The 12 Best Plants for Closed Terrariums (Plus the Worst!)

In the 1850s an English botanist accidentally grew fern inside a jar and created the first plant terrarium. Since then, terrariums have been widely popular amongst plant enthusiasts (myself included). There are thousands of plants that you can grow inside them. However, figuring out which species are the best can be tricky, so let me help narrow it down for you!

The 12 best plants to grow inside closed terrariums are:

  1. Anubias
  2. Artillery plants
  3. Baby’s tears
  4. Christmas moss
  5. Earth stars
  6. English ivy
  7. Nerve plants
  8. Parlor palms
  9. Prayer plants
  10. Rainbow moss
  11. String of turtles
  12. Syngonium pixie

If done carefully, closed terrariums can become self-sufficient and be left sealed for months or years at a time without any care. To achieve this, however, it’s important to grow the right type of plants. Save time by checking out this compilation of plants that grow well inside closed terrariums!

1. Anubias (Anubias)

Anubias grow very well in closed terrariums. They can still be grown in soil if needed. However, as aquatic plants they tolerate damp and even wet habitats much better.

Average Size: 2–24 inches (5–60 cm)

Growth Rate: Slow

Water Requirements: Moderate. Keep the soil moist and avoid dry soil.

These plants are excellent for both new and well-established terrariums. Anubias has ovate, dark green leaves that look similar to monstera.

However, unlike monstera, they have a more manageable height and take time to grow.

Anubias Leaves
Earthly delights (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Anubias Barteri Leaves

They can grow in soil as well as water and are even sometimes used for fish tanks and ponds, which goes to show how versatile these plants are.

Pro Tip: Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’ rarely grows taller than 2 inches (5 cm) and works well for miniature terrariums.

2. Artillery Plants (Pilea micropyhlla)

Artillery plants have fern-like leaves that do well inside closed terrariums. Due to their fast growth, they can easily take over a small space and must be grown with caution.

Average Size: 8–12 inches (20–30 cm)

Growth Rate: Fast

Water Requirements: Low. Water when the top inch of soil is dry.

Thanks to their light green miniature leaves, artillery plants are known to have a very soft and wispy appearance.

Although they are not related to ferns, they look similar and make a great fern alternative.

Artillery Plant Leaves
Alissa tui (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Pilea Microphylla Leaves

While they may look delicate, artillery plants can be extremely rampant. Be mindful of how many Pilea micropyhlla plants you keep. I have found these plants growing out from the cracks of concrete, so they’re ridiculously resilient.

Artillery plants are considered invasive in over 20 different areas, including Australia, Japan, and Hawaii.

If left unwatched, they can take over your entire terrarium. Keep an eye on them!

3. Babys Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)

Babys tears thrive with high humidity and tend to grow prolifically, making them easy to maintain. This plant stays short and grows well inside closed terrariums.

Average Size: 2–6 inches (5–15 cm)

Growth Rate: Fast

Water Requirements: Moderate. Prefers moist soil.

This plant may look similar to the artillery plants mentioned earlier. But if you look closely, you can see that they have much rounder foliage that grows in clusters.

Babys tears, or mind-your-own-business plants, have tiny dainty leaves less than a centimeter wide that stand out in smaller terraria.

Babys Tears Leaves
Abanks (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Soleirolia Soleirolii Leaves

In terms of care, they can be grown in dappled shade or bright light and can handle various substrates. Humidity is what’s really important in maintaining these plants.

Given the right care, they can grow rapidly, so be prepared to prune them often.

Check out the 20 Fastest Growing Indoor Plants For Your Collection! (With Photos) 

4. Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montagnei)

The Christmas moss is commonly cultivated for its slow but reliable growth. This moss can be seen in many closed terrariums and is not known to have many issues.

Average Size: 1–3cm (0.3–1 inch)

Growth Rate: Slow

Water Requirements: High. Requires constant moisture.

Christmas moss, also sometimes known as weeping moss, is an excellent choice if you’re looking for something with horizontal growth.

When you look at it closely, the foliage looks similar to a bright green fir tree or a Christmas tree, which is adorable.

Another great thing about this plant is that this moss is commonly used in terrariums and fish tanks. As a result, they’re available in many plant nurseries and aquarium shops.

Use it in small jar-based terrariums or larger builds to give your project a vibrant touch of green!

5. Earth Stars (Cryptanthus bivittatus)

Due to their versatility, earth star bromeliads are ideal plants for closed terrariums. Because they don’t have roots, they can also tolerate drier settings.

