When I first began keeping reptiles and amphibians a lifetime ago, the live plants at my disposal were limited to cuttings I could beg, borrow or steal from my green-thumbed mother. Today we are very fortunate in having an astonishing variety of available orchids, mosses, ferns and plants ideally suited for use with reptiles and amphibians. For those of us with wide interests, this diversity is a real pleasure…in fact, co-workers at the Bronx Zoo have at times accused me of expending more effort on my exhibits’ flora than its fauna! But in both zoo exhibits and at home, I frequently fall back on old favorites, especially several inexpensive and readily available house plants. If you are not skilled or interested in plant propagation, but wish to provide your pets with the many benefits that live plants confer, the following species should be of interest. The plants covered here are but a small sample…please post notes about your own favorites below.
Note: Please post below if you intend to keep live plants with herbivorous lizards or turtles, so that we can discuss any problems may arise if foliage is consumed. Please see the article linked below for information concerning pesticides that may be present on commercially-grown plants.
Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
This attractive, hardy vine is one of my favorite plants for use in terrarium and zoo exhibits. Widespread from India to northern Australia (and feral elsewhere), Pothos will grow equally-well in sphagnum moss, water, soil or gravel. If rooted in shallow water, it takes the form of an emergent plant, and thus looks well in bog terrariums. Grown as a floating plant, it will send out long roots, creating a dramatic effect and helping to improve water quality. Draped over logs and rocks, or left hanging, sinuous aerial roots will quickly form, lending an “over-grown” effect to your terrarium.
Many folks are surprised to learn that Pothos left unchecked can become quite large – I measured the leaves of some old specimens in Bronx Zoo bird exhibits at nearly 3 feet in length and 14 inches in width (please see photo).
Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum spp.)
This very familiar house and office plant is another that can be used on land or in water. Much like Pothos, its root system is quite dramatic when seen below water, and will be used as a hiding and foraging site by newts, aquatic frogs, small turtles and similar creatures. I’ve written a separate article on its care and use…please see the link below.
Other Useful, Hardy Houseplants
Earth Star (Cryptanthus spp.): I learned about this Bromeliad from an arachnologist who kept spiders in unlit terrariums. It is nearly indestructible, and excellent for use with spiders, amphibians and other animals that prefer low light levels; the leaves flush red when exposed to light.
Jade Plant (Crassula ovata): A beautiful succulent, ideal for desert and semi-desert terrariums; the thick branches take on fantastic shapes.
Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana): native to West Africa and not related to true bamboo, this popular plant is usually sold rooted in water. Kept so, it makes a nice emergent “swamp” type plant, or it can be planted moist soil.
Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens oxycardium)
Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Miniature Wax Plant (Hoya bella)
Dwarf Columnea (Columnea microphylla)
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum variegatum)
Zebra Plant (Aphalandra squarrosa)
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
Miniature Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila minima)
Hooked Strap Plant (Anthurium hookeri).
Coffee Plant (Coffa arabica)
Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.
Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.
Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.