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Tropical and Terrarium Plant Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

tropical and terrarium plants

Overview 

Tropical and desert terrarium plants are not only beneficial to terrestrial environments, but they also bring a more natural appearance to your reptile’s habitat. Tropical and desert terrarium plants produce oxygen, provide hiding places and create a more natural looking environment. Additionally, tropical plants help increase and maintain humidity levels through transpiration which can aid in a healthy shed for your reptile. Always research the species of plant before adding it to your terrarium to ensure it is safe (nontoxic) as herbivores and omnivores may occasionally try to eat them.

Popular tropical plants include: 

  • Aglaonema 
  • Brazilian sword
  • Dracaena
  • Neanthe bella palm
  • Pothos

Desert plants include:

  • Crassula
  • Haworthia 

Typical appearance and behavior 

Tropical plants 

These plants need high humidity and frequent watering.

  • Aglaonema, or Chinese evergreen, is a hardy, low-maintenance plant that prefers low light and low humidity. Water regularly and keep the substrate continually moist
  • Brazilian swords are well-suited for an amphibian terrarium due to their broad leaves and tolerance to high humidity
  • Dracaena sanderiana, the "lucky bamboo," is not actually related to bamboo. It does best in medium to high lighting and has a medium growth rate. While it can be underwater for short periods of time, it should never be submerged for more than a month at a time. This easy-to-care-for plant is a great choice for topping betta habitats
  • The neanthe bella palm, or parlor palm, is a graceful palm that requires medium lighting, is hardy and grows fast. Wherever you decide to plant it, make sure you don’t place it in afternoon sun, and do not let the plant sit in water
  • Pothos is a beautiful vining plant with green or variegated heart-shaped leaves that thrive in low light, as long as the plant is watered thoroughly when the top of the substrate dries out

Desert plants

These plants require less water and low humidity.

  • Crassula, the jade plant, is another popular choice. Its fleshy leaves and trunk-like stems give it a natural, bonsai-like appearance. The jade plant is happy with bright light and low humidity. Water liberally but allow the substrate to dry out before watering again
  • Haworthia, the zebra plant, is easy to grow and prefers moderate light. Allow the substrate to approach dryness before watering

Habitat 

Building your habitat

  • Before adding plants: Assess what plants will work best with your pet. Reptiles who are extremely active or like to dig may end up disrupting your plants, trampling them, knocking them over or digging them up. Additionally, reptiles with extremely high temperature requirements may not be ideal candidates for live plants
  • Where to find plants: It is best to purchase your terrarium plants from a pet retailer to make sure they have not been exposed to herbicides or pesticides
  • Substrate: For tropical terrariums, look for a substrate like coconut fiber that will both retain moisture and allow for adequate drainage. Substrate should be 2 inches to provide a strong base for the plants, divided by a barrier with a drainage layer below the substrate. For desert terrariums, a sand or sand/pebble mixture at least 3 inches deep is recommended
  • Lighting: Using a bulb specifically made for plant growth—in addition to your UVB and/or heat lamp—will help your plants thrive. Without access to all the wavelengths a plant bulb provides, your live plants may struggle to grow, their leaves may turn brown and they may die
  • Adding plants: Tropical plants’ roots can be buried in the substrate, which allows the roots to spread and grow. Desert plants are typically best kept in their pots with the pots buried in the substrate. This allows the plants to be watered without saturating the substrate. The number of plants will depend on the size of your habitat and the look you are trying to achieve

Ongoing maintenance and care

Water plants, prune deceased leaves and remove any deceased plants from the habitat weekly.

Supplies 

FAQs

  • How do you plant a terrarium? Identify the appropriate plant species for your habitat, add a deep substrate (based on tropical or desert environment) and add plants by burying tropical plant roots or desert plant pots in the substrate. Add a plant light for optimal growth, and water and prune regularly to help your plants thrive.
  • Where can you buy terrarium plants? Tropical and terrarium plants are available at your local Petco Pet Care Center.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.