The Top 7 Best Small Plants for Your Terrarium

Written by Sam Hindman
Published: August 12, 2023
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There are places in everyone’s life that can use a bit more nature. Whether that’s your office space, bedroom, or bathroom, these spaces would surely benefit from some greenery. Unfortunately, these places are often tight and cramped, making moving in a hefty plant difficult. But nature, in all of its versatility, offers solutions for even the most compact spaces. This is where terrariums come in!

These tiny indoor gardens contain entire ecosystems within their plastic containers. There’s no need to lug in a large plant when you can plop the next best thing right on your windowsill! With the help of some of the best small plants for a terrarium, you’ll find that you can bring plant life anywhere. A terrarium, even a small one, is an excellent addition to any space. Once you begin to grow these small plants, you won’t be able to stop!

The Basics of Terrarium Care

water drop splash in a glass blue colored

The amount and frequency you water your terrarium can vary depending on whether it’s open or closed.

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If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re probably just beginning to build your own terrarium. Before we recommend the best small plants for a terrarium, it’s imperative that we establish the ground rules of terrarium care. This might be new knowledge, but it could also be a quick refresher!

Every terrarium, much like a natural ecosystem, needs light to flourish. Terrariums prefer indirect sunlight over direct, which ensures that the plants don’t get burnt or otherwise overheated. Regarding watering, the rules can vary based on whether your terrarium is open or closed. Closed terrariums can self-sustain for longer, recycling their moisture. Open terrariums, on the other hand, need much more frequent watering. However, pay attention to your plants and their unique needs and adjust accordingly.

The good news is once you’ve mastered terrarium care, the fun can begin! Speaking of fun, it’s time to reveal some of the best small plants for a terrarium. Don’t be afraid to diverge from this list, however. The best part of your terrarium is that it is uniquely you, with your own personal touches and preferences.

The Best Small Plants For A Terrarium

1. Polka Dot Plant

Hypoestes phyllostachya, the polka dot plant, is a species of flowering plant in the family Acanthaceae, native to South Africa, Madagascar, and south east Asia, on white background

The Polka Dot Plant is known for its white, red, and pink spots.

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The Polka Dot Plant, which has the scientific name of Hypoestes phyllostachya, is a plant that originates in Madagascar. It has beautiful spotted leaves that can be red, pink, or white, which makes it a great way to add a bit of color to an otherwise monotonous-looking terrarium. While they bring aesthetic value, they’re not just there to look good but also very fond of the high humidity conditions inside terrariums. However, it’s important to remember to monitor their growth, as they can occasionally get leggy if they’re reaching for the light.

2. Pilea Glauca

Pilea Glauca, plant, home, decor. Home plant Pilea Glauca on a dark background. Beautiful plant for home and balcony. Scandinavian design and concept.

The Pilea Glauca’s leaves measure less than 1/4 of an inch.

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If you’re on the hunt for a tiny plant that adds quite a bit of beauty, then the Pilea Glauca is one of the best small plants for a terrarium. This plant is known for having quick growth and will create a beautiful shape within your terrarium’s container in no time. It’s also great for those who sometimes forget to water their green friends because this plant species is fairly drought-resistant. It is a staple among smaller terrariums due to its beautiful vines of silvery leaves, which measure less than 1/4 of an inch. It is a member of the succulent family and makes the perfect addition to any small space.

3. Moss

Beautiful Bright Green moss grown up cover the rough stones and on the floor in the forest. Show with macro view. Rocks full of the moss texture in nature for wallpaper.

Many kinds of moss are ideal for a small terrarium, but Java Moss and Sheet Moss are two great choices.

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If there’s one thing that any terrarium can never go wrong with, it’s moss! These plants are known to love a humid environment, which makes them quite apt for terrarium living. They also provide the bonus of balancing moisture levels within their space. This plant does not discriminate; any variety of moss can be the perfect fit for your terrarium. But, if we’re being specific, mosses like Java Moss and Sheet Moss are excellent choices. Their low-growing nature and preference for filtered light make them a pretty maintenance-free base in many terrarium designs.

4. Baby Tears

Baby Tears' cute small leaves (Pilea depressa)

The plant was called baby tears due to its small, round leaves.

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The cute, small leaves of the baby tears plant make it one of the best small plants for a terrarium. Though this little guy can often be mistaken as a moss, it’s actually a member of the nettle family. In any case, it is a great plant to consider covering the floor of your terrarium with. That’s because, while they appear delicate, the leaves of a baby tears plant are actually very dense. Why is this plant referred to as baby tears? Well, because of the small and rounded shape of the plant’s leaves. Its technical, much less interesting name is Soleirolia soleirolii. Once you see how masterfully this plant fills up your terrarium’s otherwise empty spaces, you’ll see why it’s such a staple!

5. Peacock Fern

Selaginella willdenowii or Willdenow's spikemoss or Peacock fern in Thailand.

The peacock fern features iridescent leaves similar to peacock feathers.

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Little compares to the gorgeously iridescent beauty of the Peacock Fern. This plant’s other aliases are Selaginella willdenowii and Willdenow’s spikemoss, but it got its nickname from the beautiful patterns and colors displayed on the plant’s foliage. Under the right lighting, the fern showcases shimmering hues, which in turn can add extra depth and enchantment to any terrarium setup. Its adaptive nature, combined with its striking appearance, makes it stand out as a plant that is both beautiful and resilient. These eye-catching patterns almost resemble the feathers of a peacock. Since the plant is also low-maintenance, it is one of the best small plants for a terrarium by a long shot. It’s also a conversation piece, as it is a bit less common than other plants on this list.

6. Fittonia

Plant in the family Acanthaceae.

The Fittonia is nicknamed the nerve plant due to the vein-like pattern that is visible on the plant’s leaves.

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Fittonias, or nerve plants, are an excellent choice for a small terrarium for several reasons. Most prominently is the fact that this plant thrives in moist and shady conditions, which is applicable to most terrariums. Native to the tropical rainforest of South America, this plant brings with it a very exotic appearance. The leaves on the Fittonia possess beautiful vein patterns. This design, which is naturally etched into each leaf, gives the plant its “nerve” moniker. These patterns are often colorful to make them all the more interesting. Adding one of these plants is an excellent way to add a variety of cream, white, or even pink to an otherwise very green space.

7. Tillandsia

Tillandsia air plant

Air plants like Tillandsias don’t have roots, which makes them easy to add to a terrarium without any caution or discretion needed.

©iStock.com/Liudmila Chernetska

Last but certainly not least are Tillandsias. These are iconic additions to small terrariums and have simple care instructions due to their status as air plants. The Tillandsia is native to the forests, mountains, and deserts of Central and South America. Since air plants lack roots, they are also able to fit right into any terrarium without soil. They are incredibly versatile and quite easy to care for. They are also a plant that enjoys humidity quite a bit, especially because of their location of origin, and would thus thrive in the environment of a closed terrarium. Another aspect of these tiny plants is their shape, which consists of several spiky ridges.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jerzy OpioĊ‚a / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License / Original


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About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

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