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 colours.
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. The basic 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.
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True Tropical Terrarium Plants
#1 Biophytum sensitivum
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.
#2 Asplenium nidus ‘Crispy Wave’
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.
#3 Neoregelia ‘Fireball’
For a true splash of tropical colour amongst the lush greens, there’s no better plant than a fiery red Neroregelia ‘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 colours and cultivars. For added versatility, they can be grown in substrate too if you get the right mix!
#4 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.
#5 Microsorum musifolium (Crocodylus)
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 look 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!
#6 Ficus pumila
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.
#7 Bulbophyllum sp.
Bulbophyllum are a large genus of epiphytic orchids which are well suited to life in a tropical terrarium.
With a huge diversity in weird shapes, colours 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.
#8 Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’
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 picking up the dwarf ‘Pixie‘ variety is a good choice to make sure it stays compact.
#9 Macodes petola
When it comes to exotic looking plants, it’s hard to overlook the so-called “Lightning Jewel Orchid”.
Macodes petola is a stunning tropical terrestrial 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 centre stage in the foreground of a tropical terrarium where it can be fully appreciated.
#10 Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’
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.
#11 Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’
Another semi-aquatic plant, Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’ is a miniature fern (the Mini Asian Water Fern no less) that grows well both terrestrially and epiphytically.
As ferns often do, this versatile plant adds some real texture to wherever it’s planted.
Its compact size makes it great for fitting snugly into crevices on rocks or the crooks of branches.
#12 Tillandsia bulbosa
One of the easier air plant to grow in terrariums, Tillandsia bulbosa is a truly exotic species.
With 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 air flow but this species is the most forgiving.
#13 Hypnum cupressiforme
Okay, here’s a bonus plant because 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 Hypnum moss is a particularly good choice for it’s dense sheet growth and vibrant green colours.
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 full index of Terrarium Plants for more information.
Or if you’re ready to grab some new plants, head over to Etsy!
Over to You
What’s your favourite tropical terrarium plant on this list?
Let us know in the comments below!