The Definitive Guide to Closed Terrarium Plants (50+ Types)

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.

Closed Terrarium Plants

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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 terrarium environment, your plants need to meet a number of criteria. They must:

  • Thrive in the warm temperatures and humid conditions of a sealed environment.
  • Fit in the container of choice (it’s totally okay to prune, but we need to be realistic).
  • Manage with minimal airflow.

I deep dive further into What Makes a Terrarium Plant?

But, as long as your plants meet those conditions and share similar lighting requirements (bright indirect light is the gold standard) then you’re free to choose!

What Are the Best Plants for Closed Terrariums?

Honestly, there are no universal “best closed terrarium plants.”

Every terrarium setup is different, and so your ideal plants are going to be unique to you.

That being said, there tend to be a variety of species within every genus that stand out as clear choices to consider.

In this guide, they plants are split into 4 categories for your easy browsing: Ferns, Vines, Foliage and Caveats.

Each category shows a selection of plant genera (plural for genus – who knew?) and our top picks for each.

Let’s get into it!

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 the 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.

Quick Fern Picks

  1. Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’ (Bird’s Nest Fern) – See on Etsy
  2. Nephrolepis cordfolia “Duffii” (Lemon Button Fern) – See on Etsy
  3. Adiantum raddianum (Dwarf Maidenhair Fern) – See on Etsy
  4. Microsorum mussifolium (Crocodile Fern) – See on Etsy
  5. Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’ (Silver Ribbon Fern) – See on Etsy

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!

Nephrolepis

Nephrolepis exaltata (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

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 be 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.

Recommendations:

  • Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ (Lemon Button Fern) – See on Etsy
  • Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ (Dwarf Sword Fern) – See on Etsy

Adiantum

Adiantum raddianum (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations:

  • Adiantum raddianum (Delta Maidenhair Fern) – See on Etsy
  • Adiantum hispidulum (Rough Maidenhair Fern) – See on Etsy

Pteris

Pteris cretica (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

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 a 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.

Recommendations:

  • Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’ (Silver Ribbon Fern) – See on Etsy
  • Pteris ensiformis ‘Evergemiensis’ (Silver Lace Fern) – See on Etsy

Asplenium

Asplenium nidus (Image Credit: VerdantLyfe on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations:

  • Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’ (Bird’s Nest Fern) – See on Etsy

Davallia

Davallia fejeensis (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

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 that 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.

Recommendations:

  • Davallia fejeensis (Rabbit’s Foot Fern) – See on Etsy
  • Davallia trichomanoides (Black Rabbit’s Foot Fern) – See on Etsy

Microsorum

Kangaroo Paw Fern (Image Credit: BelleDecorDesigns on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations:

Selaginella

Selaginella kraussiana (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

Technically falling somewhere between a moss and a fern, Selaginella are 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.

Recommendations:

  • Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’ (Golden Clubmoss) – See on Etsy
  • Selaginella uncinata (Peacock Moss) – See on Etsy

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.

Quick Vine Picks

  1. Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig) – See on Etsy
  2. Peperomia prostrata (String of Turtles) – See on Etsy
  3. Pilea depressa ‘Baby Tears’ (Depressed Clearweed) – See on Etsy
  4. Pellionia repens (Watermelon Vine) – See on Etsy
  5. Syngonium ‘Neon Robusta’ (Pink Arrowhead Vine) – See on Etsy

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

Pilea depressa (Image Credit: SnakeRiverGarden on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations

  • Pilea depressa (Depressed Clearweed) – See on Etsy
  • Pilea glauca ‘Aquamarine’ (Artillery Plant) – See on Etsy

Ficus

Ficus pumila (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations

Peperomia

Peperomia prostrata (Image Credit: savageplants on Etsy).

Peperomia are a diverse genus of over 1700 species of tropical plant.

With many of those being small in stature, tolerating less than bright lighting conditions, and thriving in a humid, tropical environment – there’s 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 colours 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.

Recommendations:

Pellionia 

Pellionia repens (Image Credit: PottedElephant on Etsy).

Pellionia are a lesser known trailing plant that truly thrive 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.

Recommendations:

Marcgravia

Marcgravia sp (Image Credit: Exoticplantempire on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations:

Epipremnum 

Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’ (Image Credit: PhillySecretGarden on Etsy).

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, 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!

Recommendations:

Syngonium

Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ (Image Credit: JYFREEGROWTH on Etsy).

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, S. podophyllum also has some great dwarf varieties – the ‘Pixie’ and ‘Super Pixie’ – which are super compact but equally beautiful. 

Though, Syngonium species tend to stay more in their immature form when constrained to terrarium environments, so you might find they adapt to fit the space quite well.

Recommendations:

  • Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ (Dwarf Arrowhead Vine) – See on Etsy
  • Syngonium ‘Neon Robusta’ (Pink Arrowhead Vine) – See on Etsy
  • Syngonium erythrophyllumSee on Etsy

Dischidia

Dischidia ovata (Image Credit: JJFarmsFL on Etsy).

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.

Recommendations:

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.

