The range of plants currently available can make choosing closed terrarium plants a confusing process. Narrowing down the options until you find something you both like and is suitable can be an overwhelming process.
Luckily for you, this guide is on hand to help. We are going to narrow down your options by identifying only the plants best suited to a closed terrarium. As well as being appropriate for the growing conditions, the suggestions on this list are also commonly available and easy to care for.
Moss is one of the most common choices for closed terrariums. However there are plenty of other options if you want to add interest to your space.
Which Plants are Best Suited to a Closed Terrarium?
Gardening is known to be a great way to improve your mental health. If you don’t have the space for a container garden a houseplant collection or a terrarium is a great solution. Making your own terrarium can be incredibly satisfying. While many plants are suitable for growing in open terrariums, a closed terrarium plant must be able to cope with a specific environment.
Ideal closed terrarium plants are suited to the micro-climate that sealed terrariums create. This environment is generally warm and moist. You should aim to select plants that thrive in these conditions. Additionally your closed terrarium plants should be largely self-sufficient.
If you want to create a completely low-maintenance closed terrarium select slow a growing plant or miniature variety. Larger, or quickly growing plants need to be kept in check with regular pruning.
If you fail to keep a plant’s growth habit under control it will quickly spread, smothering other plants and completely dominating the space. A compact pair of garden scissors is ideal for the job. Just remember to clean them after cutting every use. This prevents the transfer of pests and diseases between plants and terrariums.
Remember, when fully mature your plants should comfortably fit into the terrarium. Don’t try to fit lots or large plants into a small glass jar with a lid. Obviously if you have a large container, you can choose slightly larger varieties. The plants you choose should also share similar light and moisture requirements.
Many lists of terrarium plants will suggest including cacti or succulents. While these are ideal for open terrariums they are not good closed terrarium plants. This is because, while succulents like moisture, they also like the soil to dry out between waterings. In a closed terrarium the artificial micro-environment is constantly humid and moist. Succulents struggle in these conditions.
While succulents are best avoided, there are still plenty of options to choose from. Here are our suggestions for the best closed terrarium plants.
A common houseplant, African violets can rot when placed in highly humid conditions. Despite this they are also ideal closed terrarium plants. This is because African violets are ideally suited to the moist soil and heat that a closed terrarium provides.
Just make sure that, when planting, you center the plant so that it doesn’t touch the glass. This prevents water from running down the sides of the terrarium and settling on the fuzzy foliage. As long as you keep the foliage dry the humidity won’t affect the African violet.
African violets are a great choice for terrariums. Just make sure that they are kept away from the edge to prevent moisture from settling on their foliage.
Artillery fern is not actually a fern. Instead it is a member of the Pilea family. Artillery ferns are so called because they have a surprising habit of shooting their seeds with a popping sound, like mini artillery guns. Despite this explosive habit, artillery ferns are a delicate plant with an interesting texture. Well suited to warm, humid environments, these are an attractive closed terrarium plant.
Originating in the Mediterranean, baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) is a reliable ground cover option. A member of the Urticaceae family, baby’s tears thrive in warm, moist positions. Also known as mother of thousands, angel’s tears and Corsican creeper the delicate, yellow or green foliage helps to brighten sealed terrariums. Avoid placing baby’s tears in overly bright positions, they do best in medium or bright indirect light.
Be warned, baby’s tears is not only a fast growing plant it is also able to reproduce asexually. This means that you will need to regularly tend the plant to prevent it from taking over.
Baby’s tears thrive in moist, warm conditions. Their fast growth habit means that you will need to regularly prune the plant to prevent it from dominating a space.
Originating in the tropical areas of East Asia, creeping fig is a small plant that thrives in moist, warm conditions. It can be grown to provide dense ground cover or trained as a climbing vine.
The foliage of creeping fig may seem small and fragile but it is pleasingly robust. As well as a solid green color, some cultivars of creeping fig come in variegated colors. This makes creeping fig one of the best choices to add interest to a closed terrarium. It is often used as an alternative to English ivy.
Despite its dainty appearance this is a hardy plant that can be quick to establish itself and grow. The cultivars Curly and Dorty are both slower to grow than other varieties. This makes them ideal closed terrarium plants. For something more interesting the cultivar Bellus produces foliage with a white edge.
Large ferns are a great way to add interest to a patio or balcony. The several small varieties of ferns that are available are all ideal closed terrarium plants. This is because ferns adore warm, moist environments. Select slow growing varieties that won’t exceed more than 12 inches in height when fully mature. For larger varieties, regular pruning or pinching out helps to keep the ferns neat and their growth habit in check.
Lemon button fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia) is an ideal choice. The smallest available variety of Boston fern, the plant produces attractive arching stems and small, round leaflets. This helps to bring structure and drama to a closed terrarium. Lemon button ferns do best in medium or bright filtered light positions.
