15 Great Plants for the Terrarium in Your Home or Office

Terrariums are a soothing and often low-maintenance way to bring a bit of nature into your space. Dzina Belskaya/Shutterstock

If you're leading a busy and stressful life, there's something you can place in your home or even set on a desk in your office or cubicle that will remind you to take a breath to appreciate the earth's natural beauty: a terrarium.

When creating a beautiful garden in a glass, you'll have to address two questions upfront: What kind of terrarium do you want, and what are the best plants to put in it?

First things first, if you're not sure how to set up a terrarium, here are five easy steps to start that project. With those steps in mind, there are three primary types of terrariums that are easiest for homeowners to set up They are desert, tropical and woodland terrariums, advised Tassy de Give, owner of Home Sprout in Brooklyn, a modern home and garden center and think tank for bringing plant life and good design into homes and work spaces.

"There are other types, such as orchid terrariums, aquatic terrariums and carnivorous terrariums," she said. "But, those aren't as common because they require more maintenance and very specific conditions, such as the amount light the plants in them will receive. Desert, tropical, and woodland terrariums are easier to maintain, and you can combine lots of different plants in one container, which can be fun!"

That leads to the second consideration: What type of plants to select for the terrarium of your choice? "When choosing plants for a terrarium, think about height, texture and color," said de Give. "Using different heights can create nice levels that mimic the shapes of a natural habitat and also give good hiding places for little objects such as figurines or crystals. On the other hand you can use just one plant type and keep the terrarium very simple, kind of like a zen garden!”

To help you get started, here are de Give's suggestions for 15 great plants for desert, tropical and woodland terrariums.


Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

What to put in desert terrariums

Close up of a Echeveria secunda
Varieties from the Echeveria genus can be real attention-grabbers in your terrarium. Forest and Kim Starr/flickr

Plants in these terrariums take full sun and should become totally dry between waterings.

1. Haworthia (zebra aloe) - A very sculptural and slow-growing plant, it's also tolerant of lower light than most other succulents.

2. Jade plant - Easy to grow from small cuttings or leaves.

3. Echeveria - Most varieties grow in a very eye-catching circular pattern, which can make a good focal point for a terrarium.

4. Kalanchoe - Varieties come in lots of shapes and sizes, most of which produce flowers at least once a year.

5. Lithops - These are the easiest succulents to maintain. They're very drought-tolerant, slow-growing and they stay low to the soil, ideal for those people who don't like to prune their plants.

What to put in tropical terrariums

Peperomia glabella
Plants from the Peperomia genus, like the Peperomia glabella pictured, bring a selection of leaf colors and textures to a terrarium. Jerzy Opioła/Wikimedia Commons

Plants in these terrariums take medium light and can become slightly dry between waterings.

6. Philodendron - There are lots of varieties regarding leaf shape and color, and all varieties give an instant tropical feel.

7. Pothos - A good substitution for ivy.

8. Peperomia - There are tons of varieties for leaf color and a really amazing array of choices for textures.

9. Neanthe bella palm - This is one of the few palms that is available in a terrarium-sized plant.

10. Ficus elastica - The thick, shiny, purple leaves can add a nice contrast to the jungle green of the other tropical options.

What to put in woodland terrariums

Fittonia verschaffeltii var. paercei
Fittonia plants not only offer a burst of color, but they can purify the air. AfroBrazilian/Wikimedia Commons

Plant choices in these terrariums can take medium/low light, high humidity and lightly moist soil.

11. Ferns - They are appreciated for their soft feathery leaves.

12. Selaginella - Selaginellas offer interesting variations in textures and color.

13. Moss - This is the ultimate in woodland aesthetic. Humidity is an absolute must with moss.

14. Fittonia – Better known as nerve plants, these leafy plants are available in pink, red or white with green veins. They will wilt when they need more water.

15. Asparagus plumosa - This is not a true "fern." It is good in full to part sun. It has finely textured leaves that rival the beauty of a maidenhair fern, but the lace fern is much easier to maintain.

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