Caring for Tropical Plants in a Rainforest Terrarium

Caring for Tropical Plants in a Rainforest Terrarium

A rainforest terrarium is a miniature indoor garden filled with lush tropical plants, bringing a slice of the jungle right into your home. Caring for the delicate tropical plants in a rainforest terrarium requires some specialized knowledge to help them thrive. With the right growing conditions, these exotic houseplants can flourish and create a stunning indoor rainforest display.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about selecting plants, creating the perfect rainforest environment, watering and fertilizing needs, providing adequate lighting, controlling pests, and general upkeep. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to create a flourishing tropical oasis with healthy, vibrant plants.

Selecting Plants for a Rainforest Terrarium

Choosing the right mix of plant species is key to establishing a balanced rainforest ecosystem in your terrarium. Here are some important factors to consider when selecting plants:

  • Native tropical origins: Focus on plants native to tropical rainforests, which are adapted to hot, humid, shady conditions. Popular choices include ferns, orchids, bromeliads, mosses, tropical begonias, nerve plants, andPilea species.
  • Plant size: Select small tropical varieties that won’t outgrow the confined space. Trailing vines, low groundcover plants, and compact ferns and orchids work well.
  • Sunlight requirements: Most rainforest dwelling plants thrive in bright, indirect light. Make sure to avoid varieties that need full sun.
  • Watering needs: Choose plants with similar watering needs. Rainforest species typically prefer consistently moist (but not soggy) soil.
  • Complementary growth habits: Mix trailing vines, upright plants, epiphytes mounted onto wood/rocks, and low groundcover plants for visual interest.
  • Regional variations: Recreate a specific tropical location like the Amazon, Southeast Asia or Central America by selecting native plant species.

By carefully selecting complementary tropical plants adapted to the warm, humid environment, your terrarium can mimic the diversity of a real tropical ecosystem.

Creating the Perfect Terrarium Environment

One of the keys to growing healthy rainforest plants is recreating the hot, humid environment of the tropics right inside your terrarium. Here are some tips for maintaining ideal growing conditions:


Tropical plants thrive at temperatures between 70-85°F. Keep your terrarium in a warm, stable environment away from cold drafts or Air conditioning vents. The enclosed environment helps retain heat to keep plants cozy.


High humidity is essential and should be maintained at 60-80% relative humidity. Daily misting with a spray bottle helps replenish moisture. Include water features like a small fountain or aquatic section to increase local humidity.


Create a moist rainforest floor by using a 3-4 inch layer of porous substrate. A blend of potting soil, orchid bark, charcoal, peat and coconut coir provides excellent drainage and aeration. The substrate should retain some moisture while still allowing excess water to drain away.

Air Circulation

Stagnant air encourages fungal and root rot problems. Improve air flow by including small fans or openings for passive ventilation. This refreshes oxygen levels for plant respiration and reduces pests like fungus gnats.


A sealed glass tank traps humidity while limiting air exchange. An open terrarium design allows more interaction between internal and external environments. Adjust ventilation and substrates to control moisture in an open terrarium.

Mimicking the warmth, abundant moisture, filtered light and good air circulation of a tropical habitat will keep your rainforest plants thriving.

Watering and Fertilizing Rainforest Plants

Proper watering and fertilizing practices are vital to maintain healthy growth. Here are some best practices for hydrating your rainforest terrarium:


  • Check soil moisture frequently, watering when the top 1-2 inches become dry.
  • Mimic tropical downpours with heavy overhead misting using room temperature water. Avoid cold water shock.
  • Ensure the drainage layer and substrate support air circulation to prevent overly soggy soil.
  • Adjust watering frequency based on ventilation, humidity, plant types and growth rates.
  • Flush salts monthly by heavy watering until overflow drainage occurs.


  • Use a weak liquid fertilizer like orchid food or tropical plant fertilizers biweekly.
  • Alternate fertilizing with plain water to prevent buildup of excess salts.
  • Boost humidity levels after fertilizing to avoid leaf burn.
  • Slow release pellet fertilizers provide a low dose of nutrients over time.
  • Organic compost provides trace elements, but avoid full potting soil mixes.

