate, these are sharp and striking. If Nephrolepis are sword-like, Pteris must be trident-like…
Characterized by forked, linear fronds – often with white or creamy variegation down the center – they really add a unique flair to a terrarium.
They tend to be quite slow to grow, but they’re easy to look after. As the fronds grow on the ends of long stems, their growth pattern tends to go “up and over” so to speak. So, the mature plants are better suited to taller terrariums, but they’ll take a long time to get there.
- Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’ (Silver Ribbon Fern)
- Pteris ensiformis ‘Evergemiensis’ (Silver Lace Fern)
Asplenium is a genus of epiphytic tree ferns native to SE Asia.
Over there, you’ll find them growing in the crooks of tropical trees all over the place, but the varieties we’re familiar with are living very different lives as popular houseplants in the West.
Bird’s Nest Ferns in particular (and to a lesser extent, the Dragon’s Tail Fern), are commonly grown as houseplants, but they really thrive in humid terrarium conditions that match their native tropical homes.
Though don’t worry about trying to recreate their typical tree homes; they’ll grow terrestrially in a terrarium just fine.
- Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’ (Bird’s Nest Fern)
I like to call Davallia the family of “Footed” ferns.
Rabbit’s Foot, Deer’s Foot, Hare’s Foot – you get the idea.
Named for their fluffy rhizome “feet” that spill out from the base of the fern, Davallia are often found growing epiphytically in nature. They use those thick, fibrous rhizome feet of theirs to grip branches and to seek out moisture.
Their beautiful, finely divided (but very dense) fronds provide lots of texture to a terrarium. They really are gorgeous.
They can eventually grow reasonably large, so may need cutting back a few times a year.
- Davallia fejeensis (Rabbit’s Foot Fern)
- Davallia trichomanoides (Black Rabbit’s Foot Fern)
Microsorum is a diverse genus of ferns that’s weirdly also full of unique animal names.
Whether it’s the thick, scaly leaves of the Crocodile Fern or the rounded paw-like digits of the Kangaroo Fern, Microsorum has some interesting shapes to bring to the terrarium world.
Generally full of larger plant species, they’re a better fit for larger terrariums that can give them the space to fully grow out their unique fronds. They also have some semi-aquatic species that make great paludarium plants.
- Microsorum diversifolium (Kangaroo Fern)
- Microsorum mussifolium (Crocodile Fern)
Technically falling somewhere between moss and a fern, Selaginella is an interesting genus of plant.
They thrive in warm and moist environments, but they’ll likely never outgrow a terrarium. Selaginella is a fantastic carpeting plant, and it’ll form a dense blanket of foliage along the ground of any terrarium it’s added to.
Seriously, for me, Selaginella is absolutely one of the best terrarium plants out there.
- Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’ (Golden Clubmoss)
- Selaginella uncinata (Peacock Moss)
2 | Vines for Terrariums
The list of terrarium vines includes a wide variety of trailing, climbing, and creeping plants. Generally, anything that grows along the ground of a terrarium or climbs up the sides.
They’re typically sourced from rainforests where they’ll weave amongst the canopies and undergrowth – which is exactly what makes them such a great addition to terrariums. Not only do they thrive in that environment, but their random growth adds a degree of naturality.
The following plant genera aren’t exclusively full of vines (they often contain some lovely foliage plants), but they do offer some of the best vining species for terrariums. Let’s take a look.
Pilea are a diverse genus of plants containing everything from shrubs and bushy plants to creeping vines and the universally popular Chinese Money Plant (P. peperomioides).
For terrariums, we’re spoilt for choice between the wonderfully textured little vines and the stunning foliage plants.
The likes of P. depressa and P. Glauca are both great choices for terrarium ground cover, and they’ll continue to wander over surfaces once they’ve formed a full mat.
Also whilst not vines but always worth a mention, P. cadierei (Aluminium Plant) and P. involucrata (Friendship Plant) grow beautiful foliage.
- Pilea depressa (Depressed Clearweed)
- Pilea glauca ‘Aquamarine’ (Artillery Plant)
When most people hear of a Ficus, they think of the Ficus elastica houseplant (Rubber Plant) – I even have one myself – but the kinds of Ficus we use in terrariums are a variety of evergreen vines that thrive in bright, moist environments.