Average Size: 4 inches (10 cm)

Growth Rate: Slow

Water Requirements: Moderate. Keep the plant’s water reservoir full.

Like air plants, bromeliads do not need soil to thrive and can be placed in different places inside a terrarium.

As you can guess, this makes them highly adaptable to various conditions. They also come in all sorts of designs and are a great way to add color and texture!

Earth Star Bromeliads Leaves
Artur Cegielski (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Cryptanthus Bivitattus Leaves

Since these unique plants don’t have roots and absorb water through their cup or reservoir in the center, you can care for them by ensuring their reservoir is filled at least a quarter of the way with purified water.

6. English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English ivy plants are attractive plants that grow vigorously inside closed terrariums. For optimum growth, place it under grow lights or filtered sun.

Average Size: 4–6 inches (10–15 cm)

Growth Rate: Fast

Water Requirements: Low. Water when the top inch of soil is dry.

Next up is this gorgeous yet extremely forgiving plant.

If its unique star-shaped leaves weren’t attractive enough, the variegated leaves have soft white edges that give it even more dimension.

This plant will rapidly spread if you let it and is notorious for climbing. Keep it under bright sunlight or grow lights and enjoy your terrarium ivy!

7. Nerve Plants (Fittonia albivenis)

Nerve plants are beautiful plants with unique patterns. They’re frequently grown in closed terrariums and can tolerate low light.

Average Size: 3–6 inches (7–15 cm)

Growth Rate: Average

Water Requirements: Low. Water when the top inch of soil is dry.

These classic terrarium plants have striking veins that closely resemble human nerve systems—hence their nickname. They’re colorful plants that come in pink, red, or white.

Nerve plant stems also have a slight fuzz, giving them even more interest.

Nerve Plant Leaves
Georgie Lee (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Fittonia Albivenis Leaves

Since nerve plants frequently grow on forest floors, they don’t need a lot of light and will feel right at home inside a terrarium.

I Made A Simple Colourful Terrarium!
YouTube Video – Simple Colorful Terrarium

8. Parlor Palms (Chameadorea elegans)

Parlor palms have extremely slow-growing habits and require high humidity to flourish. It is an excellent terrarium plant that is low-maintenance and easy to find.

Average Size: 4–12 inches (10–30 cm)

Growth Rate: Slow

Water Requirements: Moderate. Prefers moist soil.

Parlor palms have deep green fronds that fan out and look similar to palm trees. These are some of my favorite plants, and they grow well in small, enclosed spaces.

You can place small cuttings of parlor palms with at least 2 inches (5 cm) of roots inside the terrarium for a prominent tropical accent.

Parlor Palm Leaves
Sun Xiaoyi (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Chamaedorea Elegans Leaves

Overall, this is a great terrarium plant that thrives in humidity and grows slowly. It’s easy to find in plant stores and even easier to care for!

9. Prayer Plants (Maranta leuconeura)

Prayer plants need high humidity to flourish and grow best in closed terrariums. For optimum growth, use purified or distilled water when watering these plants.

Average Size: 6–12 inches (15–30 cm)

Growth Rate: Average

Water Requirements: Moderate. Prefers moist soil.

Many plant parents, including myself, have learned the hard way that prayer plants can be troublesome to keep alive in the average household.

Luckily, Marantaceae and terrariums are a match made in heaven. Controlled environments such as closed terraria make it easier to maintain their colorful patterned leaves.

Prayer Plant Leaves
Melissa Garcia (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Maranta Leuconeura Leaves

Simply use purified water when caring for them and keep them in a humid terrarium to enjoy their foliage!

For more, learn How to Care for Lemon Lime Maranta (Your Final Guide). 

10. Rainbow Moss (Selaginella uncinata)

Closed terrariums are the perfect environment for rainbow moss to grow successfully. Keep the moss moist at all times for healthy growth.

Average Size: 3–6 inches (7–15 cm)

Growth Rate: Average

Water Requirements: Moderate. Prefers moist soil.

The delicate leaves of Selaginella uncinata already look gorgeous in their typical green state.

However, if you place this plant in low-light conditions, you may be able to trigger the foliage to form a blue metallic sheen!

Rainbow Moss Leaves
Mary Kingfishers (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Selaginella Uncinata Leaves

Rainbow moss, also known as peacock moss, grows best in high humidity, so it’ll grow wonderfully inside a terrarium. Just avoid letting it dry out, otherwise, the moss will quickly wilt and die away.

