You’ve most likely seen these beautiful mini forests or gardens around—a tiny sliver of an ecosystem inside a glass jar. Undoubtedly, they look great and are a completely innovative way of presenting your plants. But, although these are not difficult to accomplish and are even simpler to care for, you need to make sure you choose suitable greenery, as not all plants will be happy in these environments.
So, regardless of your expertise level, we’ll give you the full intel on the best terrarium plants for any scenario so you can let your creativity run free and create your beautiful, personalized terrarium.
What Are Terrariums? What Types Exist?
Terrariums are closed or semi-closed environments, usually in glass containers of various sizes, that promote high humidity levels and a more controllable environment for your plants to grow. You can think of them as tiny, easy-to-care-for indoor greenhouses.
Besides the advantage of allowing you to grow humidity-loving plants that would otherwise struggle in indoor settings, terrariums are usually considered a unique decorative statement piece in any room, and their versatility and possibility to personalize infinitely means they can fit any space and any aesthetic.
There are two types: closed terrariums and open terrariums. Each fits a certain kind of plants, so don't rush when accommodating your new green pet. We will explain the difference between them further in the article.
What Is the Difference Between a Closed and Open Terrarium?
As its name states, close terrariums are fully closed containers, offering more humidity and a scarcer need to water the plants after the ecosystem is established. This also means they are more low maintenance.
Open terrariums have either a side or the top open, which provides easier access and reduces the risk of fungal growth. They offer less humid conditions, as the plants will have permanent contact with fresh air.
What Type of Terrarium to Choose?
Now, how do you choose the perfect indoor plant terrarium? It all depends on the type of plants you’d like to use. Humidity-loving plants, like tropical species, will do best in closed terrariums, while arid-loving plants, like succulents or air plants, will do best in open terrariums. It also depends on the size of the plants, as they should touch the glass. You’ll need to make sure all plants have similar growing requirements to achieve a thriving ecosystem.
Besides this technical perspective, it will also vary according to your personal preferences and what aesthetic or theme you’re trying to evoke.
Big List of Plants for Different Types of Terrariums
A moment the reader has been waiting for – a big list of our green superstars! Don't let your focus wander off in all of this variety.
Closed Terrarium Plants by Sizes
Living in your own mansion? Or don't have much elbow room? We know how many of you out there just adore minimalist design, so we will make your life easier by classifying these greenies by size.
Small and Miniature
Any greenie up to 6 inches (15 cm), taking the average or medium size terrarium into account, is considered small. Here are some of our favorites!
Black Mondo Grass
Latin name: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
About 5 inches (13 cm) tall, this plant is an excellent alternative to the regular green foliage since it has dark, long leaves that add personality. It's perfect for those looking for a moody touch to their terrarium.
Venus Fly Trap
Latin name: Dionaea muscipula
This beauty is definitely unique and compact, but its unusual nature has a downside: you’ll have to feed it. Yes, the insects won’t be able to contact it naturally… Only for the brave in heart to consider!
Latin name: Macodes, Ludisia, Goodyera, etc.
Considered one of the best small plants, Jewel Orchid features leaves with interesting nervure highlights. Doesn't its precious stone-like appearance just strike you as absolutely perfect for terrariums?
Latin name: Peperomia caperata
Known for its patterned and wrinkled foliage, this Peperomia cultivar is small, slow-growing, and humidity-loving. It might produce showy flower spikes that add an unexpected pop of color to your mini terrarium.
Latin name: Soleirolia soleirolii
Referred to by many names, like angel tears, it has delicate leaves, and it’s often referred to as an ideal terrarium plant due to its love of moisture and humidity. This may also mean it needs more frequent watering.
Latin name: Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia
This attractive greenie has fuzzy leaves and colorful flowers ranging between purple, pink, blue, and white.
Latin name: Phalaenopsis amabilis
If you enjoy the unique blossoms of an orchid, these miniatures will bless your small terrariums with their interesting elegance. Mini orchids can come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, offering endless distinctive designs and arrangements.
Latin name: Pilea cadierei
Lovers of warm temperatures and humid environments, these plants get their name from shiny marks on the leaves. The only downside is that they are quick-growing plants, which might mean more pruning for you!
Shout out to all these smaller greenies to look out for! Some deadly, some endearing – there truly are multiple choices to consider.
In the same way, anything above 8 inches (20 cm) is considered tall. Nevertheless, you can go as big as you’d like, but there is still a limit to what makes sense and works within a terrarium, although you can always prune bigger plants heavily to fit your containers.