They’re a mainstay in naturalistic tropical terrariums because their small leaves and stems help create a great sense of scale, and their free, unrestrained growth brings in a more natural look.
- Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig)
Peperomia are a diverse genus of over 1700 tropical plant species.
With many of those being small in stature, tolerating less than bright lighting conditions, and thriving in a humid, tropical environment – there are perhaps more suitable closed terrarium species than any other genus.
The leaves can range from thick and succulent to thin and tender and can come in many colors from vibrant green to all kinds of marbled red and bronze variegation. So you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different Peperomia.
Plus, they’re incredibly easy to propagate. Even planting a leaf cutting is often enough to grow a new plant.
- Peperomia prostrata (String of Turtles)
- Peperomia ‘Pepperspot’ (String of Coins)
Pellionia are a lesser-known trailing plant that truly thrives in humid closed terrarium conditions.
They love to form dense mats, and their broader leaves really set Pellionia apart from other terrarium ground cover plants like Pilea that have plentiful, but much smaller foliage.
Most Pellionia will happily grow in a range of lighting conditions and are pretty easy to keep overall.
- Pellionia repens (Watermelon Vine)
- Pellionia pulchra (Polynesian ivy)
Marcgravia are a genus of “Shingling Vines” found in the Caribbean and Latin Americas.
The shingling term probably comes from the way the vines form tight rows of overlapping leaves, which tend to grow up the sides of trees towards the light. Personally, I think they look more like rattlesnake tails.
They’re fast growers, and will happily attach to hardwood branches in a terrarium with their aerial roots. Naturally at home in rainforest canopies, they’re a great fit for hot and humid sealed terrariums.
- Marcgravia rectiflora
- Marcgravia umbellata
Commonly known as Pothos, these beautiful aroids grow incredibly well in terrariums. In fact, arguably too well… I hesitated to include these in a “closed terrarium plant list” because whilst they thrive in a closed terrarium, they certainly don’t need it.
If you’re struggling to grow other terrarium plants (e.g. maybe due to poor lighting) then Epipremnum is at least one you can rely on to thrive.
To be honest, they grow so fast and so wide, that they’re really only suited to the largest of terrariums. But, they are easily trimmed back – so if you’re happy to keep on top of their maintenance you can grow them in medium-sized terrariums too!
- Epipremnum aureum (Golden Pothos)
- Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’
Syngonium are a genus of stunning tropical plants with distinctive arrowhead-shaped leaves and often beautiful variegation.
Syngonium podophyllum in particular is super popular as a houseplant these days, but it’s larger than most terrariums. Thankfully for us, it has some great dwarf varieties – the ‘Pixie’ and ‘Super Pixie’ – which are super compact but equally beautiful.
- Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ (Dwarf Arrowhead Vine)
- Syngonium ‘Neon Robusta’ (Pink Arrowhead Vine)
- Syngonium erythrophyllum
Dischidia are the often overlooked cousins of the more popular trailing Hoya houseplants. They’re tolerant of a range of conditions, but they are grown commonly in Thailand where they do great in hot and humid conditions (just like a closed terrarium).
They’re a fantastic cascading species of plant (which isn’t always easy to find for terrariums) so they’re best mounted epiphytically at the top terrariums and allowed to grow down.
- Dischidia ovata (Watermelon Dischidia)
- Dischidia nummularia (String of Nickels)
- Dischidia sp .‘Geri’
3 | Foliage for Terrariums
“Foliage” isn’t an exact plant category, but it’s a useful way to group plants that are prized for their stunning leafage rather than their flowers. Think broader, more vibrant, or unique leaves.
So, this group includes a lot of different plant types from lush tropical greenery, to shrubs and palm-like plants.
As the foliage plants tend to be the real showstoppers of a terrarium, the plant genera in this section can provide some great options to adorn your project. See for yourself!
Begonias come in many forms, and when choosing them for use in terrariums, it’s important to understand what type(s) you’re looking for.
Even though several groups of them are known for their beautiful flowers, Begonias are in this foliage section because the types that we tend to use in terrariums are non-flowering. What we’re interested in are Rex Begonias and other rhizomatous Begonias. These come with foliage in such a wonderful variety of colors, shapes, and textures.