11. String of Turtles (Peperomia prostrata)

The string of turtles plant is a small and slow-growing plant that does well in closed terrariums. It only requires high humidity levels and can be grown with ease.

Average Size: 3–6 inches (7–15 cm)

Growth Rate: Slow

Water Requirements: Low. Prefers dry soil.

This charming plant has tiny circular leaves that look very similar to the backs of turtles.

It tends to stay small and grows spectacularly in terrariums that replicate its natural humid climates. It can also adapt to various temperatures, making it even easier to grow.

Peperomia Hope Leaves
Titilili (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Peperomia Prostrata Leaves

You can use either a small cutting or a larger one inside your terrarium without worry. The string of turtles plant is slow to grow, so you should have zero issues maintaining it.

12. Syngonium Pixie (Syngonium podophyllum)

The syngonium pixie plant is a dwarf species that can be grown inside a closed terrarium. It is a bright and easy-going plant that does not require much care.

Average Size: 6–8 inches (15-20 cm)

Growth Rate: Average

Water Requirements: Moderate. Prefers moist soil.

Last but not least, the syngonium pixie. If you haven’t heard of this plant, it is an adorable dwarf cultivar that will stay small all its life.

One of the reasons why I’m so fond of syngonium pixie plants is because of their soft green leaves. These plants are easy to care for and quickly grow new leaves inside a terrarium.

Overall, this is a lovely plant that can live in moist and humid settings or even slighter drier ones. For optimum growth, however, plant them in damp soil.

The 2 Worst Plants for Closed Terrariums

There are 2 plants that cannot live in closed terrariums: 1) cacti and 2) succulents.

Greenhouses are excellent at creating an impeccable growing space but they take money, time, and space. Terrariums are a great alternative for this and grants people the ability to grow plants in a perfect controlled environment with little expense.

However, this doesn’t mean that all plants will thrive inside a closed terrarium. In fact, a closed terrarium can be fatal for many plant species, as you’ll discover in a bit.

1. Cacti

Cacti cannot grow inside closed terrariums. These drought-tolerant plants cannot survive in high humidity and moisture and will quickly become soggy and die.

Unlike open terraria that are kept well aerated, closed terraria retain a higher amount of moisture and humidity inside the container daily.

If done correctly, a closed terrarium can hold up to 90–100% humidity.

The desert is an unforgiving place for many plants. However, this does not mean that cacti would do better in an environment with more water.

Excess moisture in the terrarium soil and the air will quickly suffocate these plants and cause them to become soft and soggy.

Additionally, cacti need to be grown in full sunlight. Most closed terrariums cannot handle the harshness of direct sunlight. This makes them further inappropriate for growing cacti.

2. Succulents

Succulents need dry soil and adequate airflow to survive. If they’re placed inside a closed terrarium, they will rapidly die from overwatering and lack of aeration.

Many succulents can be finicky and difficult to care for at times. Grown in a closed terrarium, however, they have little to no chance of surviving!

For the most part, succulents cannot stand having their roots saturated longer than necessary. Like cacti, these plants have evolved to survive in arid climates.

Learn the 4 Differences Between Cacti vs Succulents! 

Inside a closed terrarium, there is very little airflow available to help the soil and root systems dry out. If you plan to keep the terrarium permanently sealed, then there’s no hope at all.

The Worst Plants For Closed Terrariums
The Worst Plants For Closed Terrariums

As fascinating as these plants are, it’s best to avoid using them inside closed terrariums. Instead, use plants that grow best in damp and small environments, and you’ll have a terrarium teeming with life!


What makes a plant suitable for closed terrariums?

The plants that would best survive in a closed terrarium are those that tolerate growing in damp environments and consistently high humidity. It is also ideal to use a small or slow-growing plant, as they are easier to maintain in a confined space.

How long do plants last in closed terrariums?

If the plants are well suited to the terrarium and receive adequate care, they can last for years. But if the plants are not given proper care or generally do not grow well inside terrariums, they will eventually wilt and die.

Summary of Best and Worst Plants for Closed Terrariums

The best plants to grow inside closed terrariums are anubias, artillery plants, baby’s tears, Christmas moss, earth stars, English ivy, nerve plants, parlor palms, prayer plants, rainbow moss, string of turtles, and syngonium pixie.

On the other hand, the worst plants to grow are cacti and succulents. These drought-tolerant plants cannot stand the excess moisture retained in closed terrariums and need consistently dry soil to grow.


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