12 Totally Tropical Terrarium Plants for a Slice of Paradise

I don’t know about you, but when I think of a tropical paradise, I think of lush rainforests with broad leaves, exotic foliage, and rich greens – with dashes of vibrant colors.

And a margarita in hand…

Cocktails aside, to achieve that tropical vibe in your terrarium, you’re going to need the right mix of tropical terrarium plants. A certain variety that can pull together all the important elements of thick foliage, wild growth, and contrast.

Playing with scale and texture is the key to pulling this off (as we’re not about to fit a palm tree in a terrarium), but we have some tricks up our sleeves…

So, without any further adieu, here’s a selection of terrarium plants that’ll give you that perfect tropical paradise.

Tropical Terrarium Plants

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True Tropical Terrarium Plants

1. Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig)

Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig) in tropical terrarium
Ficus pumila grows like wildfire in a terrarium.

Native to the jungles of East Asia, this little trailing plant makes for fantastic ground cover.

Ficus pumila can quickly form a network of vines – in a completely unrestrained growth pattern – that’ll give a naturalistic feel to the base of a terrarium. The ‘Minima’ variety is extra petite if you’re working with a small container.

A true terrarium classic, the Creeping Fig comes in several varieties that can really help pull together your tropical scene.

👉 Shop Ficus pumila on Etsy.

2. Macodes petola (Lightning Jewel Orchid)

Jewel orchid terrarium with ferns
My Lightning Jewel Orchid is my prized possession.

When it comes to exotic-looking plants, it’s hard to overlook the so-called “Lightning Jewel Orchid.”

Macodes petola is a stunning tropical jewel orchid with a signature electric gold pattern that pierces the full length of the foliage.

Native to a variety of Southeast Asian jungle areas, this bold plant should take center stage in the foreground of a tropical terrarium where it can be fully appreciated.

👉 Shop Macodes petola on Etsy.

3. Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’

asplenium fern in terrarium
Asplenium nidus is one of the first plants that come to mind when I think of a tropical environment.

Native to the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Bird’s Nest Fern is one of the few ferns with broad, tropical-looking leaves.

With a characteristic ruffled leaf shape and circular growth pattern, it really adds an exotic element to a terrarium.

In its natural environment, it’s often found growing epiphytically in the crooks of large trees, but it’ll do best planted in the background of a tropical terrarium where it’ll have space to grow out.

👉 Shop Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’ on Etsy.

4. Neoregelia

lots of bright neoregelia  in a plant market
Too many brilliant, bright Neoregelia to choose from!

For a true splash of tropical color amongst the lush greens, there’s no better plant than a fiery red Neoregelia ‘Fireball,’ or there’s a ‘Green Fireball’ variety, too (if you’re looking to keep the green look throughout).

Growing in compact but bright rosettes, these epiphytic Bromeliads come in an enormous variety of colors and cultivars.

👉 Shop Neoregelia ‘Fireball’ on Etsy.

5. Humata heterophylla

humata heterophylla in a pot
My lovely Humata heterophylla.

A lesser-known fern masquerading as a vine, Humata heterophylla is a gorgeous emerald-green plant with a unique ridged texture.

Another native epiphyte that’s found growing on rainforest trunks in the wild, this versatile plant can be planted in the substrate or mounted on your terrarium hardscape. As long as it can get plenty of moisture, it’ll thrive in a closed terrarium environment.

However you apply it in a terrarium, its wonderful vining nature makes for an element of wild growth that can add some great natural flair.

6. Biophytum sensitivum

bushy biophytum sensitivum in pot
The palm tree aesthetic doesn’t come in a cuter, tinier package than the Biophytum! (Image credit: CrackedPotRarePlants on Etsy).

Nothing says tropical like a palm tree, but as we’ve said, we can’t fit one of those in a terrarium… or can we?

Well, Biophytum sensitivum (otherwise known as the “Little Tree Plant”) is the next best thing.

Native to wetland areas of India and Nepal, this miniature palm-like plant is a true tropical beauty. With delicate branches of leaves radiating outward from a central crown, they gently fold up when touched and at night.

Combining this plant with a tropical moss provides a fantastic illusion of a miniature tropical scene.

👉 Shop Biophytum sensitivum on Etsy.

7. Bulbophyllum sp.

Bulbophyllum Orchids are breathtaking. (Image credit: Tarzanegroup on Etsy).

Bulbophyllum are a large genus of epiphytic orchids which are well suited to life in a tropical terrarium.

With a huge diversity of weird shapes, colors, and flowers, there’s sure to be something that catches your eye. They also tend to be among the easiest orchids to grow too, so they’re a great choice for beginners.

They’ll do best when mounted to driftwood branches, moss poles, and cork boards, just like their native environment.