- Begonia prismatocarpa
- Begonia foliosa ‘Miniata’ (Fuchsia Begonia)
Nerve plants are a truly classic terrarium plant.
They’re tropical evergreen perennials with delicately veined leaves in a variety of beautiful colors from pink, white, and green. They’ll typically only grow to about 6 inches high, but they like to spread wider.
They occasionally flower with reddish spikes, but some people prefer to pluck them to keep the plants looking clean.
- Fittonia albivenis (Nerve Plant)
Maranta are another popular houseplant, that can be used in a terrarium if you can find a small enough species.
Often called Prayer Plants, their beautifully ornate leaves close at night in a way that resembles a “prayer position”. The oval-shaped leaves develop in color as the plant matures, making it an exciting addition to any terrarium.
- Maranta leuconeura ‘Fascinator’
- Maranta leuconeura ‘Kerchoveana’ (Rabbit Tracks Plant)
The Polka Dot Plant is another classic closed terrarium plant with striking foliage and an aggressive growth pattern.
This little shrub comes in a dizzying array of vivid colors from bright white to pink. To me, they look more ornamental than natural, but they make a strong feature plant in a terrarium.
One thing to note is, Hypoestes don’t live all that long. Once they’ve flowered, they’ll live Just for a few years or so before the foliage inevitably dies out.
- Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant)
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the beloved houseplant family that is Philodendron.
With their lush, glossy foliage, they’re a fan favorite for many people. Thanks to the power of science (and intrepid explores) we now have some new smaller cultivars that can fit in regular terrariums!
Which I’m obviously very excited about.
Unless you have a very large terrarium or you’re prepared to regularly prune them back, I’d stick to the varieties laid out below.
- Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (White Wave Philodendron)
- Philodendron verrucosum ‘Mini’
Alocasia are another popular aroid found in homes around the world. Often called Elephant Ear plants, they’re full of broad leaves in fascinating shapes and textures.
The large leaves are typically on the end of thick, long stems which often makes them too big for terrariums, but there are some smaller cultivars that’ll do the trick. Look out for those called “Jewel Alocasia.”
- Alocasia reginula ‘Black Velvet’ (Black Velvet Alocasia)
- Alocasia ‘Bambino’
- Alocasia ‘Melo’
4 | Caveats (Sealed Terrarium Plants That Need Airflow)
So, there are lots of plants that thrive in the hot and humid environment of a closed terrarium but that also require good airflow to survive.
Something hard to come by in a sealed container…
These plants are all susceptible to rot if water isn’t able to evaporate off their leaves. So, the plants in this list can be grown in closed terrariums, but only if your container has built-in ventilation (e.g. a typical vivarium setup with fans) or if you’re prepared to regularly open up your closed terrarium.
- Cryptanthus (Earth Stars) – Shop on Etsy
- Neoregelia – Shop on Etsy
- Macodes petola (Lightning Jewel Orchid) – Shop on Etsy
- Some Tillandsia (Air Plants) – Shop on Etsy
Where to Buy Closed Terrarium Plants
As I’m sure you can see from this list, there are many plants that are suitable for closed terrariums.
If you’re looking for specific plants (or you need some inspiration) then head over to the Terrarium Plants Index to access a wealth of information, including where to buy all kinds of plants.
You can also check out our Essential Guide to Tropical Terrariums for a full breakdown on how to both choose and use tropical terrarium plants for maximum visual effect and longevity.
Finally, you can head straight over to Etsy to have a look yourself, or check out the post 10 Etsy Sellers With Gorgeous Terrarium Plants for Sale to find out which shops are good for which plants!
Over to You
Phew, there you have it.
The definitive (and still not exhaustive) list of closed terrarium plants.
Which of these is your favorite? Or, have I missed it off? Let me know.
Ready to build your terrarium? Check out the terrarium supplies on our shop!
Closed Terrarium Plant FAQ
Tropical plants that thrive in high heat and humidity tend to make the best closed terrarium plants.
Many of the classic terrarium plants are very easy to look after. Fittonia and Hypoestes are both some of the best terrarium plants for beginners. Though the Pothos in this list are almost unkillable if you can fit them in your terrarium.
Pilea, Peperomia, Pellionia and Ficus are all great options for terrarium ground cover. These creeping vines all like to form dense mats of foliage.