With consistent hydration and light feeding, your rainforest plants will thrive. Adjust schedules based on plant health, humidity and growth patterns.

Lighting Requirements

While rainforest plants prefer bright, indirect lighting, sufficient intensity is needed to maintain growth. Here are some key lighting considerations:


  • North or East facing windows provide ideal gentle, indirect sun.
  • Sheer curtains or frosted films can diffuse harsh direct southern/western light.
  • Avoid full sun exposure, which can scorch delicate rainforest plants.

Artificial Lighting

  • Full spectrum LED or fluorescent grow lights supplement natural lighting.
  • Position lights to illuminate from 6-8 inches above plants.
  • Provide 12-14 hours of daily light exposure for active growth.
  • Adjustable mounts allow custom direction and intensity control.

Aim for bright but gentle illumination to resemble dappled rainforest light. Monitor plant health and lighting intensity needs.

Controlling Pests

The warm, humid environment of a closed terrarium can promote issues with fungal diseases and some insect infestations if proper precautions aren’t taken:


  • Allow good air circulation and avoid overcrowding plants.
  • Use sterile potting media and containers to avoid introducing diseases.
  • Inspect new plants closely and quarantine before adding to an existing terrarium.
  • Remove fallen leaves and debris which can harbor fungal spores.
  • Use fans or opening vents to keep humidity levels in check.


  • Prune and discard infected leaves and stems.
  • Use horticultural oils or neem treatments to control insects.
  • Apply fungicidal sprays containing chlorothalonil for fungi.
  • Top dress the soil with sand to smother fungal growth.

With vigilant monitoring and prompt organic treatment when needed, pest problems can be avoided. Always remove infected plant materials right away.

General Terrarium Maintenance

To keep your rainforest terrarium thriving, perform regular maintenance:

  • Wipe down glass walls to maximize light transmission.
  • Trim overgrown plants to maintain proportions and airflow.
  • Remove fallen leaves and other debris.
  • Check for and treat any signs of pests or diseases.
  • Repot rootbound plants into fresh substrate. Avoid overcrowding.
  • Refresh drainage layers and replace depleted substrate when needed.
  • Supplement with new plants to fill in gaps from growth.
  • Clean hardscape features like wood, rocks and drainage layers.

Following a consistent care routine will help ensure your rainforest terrarium provides years of enjoyment. Observing plant health and growth patterns allows you to adjust conditions to meet their evolving needs.

Ideal Tropical Plants for Rainforest Terrariums

To give you some inspiration, here are some perfect plant choices for stocking your jungle terrarium:

Ground Covers

  • Tropical mosses: Dicranum, Leucobryum, Sphagnum species
  • Baby tears: Helxine soleirolii
  • Creeping fig: Ficus pumila
  • Nerve plant: Fittonia species
  • Peacock moss: Selaginella uncinata


  • Bird’s nest fern: Asplenium nidus
  • Boston fern: Nephrolepis exaltata
  • Holly fern: Cyrtomium falcatum
  • Maidenhair fern: Adiantum species
  • Rabbit’s foot fern: Davallia fejeensis


  • Jewel orchid: Macodes petola
  • Moth orchid: Phalaenopsis species
  • Reed stem epidendrum: Epidendrum rigidum

Other Tropical Plants

  • Prayer plant: Maranta leuconeura
  • Rex begonia: Begonia rex
  • Air plants: Tillandsia species
  • Peperomia: Peperomia species
  • Nerve plant: Fittonia albivenis

Final Thoughts

Caring for the delicate tropical plants in a rainforest terrarium requires paying close attention to humidity, light, airflow and watering needs. Mimicking the warm, bright and moist conditions of the tropics allows exotic plants to thrive. With good upkeep and the right mix of plant varieties, a small slice of jungle can flourish right in your home. Just follow the guidance above and your terrarium will become a lush tropical paradise.

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