👉 Shop Bulbophyllum orchids on Etsy.

8. Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’

Syngonium Pixie leaves up close
Syngonium podophyllum is one of my top go-to tropical terrarium plants.

The Arrowhead Vine is a true tropical rainforest staple. Native to a wide variety of areas in South America, this versatile species is often found weaving its way through the rainforest canopy.

In a humid closed terrarium environment, Syngonium podophyllum will grow without restraint. So, picking up the dwarf ‘Pixie‘ variety is a good choice to make sure it stays compact.

👉 Shop Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ on Etsy.

9. Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’

ephiphytically planted anubias in terrarium
Anubias likes to be planted epiphytically if you’re up for the challenge!

Normally an aquatic species, Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’ has found a home in the terrarium trade as a tropical-looking epiphyte.

With its flat leaves and dark green foliage, it adds some wonderful contrast to a terrarium.

Naturally, as an aquatic plant, it requires a lot of humidity and constant moisture to survive in the open air, but that’s exactly the kind of conditions in a tropical terrarium.

The ‘Petite’ variety is one of the smallest varieties, but you can also try the Anubias nana ‘Mini’, ‘Coin’ and ‘Bonsai’ for other small options.

👉 Shop Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’ on Etsy.

10. Microsorum musifolium (Crocodile Fern)

Crocodile Fern in a pot
What’s more tropical than a crocodile?

Another super unique-looking fern; it’s not hard to see where the crocodile fern gets its name…

With its characteristic scaly green leaves, the foliage of Microsorum musifolium looks like they’re taken straight from a crocodile’s back.

Definitely, one for larger terrariums, as just like those saltwater crocs they can grow pretty large!

👉 Shop the Crocodile Fern on Etsy.

11. Tillandsia

air plant close up
I love how textured my Tillandsia is.

One of the easier Air Plants to grow in terrariums, Tillandsia are a truly exotic species.

I particularly like Tillandsa bulbosa for its long, tentacle-like growth. It can really fill the space in the canopy and make for some exciting 3d features. Plus, you can place them anywhere you can balance them (they don’t attach), so it opens up new planting opportunities.

As with all air plants, they tend to prefer a little bit of airflow but this species is the most forgiving.

👉 Shop Tillandsia bulbosa on Etsy.

12. Terrarium Moss!

cushion moss and mood moss
Perhaps the best tropical terrarium plant?

Okay, no natural rainforest scene would be complete without a tropical moss. It’s the understated hero that pulls together the final look.

When playing with scale, a vibrant moss like this can be used to look like windswept plains or a lush tropical floor.

Many tropical mosses would work well in our slice of paradise, but Cushion Moss and Mood Moss are particularly good choices for their vibrant green colors and lush foliage.

Wrapping Up

In reality, most terrarium plants are tropical in nature. It goes hand-in-hand with the high humidity, warmth, and moisture of a closed terrarium environment.

So whilst this is my list of particularly tropical-looking plants, there’s actually a wide variety of options out there to explore.

If you need any more help, be sure to check out our definitive guide to Closed Terrarium Plants blog post or list of Best Terrarium Plants for more information.

And of course, see our Essential Guide to Tropical Terrariums if you need more help – we have a whole section teaching you how to pair plants that will thrive and look fantastic together.

Over to You

What’s your favorite tropical terrarium plant on this list?

Let us know in the comments below!

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5 thoughts on “12 Totally Tropical Terrarium Plants for a Slice of Paradise”

  1. Great list Dan. I have several of the plants listed in my terrariums and paludariums. I especially like Ficus pumila. It also makes a great aquatic or marginal plant. It looks awesome growing up out of the water up a waterfall! I also have Syngonium podophyllum “pixie” in several terrariums that I converted from used aquariums. Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’ is growing in my paludariums along with Neoregelia ‘Fireball and various mosses I’ve collected from my yard. I think Hypnum cupressiforme is in the mix. Mosses really complete a terrarium I think. I’m glad to be a member of the Terrarium Tribe!

  2. Hi Dan!
    Is additional lighting needed if the terrarium is too far into the corner of the room, so there is not much light? how much extra light would not bother the snail and can be useful for the plants? Is such a combination possible at all?
    Tank you!

    1. Hi Dusan, yeah if your terrarium is in a dark corner of the room it’s probably going to need some additional lighting. The ideal “bright, indirect light” still tends to only be a few feet away from a light source. Not sure on the snail I’m afraid, I avoid them because they eat plants!

  3. Hello Dan, thank you so much for writing this page, I love terrariums so I wanted to make one, and I wanted it to remind me the tropics as much as possible because I love them. But I couldn’t find any examples of tropical terrariums until I found this page, which is really useful and great. I even thought that no one wants to make terrariums that simulate tropical landscape, so I was really surprised when I found this webpage.

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