Quick Foliage Picks

  1. Fittonia abbivenis (Nerve Plant) – See on Etsy
  2. Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (White Wave Philodendron) – See on Etsy
  3. Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant) – See on Etsy
  4. Begonia prismatocarpaSee on Etsy
  5. Maranta leuconeura ‘Kershoveana‘ (Rabbit Tracks Plant) – See on Etsy

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!

Begonia

Begonia prismatocarpa (Image Credit: ExtraFlora on Etsy).

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 colours, shapes and textures.

Recommendations:

Fittonia

Fittonia albivenis (Image Credit: FernPlantShop on Etsy).

Nerve plants are a truly classic terrarium plant.

They’re tropical evergreen perennials with delicately veined leaves in a variety of beautiful colours 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.  

Recommendations:

Maranta

Maranta leuconeura (Image Credit: BrumleyandBloom on Etsy).

Maranta are another popular houseplant, that can be used in 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 colour as the plant matures, making it an exciting addition to any terrarium. 

Recommendations:

  • Maranta leuconeura ‘Fascinator’ – See on Etsy
  • Maranta leuconeura ‘Kerchoveana’ (Rabbit Tracks Plant) – See on Etsy

Hypoestes

Polka Dot Plant (Image Credit: PremierSucculents on Etsy).

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 colours 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, Hypoestes don’t live all that long. Once they’ve flowered, they’ll live Just for a years or so before the foliage inevitably dies out.

Recommendations:

  • Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant) – See on Etsy

Philodendron

Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (Image Credit: TropicalplantsFL on Etsy).

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the beloved houseplant family that is Philodendron.

With their lush, glossy foliage, they’re a fan favourite 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.

Recommendations:

  • Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (White Wave Philodendron) – See on Etsy
  • Philodendron verrucosum ‘Mini’ – See on Etsy

Alocasia

Alocasia ‘Black Velvet’ (Image Credit: Plantaroots on Etsy).

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.”

Recommendations:

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.

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!

Closed Terrarium Plant FAQ

What makes a good closed terrarium plant?

Tropical plants that thrive in high heat and humidity tend to make the best closed terrarium plants.

What are some easy terrarium plants?

Many of the classic terrarium plants are very easy to look after. Fittonia and Hypoestes are both very forgiving, though the Pothos in this list are almost unkillable if you can fit them in your terrarium.

What are some good terrarium ground cover plants?

Pilea, Peperomia, Pellionia and Ficus are all great options for terrarium ground cover. These creeping vines all like to form dense mats of foliage.

15 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to Closed Terrarium Plants (50+ Types)”

  1. Very very helpful!! Is there a particular type of soil or can I use my regular potting mix?
    Also I live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of natural light & I rely on artificial grow lights for my plants through winter. is this something I can do for a closed terrarium as well?

        1. It’s not great for tropical plants on it’s own because it doesn’t tend to retain enough moisture. If you can add some sphagnum moss and/or coco coir to a succulent soil mix then it’ll do a lot better.

  2. Hello great article. I am looking to build a tall terrarium, about 6′ x 2×2 I would really like to do this with epiphtye type plants.

    what would you recommend..
    Thank you

    1. All sorts! For smaller species you can look to the semi-aquatic plants like Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’ or smaller Anubias nana species (ferns like the Rabbit’s Foot Fern can work well for larger spots). Dischidia make great epiphytic vines, and Neoregelia can add some wonderful colour.

    1. Thanks Trisha! I have a few of those growing around my house but I’ve never tried them in a terrarium. I imagine they would grow just fine in a closed terrarium environment but they can get pretty big 😀

  3. Hi! I am looking to start a closed terrarium and love your list. It helps me out a lot. I was wondering what you recommend for artificial lighting? I am looking for something to fit my 30x12x12 aquarium tank (20 gallons) and that doesn’t break the bank. And how would you position the lights? (desk lamp, hanging from ceiling, on top of lid, etc.) How close should I have the lights to my terrarium? Any information would be super helpful!!

    1. I’ll be producing an in-depth lighting guide soon, but if you’re already using an aquarium then it should be easy to find some fitted aquarium lights that’ll do fine 😀 It shouldn’t be too hard to find an inexpensive LED bar that fits directly over the top of the tank.

  4. Hi there! This article was super helpful and I have never kept a terrarium before but my husband and I are currently trying to fix a lava lamp and should that fall through I wanted to try converting it into a small terrarium! Would something that shape/size work alright and if so would Venus fly traps work in there? I have mostly only kept succulents and the immortal pothos and money plant haha so I’m not very skilled yet and trying to create something I can maintain with my limited knowledge. 😀 thank-you again for the article!

    1. Hi Meaghan, I’m so glad it was helpful for you! A lava lamp terrarium sounds like it could be tricky if it has a narrow opening but I’m sure it’s a fun challenge. I’d say go for it. 🙂

  5. Hello! I just purchased a mangosteen seedling and it sounds like it would be perfect to grow in a partially closed terrarium for the first few years, what are your thoughts?

    1. I’ve never heard of anyone using that species specifically but yeah, I think it’d work. Worth a try! 🙂

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