When I design terrariums, I create organic, luscious environments that have the texture and detail of a living ecosystem.
I will use wood and stone to elevate the intricacy of my designs and, quite frankly, I revere Dragon Stone as the king of hardscape materials.
Warm, earthy hues and a striking scaley appearance are the signature traits of this medium, and although much of the design work is done for you – there is a myriad of ways you can use Dragon Stone to transform your terrarium into something unique and awe-inspiring.
In this article, I will give you four ideas that you can try today.
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What is Dragon Stone? (Ohko Stone)
Dragon Stone, traditionally known as Ohko Stone, is a clastic sedimentary rock comprised of clay minerals and organic materials.
It’s commonly associated with Japan and can be found washed up on shorelines across the country. Though, Dragon Stone does form naturally elsewhere in the world.
Rolling waves compact and form minerals into a lightweight clay substance. Erosion then creates the signature holes and crevices that have made Dragon Stone popular among vivarium, aquarium, and terrarium hobbyists.
After years of exposure to the elements, the now-hardened Dragon Stone is ready for use. But fortunately, you need not wait. You can find Dragon Stone available for purchase here on Etsy.
Why Use Dragon Stone?
In addition to its gorgeous grooves and crevices, Dragon Stone offers a handful of advantages to its user:
- It’s Lightweight
Though it retains a dense appearance, Dragon Stone is an exceptionally lightweight material – especially compared to many other traditional hardscape stones.
This facet allows it to be stacked and organised in a way that otherwise may have been untenable.
- It Breaks Down Easily
Being clay-based, Dragon Stone can be broken apart with relative ease.
This provides ample opportunity to manipulate the stone into different shapes and structures – exactly as you have foreseen them in your mind’s eye.
Whereas you may find yourself having to work around other materials, Dragon Stone can work around you.
- It’s Inert
Though it’s rarely a consideration factored into the design of a terrarium, Dragon Stone has a relatively neutral PH level and will not impact the life of your plants or microfauna.
This trait is especially desirable within aquarium setups, in which the internal water chemistry is left unaltered.
- Creative Applications
Left alone, the cracks and indents of Dragon Stone can give your terrarium a weathered, aged look.
However, these channels are also exceptional anchoring points in which plants and moss can grow over time.
Thus through its porous nature, the stone becomes a part of your ecosystem – not just a feature of it.
How to Use Dragon Stone
Perhaps the most innate use for Dragon Stone is to create a mountainous effect within your terrarium.
Using a mix of sizes, you can quite easily construct a natural-looking mountain range either at the centre or rear of your biome.
- Always consider scale if creating something naturally massive on a smaller magnitude.
Plants such as Asparagus fern can emulate the appearance of a thick canopy whilst various mosses replicate a dense, green overgrowth up the mountains or below.
Conversely, a sparse Fittonia cutting may skew your design by contradicting the scale of the mountains.
- Break up your Dragon Stone into pieces and position the largest at the centre of your mountain range from which smaller pieces can cascade.
By doing this, you will replicate the appearance of an actual mountain.
Additionally, the technique plays by a general rule of thumb to have your larger, darker elements in the background of a design, whilst small, lighter elements are closer to the foreground.
If you need inspiration, there are a plethora of talented aqua-scapers out there who have built magically impressive Dragon Stone Structures using this methodology.
- One additional point to make is to consider the angular direction of the stone.
This isn’t an absolute rule by any means, but a quick hack to achieving an organic feel is to match the direction of your stones with one another, creating parallels.
For example, if your biggest stone angles to the left, try to place the subsequent stones to do the same.
Again, this is not an absolute rule – but it is an initial experience in paying close attention to the minutiae of your terrariums.
Furthermore, your glassware plays an important role in how you choose to shape your mountains.
If for example, you have a particularly tall and thin piece of glassware it would typically suit best for your hardscape to rise straight upwards and thus complement the style of your vessel.
I personally really enjoy creating natural features within my terrarium designs.
Although I have dabbled in the occasional bridge or ravine, my go-to is always a cave. There’s something so dark and mysterious yet curiously inviting about a cave entrance.
Within a terrarium, it adds a layer of intrigue as to what lies beyond that which we can see.
Moreover, they’re easy to construct.
- Your classic cave is a simple ‘n-frame’ (totally just made that term up).
This means one upright piece of dragon stone parallel to another with space in-between to create the cave entrance.
Then, a third piece is placed on top and voila, you have your cave.
- Layer substrate on top and around your cave entrance to enhance your design.
By doing this, you begin to get the sense that this tunnel leads deep into the earth.
To solidify this design: use a curved utensil to push the substrate in the cave entrance backward until the light no longer penetrates.
Finally, consider placing more Dragon Stone around your entrance to actualise your rocky dwelling.
Caves come in many shapes, sizes, depths and forms. You could opt to install multiple caves into your terrarium or have a more visible interior with more hardscape inside.
Alternatively, you could create a more complex entrance or even a well that dives directly downwards rather than into the side of a hill.
And, hey, you could always build your cave into the side of a Dragon Stone mountain!
A mountain range is a relatively simple effect you can achieve by placing varying sizes of Dragon Stone next to or around one another.
A complex mountain, in my eyes, embraces verticality and requires a bit of patience and ingenuity.
Remember when I talked about how easy Dragon Stone is to break down?
Well, it’s easy to put back together too – with help from a sticky friend.
Broken pieces of Dragon Stone can be super-glued back together into new shapes to create magnificent structures that you would not find otherwise.
It’s a little difficult to explain, so let me show you two examples.
In both terrariums, I have taken larger pieces of Dragon Stone and connected smaller pieces on top and around to flesh out a thicker, monolithic mountain.
As well, this style gives you the option to shape your own nooks and crannies.
- When using super glue, opt for one that dries clear.
However, you can circumvent the dried-glue look (not a good look) simply by sprinkling a bit of rock dust over the glue once you have connected two pieces.
If you are wondering where to get your hands on some rock dust, don’t worry – Dragon Stone provides plenty by itself.
- Be patient. This style isn’t the easiest to master. It can take quite a few tries before you achieve the look that you are after.
My best advice would be to play around with ideas on a flat surface before you start.
Use some elastic bands to hold pieces together and get an idea of how you would like your complex mountain to look.
- Other adhesives may be more appropriate if you need extra security.
For example, expanding pond-foam is a favourite of the infamous terrarium and vivarium maestro SerpaDesign.
I have used expanding foam a few times and, although it is usually a messy affair, it certainly makes for a solid foundation.
Dragon Stone is perhaps utilised best at scale, creating the cascading mountains and elaborate caves we’ve already discussed.
However, that does not diminish its ability to be used as a highlight within your design.
A more level terrain may be what you’re looking to achieve with mere dapples of hardscape in between.
Fortunately, as you now well know, Dragon Stone is easily broken down into smaller pieces – yet it will still retain its textured cavities regardless.
You can therefore place boulders or small peaks in clusters or individually around your design. Whether it be to anchor plants, provide a surface for moss, or purely just to look good.
Dragon Stone is one of the most versatile hardscape materials you can choose.
It is affordable, sustainable, and easily manipulated.
I have not used a plant that Dragon Stone doesn’t complement, nor have I met a customer who doesn’t compliment Dragon Stone.
The above is far from an exhaustive list of how you can use Dragon Stone, it is merely a springboard from which you can soar to new creative heights!
(It’s also far from the only type of terrarium rock worth checking out).
I would love to see what you build having read this article. Please comment below and share your ideas and any questions you may have.
Feel free to share your creations on Instagram and tag @terrariumtribe and/or @ome.home!