succulents in a terrarium
(Image credit: dinachi / Getty Images)

One of my favorite hobbies is creating terrariums. These little worlds inside glass are just magical. Some of the smallest plants I've ever grown have been those that just fit inside a terrarium. 

Terrarium Type Plants

Terrarium plants don't strictly have to be small or miniature versions. Theoretically, you could have a large terrarium with normal sized plants. You can also grow larger species and varieties that grow smaller when contained in glass. 

Of course, smaller plants generally work better, but other factors are even more important. The environment inside a terrarium is humid and receives only low or indirect light. The most essential factor in choosing plants is to find species that thrive in these conditions. Tropical species are often good choices. 

Tiny Plants Perfect for a Terrarium

I've tried a lot of different plants over the years in both open and closed terrariums. My largest terrarium is only about 18 by 12 inches (46 x 31 cm.) and less than 2 feet (61 cm.) tall. Small plants are best, and these are some of my favorites: 

  • Moss. Mosses are non-flowering plants that grow low and in dense clumps. In a terrarium, moss creates a beautiful green carpet. Since they generally grow in moist shade, they do very well in terrariums. I harvest moss right from the shady corners of my backyard. 
  • Peperomia. This is a large genus of tropical plants and some of them are quite small. Peperomia do very well in terrariums and offer a range of leaf colors, patterns, and textures. One of my favorites that I have grown in a terrarium is rubella. It's even smaller than other varieties and has striking red stems and leaves that are green on top and red underneath. 
  • Pitcher plant. I bought a pitcher plant for my very first terrarium. Unfortunately, it didn't survive as long as I would have liked. This little, 3 inch (8 cm.) plant is carnivorous. It is pitcher-shaped and designed to attract and trap flies. There are many species of pitcher plants that grow all over the world, but none are very large. 
  • Polka dot plant. This is possibly my favorite terrarium plant so far. It's a cheerful little plant with green leaves speckled in pink or white. Polka dot plant stays low and compact in a terrarium and tolerates the conditions very well. 
  • Air plants. Many species of air plants"”plants whose roots don't need soil"”are diminutive. They grow well in terrariums because they like the humidity on their exposed roots. I don't know what species I have grown in the past, but they are generally small and spiky, almost like green spiders. Look for species in the Tillandsia genus. 
  • Baby's tears. This is a classic terrarium choice. Baby's tears grow like a groundcover, low and dense, and has tiny, round leaves, but it also trails. In a terrarium you can trim it back or let the trailing stems circle around other plants or grow up the terrarium sides.
Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.