Latin name: Maranta leuconeura
This Prayer plant requires a larger container since it can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm). Its green leaves with white markings and reddish veins need plenty of light; otherwise, they won’t unfold.
Latin name: Asplenium bulbiferum
This plant can go up to 2 feet (70 cm) but can and should be kept smaller unless you can find a terrarium that accommodates it. It’s fine-textured, loves humidity, and can easily be propagated, so no worries about this greenie overgrowing its container!
Latin name: Chlorophytum comosum
This humidity-loving plant offers an exciting element to add to any display, both for its dangling leaves and white stripe. It is low maintenance and easy to grow, just perfect for a terrarium.
Latin name: Adiantum
Maidenhair is a challenge to grow outside the unique environment of a terrarium, so this is the perfect way to include this beautiful plant in your collection. They have a high humidity demand and work best for medium to tall containers but will need to be trimmed so they don’t overgrow and crowd the place.
Open Terrarium Plants by Sizes
There is no need to cram; you can find the plant that fits your space just right! Here is our top-picks list for open terrariums.
Generally, small terrariums range between 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall. Make sure you choose plants within this range or are willing to prune bigger plants regularly.
Latin name: Tillandsia spp.
These plants can come in many sizes, but the most used tend to range between 2 to 7 inches (5 to 18 cm). As the name suggests, these plants don’t grow in soil and obtain nutrients and water through the air around them, making them perfect for terrariums. They are extremely low maintenance and offer an exotic flair.
Latin name: Hedera helix
It can thrive both in open and closed terrariums and requires consistent moisture. It adds lush greenery to your display with its shiny leaves cut into intricate shapes and is one of the best plants for small terrarium.
Latin name: Haworthia spp.
These succulents don’t require extensive care and can come in various shapes and forms. They can have pointed or round leaves with different textures and striking patterns, usually white markings like stripes or ridges.
Latin name: Lithops
These unique and alien-like plants get their name from their small size and pebble-like appearance. These succulents will give your display an otherworldly flair and brighten your winter blues with its showy flowers during the colder months.
An open terrarium is generally considered medium when it measures between 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) tall.
Latin name: Encheveria elegans
This succulent has thick leaves arranged in rosettes and can come in plenty of shades, from green to pink and blue. It has a very undemanding nature and won't require frequent watering.
Latin name: Saxifraga stolonifera
Happy both in open or closed terrariums, this plant should be kept in constantly moist soil. It has reddish stems and textured leaves with colored veining.
Latin name: Sedum spp.
These plants can come in a wide range of sizes, from 3 inches (8 cm) to 2 feet (70 cm), but generally look better in a medium stature. They can be paired with almost any plants, as they are hardy, low maintenance, and can tolerate a range of lighting conditions.
Anything above 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) tall is considered a large or tall terrarium. This doesn’t mean you can’t go bigger, as the advantage of an open terrarium is that it has no top.
Latin name: Crassula ovata
Fond of high humidity levels, this succulent is easy to grow, easy to propagate, and drought tolerant, so you won’t have to worry too much about it. Its fleshy leaves and tree-like growth are distinctive additions to any display.
Latin name: Pellaea rotundifolia
Able to sustain drier conditions, hardy and low maintenance, these plants have unique button-like leaflets.
String of Pearls
Latin name: Senecio rowleyanus
As the name suggests, this plant consists of a delicate cascading of pearl-like leaves that spread freely and add a whimsical element to your terrarium. This trailing growing habit might require a bit of imagination, as it can be difficult to set up.
Latin name: Croton spp.
These fans of humidity come in various patterns and colors, more commonly in shades of yellow, orange, and red. They can grow quickly, so prepare to provide regular pruning and minimal watering.
Top Terrarium Plants for Beginners
We know this list can be overwhelming, especially if you think you don’t have enough skill or experience for terrariums. Don’t sweat it; plenty of plants can grow in a terrarium that even a beginner can handle! Here are just a few examples:
Latin name: Fittonia spp.
Size: between 3-6 inches (8-15 cm)
With striking, colored nerves in white, pink, or deep red, these beginner-friendly plants only demand you to keep the soil moist. It might need to be trimmed regularly, but it is also pretty easy to propagate, so you can use your cutting to create new specimens.