Miniature or slow growing ferns are ideal for confined spaces such as terrariums. They are also a great way to add structure to a planting scheme.
Another fern suitable for a closed terrarium is maidenhair fern or Adiantum. This genus is also suitable for living walls. Thriving in warm, moist conditions this variety do best in full shade or filtered sunlight positions. The plant produces a distinctive black stem that contrasts pleasingly with their bright green foliage.
Another good choice is the dainty Venus hair fern or southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris). This is a particularly slow growing variety. Both the Venus hair fern and the reliable delta maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum) are reliable closed terrarium plants.
Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a climbing plant. Along its vining stems masses or heart-shaped foliage emerge. Similar in appearance to a small philodendron, pothos commonly produce yellow variegated leaves. However cream and white marbled varieties are also available.
A popular houseplant that has a reputation for being almost impossible to kill, golden pothos thrives as a closed terrarium plant. If planted in a smaller container you will need to regularly prune or pinch out the plant to prevent it from completely taking over.
Golden pothos is a versatile plant, happy to grow in warm temperatures where humidity is moderate to high. It also thrives in medium or indirect light positions. This versatility means it is one of the easiest to care for closed terrarium plants.
Also known as Devil’s Ivy, Golden Pothos is a vining plant that thrives in warm, humid conditions. It is also an easy to care for plant.
Common or English ivy (Hedera helix) may not seem like the most obvious of closed terrarium plants. However, miniature versions are ideal for growing in a contained environment.
A low maintenance plant, ivy thrives in moist, warm conditions as long as it isn’t exposed to too much light. The plant’s fascinating foliage comes in a range of variegated colors and patterns. An ideal ground cover option ivy provides a nice complement to more exotic closed terrarium plants.
Be warned, ivy is considered invasive in some parts of the USA.
A vining plant, ivy is a great ground cover option. It is also a low maintenance plant making it ideal for sealed terrariums.
Miniature Phalaenopsis Orchids
If you want a flower that will last for months, the phalaenopsis orchid is a great choice.
Happiest in humid, low light positions, this is an ideal closed terrarium plant. Miniature varieties will easily fit into a small terrarium. Like other orchid varieties, they are also pleasingly easy to care for. Just make sure that you don’t overwater. Coming in a range of colors there is plenty to choose from if you want to add a bit of color to your terrarium.
Miniature orchids are a great long lasting flower option. Their delicate flowers can also add exotic interest and color to your collection.
Moss, or Bryophytes, are popular closed terrarium plants.
Moss is a non-vascular plant. This means that unlike other plants, they haven’t developed specialized tissue to harvest water and nutrients. They also don’t grow roots. Instead moss absorbs water through its foliage.
If you decide to place moss in your terrarium remember that moss requires almost constant contact with moisture in order to thrive. This makes them a reliable choice for providing ground cover.
The unique characteristics of moss means that they are usually low growing and prefer almost full shade positions. This means that they don’t take up too much vertical space and often thrive when overshadowed by the foliage of other plants. This makes them one of the most popular closed terrarium plants.
Sphagnum moss is a reliable sealed terrarium plant choice, as is spoon moss, hair cap moss, sheet moss and cushion moss. If you are particularly taken with the variety of moss on offer you can even fill a terrarium entirely with different types of moss. Just make sure it is in a dark position.
The colorful little nerve plant grows wild on the floors of tropical rainforests in Colombia and Peru. Thriving in warm temperatures, humid spaces and full shade positions both dwarf and compact varieties are ideal closed terrarium plants.
The colorful nerve plant is a great way to brighten up sealed terrariums. The attractive foliage of the plant brings both color and interest to a space.
Formally known as Fittonia, this plant is sometimes called painted net leaf or mosaic plant. Both names refer to the rich green foliage of the plant which is decorated with rich red or pink veins. Some species reverse the colors producing foliage in shades of red with deep green veining. Other cultivars, such as silver threads, produce green foliage with silver veining.
One of the most reliable closed terrarium plants, peperomia is a compact plant. The majority of varieties won’t exceed 12 inches in height.. This makes them ideal for a confined space.
Peperomias originate in the tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America. Here they can be commonly seen growing epiphytically on rotting wood.
Peperomias come in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. This makes them the ideal choice to add interest to your closed terrarium. Like other species that naturally thrive on the floor of the rainforest, peperomia tolerates a variety of lighting conditions, from bright indirect light to full shade.
One of the most common types of peperomia is the emerald ripple peperomia (Peperomia Caperata). This plant produces emerald green heart shaped foliage with deep and attractive ripples . An ideal choice to bring both color and texture to a sealed terrarium it rarely exceeds 6 inches in height.
