​Live plants for terrariums and vivariums: Humidity, health and lighting

As the addition of live plants in reptile terrariums and vivariums continues to grow in popularity, we thought it was about time Swell Reptiles took a look at the ways you can keep them and your reptiles healthy with the right humidity and lighting.

Choosing your reptile live plant

Unless your terrarium is to be set up to exclusively house live plants and nothing else, then the first thing you need to consider is will your new plant and your reptile get along? Most plants available on the pets market are only available because they are safe to be housed along with live animals, and pose no threat to them in the form of poison, leaching and from spines and sharp leafs, but it’s always best to do a little research, and different reptiles will react to each plant a little differently.

Conversely, it’s best to ensure your new and potentially expensive plant it’s simply going to become a meal for your reptile, or the live food like locusts and crickets you may have hopping around in there. Fortunately, overcoming these obstacles is easy: do your homework, ask for advice at purchase, and choose as carefully as you can.


Assuming you have your reptile lighting already sorted, the next lighting task is going to be catering for your new plant.

It doesn’t take a biologist to know that plants need light from the sun to photosynthesise, producing the glucose they need for fuel and growth, and you need to be able to replicate the light conditions of the jungle or the desert (depending on plant origin) to cater to this.

Fortunately, the reptile supplies world is fast catching up with this need. At the top of the list, we feel we must give special mention to Arcadia’s Jungle Dawn LEDS for those luscious rainforest beauties, and Exo Terra Ion bulbs, both helping to give plants the light-energy they need to flourish in your terrarium


Thinking back again to secondary school biology lessons, the next thing plants need is water who knew? Most live plants in your terrarium are going to want everything nice and humid, and there are a few different ways to approach this.

The first we must recommend is to think about your substrate. While a simple rainforest terrarium setup might just feature tree bark substrate, this isn’t going to be enough to sustain rooted plants in need of a good slurp to keep them turgid and flourishing.

Instead, we recommend a base of hydro-balls, ceramic balls that when used together form a drainage system, and also keep a constant supply of humidity in the terrarium for you plants — try Swell’s own hydro-rocks, or look to a premium brand like Exo Terra.

On top of that, once again, moist absorbent substrate is the way forward, strong enough to allow your plants to take root (although you should consider potting them and burying them anyway to help with substrate changes).

Once your substrate is taken care of, you can either use a cheaper mister spray to ensure your plant gets a regular dose of simulated rain-fall, or employ an automated fogger, mister or rain-maker system to keep your terrarium well hydrated. Don’t forget to monitor things with a hygrometer too!

Dry condition plants

More recent additions to the reptile plants markets now include “air plants” too. These plants are great for arid conditions, requiring very little water, and most will continue to grow under the normal conditions you would create for housing desert reptiles, allowing keepers of arid vivariums to enjoy a little botany too!


  • Avatar Donna Posted 02/04/2017 at 9:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve just finished setting up my terrarium all ready for getting my new Crested Gecko buddy next week. I wanted to make sure that everything was perfect for it’s arrival. I have been checking the temperature and humidity but I wanted to as if there’s a risk of “over misting” the live plants?
    I’ve set it up with hydro drain balls, separation layering followed by a deep crestie life substrate layer with moss covering around half the bottom. There’s then several different live plants, cork bark to climb up & hides. The humidity was slipping below 50% & I know it needs to be around 75-85%, but my husband made comment about spraying the live plants too much might kill them off?!? Obviously I don’t want that to happen. I decided then to just spray the surrounding ground areas and not the plants/leaves so much. Am I doing something wrong? I don’t want to stress my Crestie out by not liking it’s new home.

  • Avatar Si Tye Posted 21/01/2019 at 4:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Donna, i wouldn’t worry so much about the humidity at 75-80% for a crestie personally, i’ve had one for the last year and he’s quite healthy, happy and active in a small viv with very little misting – never more than twice a day with a spray bottle.

    They’re quite resilient little guys, over watering your plants won’t really be a problem if you have the hydroball drainage anyway though, i mean, you’d have to literally flood the tank to wash away substrate before the water wouldn’t drain through and into the clay ball layer – just consider misting it lightly once/twice a day and everyone will be most happy in there.

    Hope that maybe helps, even if i’m about 2 years late, for anyone else reading!

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