Top Terrarium Plant Picks
Image by Flickr / nestmaker
Terrariums require little care and low light — perfect for indoors. Here are 15 hearty plants to add to your glass container garden.
Terrariums are classically a closed, glass environment, which increases the humidity and allows you to grow plants that prefer a moist habitat.
However, many gardeners have stretched the definition of ‘terrarium’ to include desert plantings, wide-mouthed bowls and tureens. These, in turn, change the growing conditions of the terrarium and allow you to cultivate many different plants.
When you create your terrarium or glass garden, group plants that have similar growing conditions: low light, high humidity, drought-resistant, etc. You also want to select plants that have a low growth rate or your plants will quickly outgrow their enclosure. Many gardeners choose true miniatures or just slow-growing plants.
The following plants will do well in terrariums, but keep in mind that they will not all work in the same terrarium. Cacti and succulents need an airy, open environment and sandier soil, whereas tropical flowers, mosses and ferns prefer humid and moist conditions.
Aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei)
(Image: Flickr / nostri-imago)
The Aluminum plant has dark green leaves with silver accents. It prefers low to medium light, warm temperatures and moist soil. It grows quickly but is easy to pinch back and control. They are cultivated from cuttings so you could purchase a larger aluminum plant and divide it into multiple terrariums.
Spreading club mosses (Selaginella kraussiana)
Selaginella k. 'Aurea' (Image: Flickr / nestmaker)
This moss is an excellent groundcover and forms a small mound of foliage with little tufts. Club mosses expand by creeping along slowly but is not invasive. The Selaginella family of mosses have different hues (red, golden, purple, blue) and also grow well in terrariums.
African violets (Saintpaulia)
(Image: Flickr / Cheryl Dudley)
Nearly always blossoming, the African violet is a desirable flower. However, it is difficult to cultivate outside of a terrarium environment, as they prefer humidity and consistent warmth out of direct sunlight. Gesnerids do not enjoy sitting in water, so consider planting the African violet (and other members of the gesneraids family) in a container and then enclosing it in glass with an apothecary jar or bell cloche.
Cacti and succulents
A desert terrarium with cacti, succulents, and sempervivum. (Image: Flickr / sterlic)
Cacti and succulents are normally not recommended for enclosed terrariums, as they prefer dry conditions. Select a container that is open and soil that provides good drainage. Aloe, agave, Echeveria, Crassulaceae, Haworthias and sempervivum are all good choices for desert terrariums.
Jade plant (Crassulaceae)
(Image: Flickr / jylcat)
There are several Crassula species that are sold under the general name of jade plant, friendship tree, or lucky plant. Jade plants are common indoor houseplants and often manicured as bonsai. They prefer moist soil, full (not direct) sun, and should not be over watered. Jade plants are from the Crassulaceae family, which has a number of other terrarium-friendly species.
(Image: Flickr / dongkwan)
Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula), sundews (Drosera capensis), and pitcher plants (Sarracenia genus) are all carnivorous plants that need a terrarium to achieve their preferred growing environment. Carnivores prefer bright light and access to food so an open-mouthed glass container is best. Most carnivores are bog plants and require moist and humid conditions. When well-fed and well cared for, carnivorous plants can bloom.
Creeping fig (Ficus pumila)
Ficus benjamina 'Too Little' manicured as a bonsai (Image: Flickr / ideonexus)
Some creeping figs are too large for the standard-sized terrarium, but there are many smaller variations. Creeping fig prefers bright indirect light but will tolerate shade. They can also be easily pruned when they grow too large (they are energetic!) Try the Ficus pumila ‘snowflake’ or Ficus benjamina ‘Too Little’.
Sempervivum hybrids (Image: Flickr / nestmaker)
Sempervivum succulents are some of the most popular and hardiest. Also called “hen and chicks”, they can thrive in hot or cold, light or shade. They are commonly found in terrariums that are not full enclosed.
Baby's tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)
(Image: Flickr / sultmhoor)
Known by a variety of names, baby’s tears has tiny leaves and is an excellent groundcover. Prefers bright light and consistent moisture so a closed terrarium is best. One caution: given the right conditions, baby's tears can be seriously invasive.
Cryptanthus bromeliad ‘Earth Star’ (Image: Flickr / sigfredo)
Bromeliads are tropical plants that prefer an enclosed terrarium with some air circulation. Select a container that you can prop open slightly to aerate. If in a cloche or bell jar, do not remove the glass completely as you may shock the plant with the sudden change in temperature. Instead, prop the glass enclosure up on terracotta feet or cork blocks. Look for small, slow-growing varieties such as Cryptanthus ‘Earth Star’ or Guzmania lingulata ‘Scarlet Star’.
Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
(Image: Wikipedia Creative Commons)
The button fern is a low-growing fern that requires an enclosed terrarium to thrive. They have lovely dark leaves, is low maintenance, easy to grow and readily available. Button ferns like bright filtered light and consistent moist conditions—perfect for a closed terrarium.
Fern Leaf Begonia 'Begonia foliosa' (Image: Wikimedia Creative Commons)
Begonias are a diverse group of tropical flowers and prefer a humid, moist environment. They can be grown in a terrarium with well-drained soil and low light. Many begonias will flower year-round and each species looks different from the last, making them a desirable for their variety. Some begonia species suggested for terrariums are Rhizomatous begonias and dwarf rex begonias (which need some ventilation).
Strawberry geranium (Saxifraga stolonifera)
(Image: Flickr / yamada)
Saxifraga stolonifera is commonly called a ‘starberry geranium’ ‘strawberry begonia’ or ‘creeping saxifrage’. Not a true begonia, geranium or strawberry plant, Saxifraga stolonifera was given these common names for it’s creeping nature. It sends out stolon (runners) to form roots and roams quite voraciously. Saxifraga stolonifera likes high humidity, light shade, and moist soil.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum spp.)
(Image: Flickr / fedoroph)
Maidenhair ferns are the perfect size for terrariums at maximum nine inches tall but there are smaller versions. They require a humid and moist environment when indoors and prefer a shadowless northern exposure. The genus Adiantum has about 200 species of maidenhair ferns.
Mosaic plant (Fittonia verschaffeltii)
(Image: Flickr / calliope)
Not much of a bloomer but has gorgeous red-veined leaves for a punch of colour in your terrarium. They are slow-growing and tidy. The Mosaic plant has a white-veined version as well called Fittonia verschaffeltii ‘argyroneura’.
Many plants grow well in terrariums
These are not your only options for terrariums. There are hundreds of plants that will do well in terrariums depending on the conditions you set forth.
Some of the more commonly recommended plants include Asparagus Fern, Crotons, ivy, weeping fig, silver squill, miniature holly, and ferns such as the bird’s nest fern, male fern and heart fern.
Given the right environment, orchids and air plants make good terrarium plants. Also many varieties of peperomias, gesneraids, pileas, coleus, impatiens, and ornamental grasses do well in terrariums.
Monica Miller is a writer, editor and designer living in Vancouver. She graduated from Langara College's Publishing Program and SFU's Writing & Publishing Program.