The fascinating foliage of the peperomia thrives in humid conditions. It is also pleasingly easy to care.
Another reliable sealed terrarium plant is Peperomia obtusifolia, the oval leaf peperomia. A slightly larger variety than the emerald ripple peperomia, this variety produces attractive oval-shaped foliage. Also known as the baby rubber plant, the foliage of this variety can feel thick or leathery like a rubber plant. Exposing the plant to lots of bright indirect light enhances the foliage’s rich green color.
Watermelon peperomia, Peperomia argyreia, also produces oval-shaped leaves. However, as the name suggests, the plant’s foliage is patterned with silver, watermelon like stripes and bright red stems. Fully mature watermelon peperomia reaches 8 inches in height.
A member of the Urticaceae (nettle) family, this is a tropical plant. Many species of Pileas are commonly cultivated as houseplants.
A comparatively small plant with a desire for humidity, pileas can be difficult to care for. However this need for humidity also makes them ideal closed terrarium plants. The elegant foliage of the plant can look really effective when set against other closed terrarium plants. Pileas thrive in a range of lighting conditions, just make sure the environment is humid. .
One of the most interesting varieties is Pilea cadierei, more commonly known as the aluminium plant. This variety originates in the jungles of Vietnam and produces deep green, toothed foliage which is decorated with raised metallic silver patches.
Dark Mystery pilea is an attractive species that produces elongated, chocolate-brown colored leaves. The foliage is marked with contrasting silver stripes that run along the veins of the leaf. Pileas low, mounding growth habit makes it a great choice for a sealed terrarium.
A smaller variety is the dwarf cultivar, Minima. An ideal choice for a smaller closed terrarium, the plant’s compact growth habit means that it rarely exceeds 6 inches in height.
Pilea involucrata or Moon valley pilea is so called because the texture of the foliage is thought to resemble the surface of the moon. An attractive variety, the foliage of the plant is covered in soft hairs, adding to its intrigue.
Finally friendship plant, Pilea involucrata, is another reliable choice for those seeking closed terrarium plants. A bushy plant with an attractive trailing habit, its green and deep bronze leaves are an attractive way to fill a space.
Polka Dot Plant
If you want to add color to your closed terrarium try including a polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya).
An attractive plant that produces green foliage with pink, red, purple or white spots. Thriving in warm and moist conditions, this plant prefers medium or bright indirect light. If it doesn’t get enough light the polka dot plant may become leggy. Their foliage will also lack the distinctive dappled patternation.
Similar to golden pothos, the polka dot plant has a vigorous growth habit. This means that you will need to regularly pinch out new growth. As well as controlling the spread of the plant this encourages it to become bushier and more compact.
Producing long, thin striped spider-like foliage this is a popular houseplant. However they are also versatile, happily growing in a range of conditions including closed terrariums.
Preferring bright indirect light, spider plants also grow in low light positions, just make sure that the soil doesn’t completely dry out. Easy to care for, as long as it is humid, this is another plant that produces plantlets on the ends of their stems. This allows them to propagate easily. Regular pruning helps to keep the plant’s growth habit in check. A small, clean pair of garden scissors is ideal. Harvested plantlets can be potted on to provide you with more spider plants if you so desire.
Spider plants thrive in low light positions. They also easily propagate so need to be regularly pruned. However small or miniature versions are ideal for sealed terrariums.
The variegatum cultivar produces green foliage with white bands. A smaller version of the classic spider plant. This makes it an ideal plant for smaller terrariums.
Despite the name spike moss (Selaginella) is not actually a moss. However it does share many of mosses characteristics. In particular its love of moisture. This makes spike moss one of the most reliable closed terrarium plants for providing ground cover.
Coming in a range of colors, textures and patterns these are pleasingly durable despite their small stature. Similar in appearance to ferns, spike moss can carpet the bottom of your terrarium with its feathery foliage. Doing best in full or partial shade, like ferns, spike moss commonly grows on the damp rainforest floors.
An attractive, moss like plant, spike moss is one of the best options for providing ground cover.
Despite what the name suggests this plant is neither a begonia or a strawberry plant. Its name is due to the rounded begonia-like foliage and strawberry plant-like runners that the plant produces.
The attractive foliage of the plant is further enhanced by its burgundy undersides. Allowing the runners to contact the soil encourages the plant to spread, acting as ground cover. Alternatively you can pinch out the growth, encouraging a bushier growth habit. Fully grown the plant can reach 8 inches in height and, if not contained a spread of over 12 inches. The variety tricolor produces foliage with a cream colored edge.
This plant is ideal for closed terrariums but the majority, with a little care, also grow in more open situations or as houseplants.
With such a range of plants and varieties on offer choosing your a plant for your terrarium can be difficult. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Combining different combinations and varieties helps to add color, structure and interest to your closed terrarium.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.