Polka Dot Plant
Latin name: Hypoestes phyllostachya
Size: 1-3 feet (30-90 cm)
As the name suggests, these plants have their leaves covered in irregular polka dots in pink, red, or silver shades. Besides the need to be pinched occasionally, as they can grow leggy and tall, they are pretty undemanding and are considered one of the top choices for beginners.
Latin name: Bryophyta
Size: 0.1-4 inches (0.2-10 cm)
There are plenty of types of moss, and some of the fancier ones may be a bit more difficult to handle, but regular moss and most moss species are extremely easy to care for. Besides aiding your terrarium's health and creating a self-sustaining environment inside a close terrarium, they offer a natural and unusual sight to your mini garden.
Latin name: Ficus pumila
Size: 10-15 feet (3-4.60 meters)
This climbing plant could thrive in any terrarium but adds a lot of personality to a tall one if it learns how to climb. It has small, heart-shaped, variegated leaves that will totally capture any gardener's heart. Moreover, this green beauty is straightforward to propagate, so expect a big plant family!
Latin name: Pothos spp.
Size: 6-10 feet (1.8-3 meters)
A well-known, low-maintenance, and quite hard-to-kill greenie that becomes near-indestructible when placed in the controlled environment of a closed terrarium. It can come in all sorts of colors and sizes and will handle almost all light conditions.
Popular Terrarium Ideas By Plant Type
By now, you might have noticed that the list is long and could go even longer. So, if you’re not too sure where to start or what to choose, we’ll let you know some of the most used plants in each category.
- Tillandsia stricta
- Tillandsia bulbosa
- Tillandsia ionantha
- Tillandsia xerographica
- Venus Fly Traps
- Sundew plants
- Pitcher plants
- Starfish plant
- African violet
- Miniature Orchid
- Hens and Chicks
- Lemon Button fern
- Variegated Spider fern
- Silver Ribbon Fern
- Golden Clubmoss
- Spiked moss
- Sphagnum moss
- Frosty Fern Spike moss
How to Choose the Best Plants for Terrarium?
In general, some of the most important features of terrarium plants are plant size, slow-growing habits, and easy-to-care nature. Besides this, it’s important to group plants according to their requirements, like light, water, and pruning. Then have fun, mix textures, colors, and growing habits to create interesting and contrasting visuals in your terrariums instead of too much of almost the same thing. If you struggle to make a choice, you can always consult a plant expert to help create a viable and cohesive terrarium.
How to Care for Terrarium Plants
Despite being generally mess-free and low maintenance, there is still occasional care to guarantee your plants are developing properly and in ideal conditions. You’ll need to keep in mind:
Kits to Use
If you go and buy terrarium plants, they will most likely already come with all the tools you need. They can be picked by theme, like tropical, succulent, or moss, and can be found in garden centers but also online. You can also go for different glass materials and accessories that will elevate your display or choose to buy seeds for terrarium plants and start everything from scratch.
Closed terrariums usually work best with low to medium light since this would mimic better a tropical environment, while open terrariums can withstand more light since humidity is not as important, so bright but indirect light is ideal.
Open terrariums generally need to be watered more often, about once a week, although it’s always better to check to avoid overwatering your arid-loving plants. On the other hand, closed ones, since they maintain a high humidity level and a closed, renovating ecosystem, can go two to three weeks between waterings, depending on the plants you choose.
Since your plants exist in such a confined space, pinching, trimming, and shaping are an essential part of the care. Overgrowth but also over-crowning one another can be problematic. Make sure also to remove dead leaves, plant debris, and algae growth that might form on the glass.
Depending on the different plants’ requirements, you may have to add fertilizer to help maintain healthy growth. This usually works best by diluting the fertilizer into the water and using that solution as you would for a regular watering session. Make sure to use low concentrations and follow your product’s specific instructions.
What Plants to Avoid in Your Terrarium?
This will depend on the type of terrarium. For open ones, don’t pick humidity-loving plants, as they will not thrive, while for closed terrariums, stay away from succulents and other plants that are not too fond of constant moisture.
Will Plants Grow in a Terrarium?
As long as they are offered the right conditions, yes. Terrariums are pretty much mini greenhouse gardens, so they can actually be beneficial to a plant’s growth. The right terrarium will help any plant inside glass thrive.
Do Plants Need Air in Terrariums?
It is necessary for the air to be renovated from time to time. With open terrariums, that happens naturally, but with closed terrariums, you’ll need to air them out from time to time. This will ensure you’re on top of fungal growth or other humidity-related issues like rotting.