As you dive deeper and deeper into the world of reptiles, you’ll start to realize just how important your pet’s habitat is. Your reptile will spend almost all of its life living inside its tank. You want to make sure they have the perfect setup. Not only does this setup include the right temperature and humidity but it also includes features like hides and foliage.
For many pets, live plants are the pinnacle of enclosure design.
However, it’s important to make sure that the plants you choose to go into your reptile’s enclosure are safe and appropriate for them.
We’ve compiled a list of 20 safe plants for reptiles. Some of our top choices are peat moss, heartleaf philodendron, and bromeliads. The plants on this list are safe for your reptile to be around. They’ll also be safe for your pet to consume in case they decide to take a nibble out of curiosity!
In this article, we’ll briefly discuss why you might want to add live plants to your pet reptile’s enclosure. We’ll also discuss why some plants aren’t safe for reptiles. Then, we’ll give a brief overview of each of our safe plants and tell you why they made our list!
Why You Might Want To Add Live Plants To A Reptile Enclosure
When you get your first pet reptile, live plants are far from the top of your list for decor.
Usually, you’re more concerned with keeping your scaly friend healthy and happy with food, water, temperature, and humidity. That’s understandable! But, for many reptilian species, live plants are an excellent addition to a terrarium. Here are a few reasons why you might want to add live plants to your reptile’s enclosure.
They Keep Humidity Levels High
One of the biggest reasons that you will want live plants is that they keep humidity levels super high!
Tropical reptile species need high humidity levels to thrive and survive. If you live in an area that isn’t naturally high in humidity, you might struggle to keep the levels high. Adding live plants to an enclosure is one great way to keep the humidity up. This is because live plants have root systems that are able to trap and retain moisture in the ground. With a combination of the right substrate, you’ll have a naturally humid environment for your tropical reptile.
If you’re struggling to find other ways to keep humidity levels high in your enclosure, read more tips in our article here.
They Might Keep Your Pet More Hydrated
Did you know that some reptiles only drink water droplets?
That’s right! Your chameleon and many other arboreal lizards won’t drink water out of a dish. If they’re feeling dehydrated, they’ll drink drops of water only. Usually, these animals prefer to drink water droplets straight off of leaves. This is one of the reasons why these animals need regular misting.
Adding live leafy plants to a terrarium gives your pet more opportunities to drink water droplets because there are more surfaces for water to collect on.
Your Pet Might Sleep Better
Pet reptiles are so diverse!
Some of them like to sleep in holes, some prefer to burrow, while others sleep up in the trees (not to mention the sleeping habits of some wild reptiles).
Many arboreal species feel the safest and most secure when sleeping on leaves. Leaves provide safety from predators on the ground, cover from rain and predator above, and a comfy bed! You’ll notice that an animal like a red-eyed tree frog will almost never touch the ground, especially not to sleep!
If you provide these animals with live foliage, they might feel more comfortable and get better sleep long term.
It’s Great Enrichment
The last reason that you might consider adding safe plants to your reptile’s enclosure is that they’re good enrichment.
Enrichment is something that stimulates your pet and makes their quality of life better. Live plants help to more closely mimic the environment that your reptile comes from, even if they call the desert home like many herps. Live plants smell different, look different and feel different than synthetic plants. You might find out that your pet that previously ignored cage decorations is now interested in the live plants all around them!
Are There Any Reasons To Avoid Live Plants For Reptiles?
Of course, live plants aren’t an automatic guarantee of pet health and happiness!
Live plants take care and attention. They can die and you’ll have to pick a plant that will grow well in the same environment that your pet already lives in. Some plants may come with annoying pests or parasites that take time to get cleared out of your pet’s enclosure.
Plus, not all plants are safe for reptiles!
Why Aren’t All Plants Safe For Reptiles?
The reason why not all plants are safe for pet reptiles is that some plants are toxic or harmful to them.
You’ll want to avoid plants like cacti for many smaller species of reptiles. If your pet wouldn’t encounter a plant like this in the wild, it’s probably not a good enclosure choice. Even if a cactus would normally be around them, they still might hurt themselves on it.
Many plants are toxic to people and pets. While toxicity in plants is usually only noticed when these plants are ingested, you don’t want to take the chance. Animals bred and raised in captivity don’t always have the best instincts. They might take a bite out of something they shouldn’t. Since you can’t be sure what your pet will snack on, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
20 Safe Plants For Reptiles
Now that you’ve got an understanding of why you might want to experiment with live plants for your reptile, let’s take a look at all of the options you have for safe plants for your reptile’s enclosure.
1. Sphagnum (Sphagnum Moss, Peat Moss etc.)
Sphagnum moss is an extremely common substrate used for reptile enclosures. But, did you know that you can also grow and keep your own live sphagnum moss? Sphagnum moss is commonly used for reptiles that need high humidity levels in their enclosures. It keeps the ground super moist and is actually pretty each to take care of. Unfortunately, peat moss isn’t a tall plant, so if you’re looking for something more than ground over, keep reading.
2. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)
Spider plants are common houseplants that grow like weeds. These low-light and low-maintenance plants are great safe plants for reptiles. They’re easy to keep alive and great for anyone who’s nervous about having live plants around. The best part about these plants is that you can place them on the ground or up high in an enclosure and both terrestrial and arboreal reptile species can enjoy them.
Spider plants are also well known for being great at cleaning the air around them. So, they’ll act as a built in air filtration system for your pet making them more than simply a safe choice!
3. Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum)
Hens & chicks are a hardy variety of succulents. Succulents are the first plants on our list that would actually do well in a drier enclosure! Typically, succulents like lots of sun and low humidity levels. This would make these plants ideal for a species like bearded dragons, who like to have full light all day long, and sleep at night (with no lights on).
You’ll probably even notice that these plants are commonly replicated as decoration for desert reptile enclosures. Hopefully, adding a plant like this will help enrich the habitat you’ve created for your pet.
4. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)
Boston ferns are another variest of common house plants that are safe for reptiles. These plants love warm temperate conditions and might look like they’re dying off if it gets too cold. While these plants don’t need direct light, they’ll do great with many tropical reptile species. One of the best things about these plants is that they are generally planted in hanging baskets and will create a nice canopy in your pet’s enclosure.
5. Heartleaf Philedonderon (Philedonderon Hederaceum)
Heartleaf philodendron is one of our top recommendations for arboreal pet reptiles.
This houseplant has beautiful heart-shaped leaves that climb up and grow on anything they can hand on to. These leaves are an ideal shape and size for many small pets like anoles who want to spend their time in and on tall plants. These leaves also do a great job collecting water. Plus, this plant is pretty easy to grow and thrives in low-light situations.
Bromeliads are just cool plants! There’s no doubt about it. Bromeliads are a group of plants that mostly resemble the top of a pineapple. These tropical plants are tough, and thick, and have beautifully colorful blooms. The structure of these plants makes them an interesting addition to a reptile enclosure. Because of their shape, the inside of them often forms a small cup or hide. Water can collect here for drinking and small reptiles love to hide in the folds of the leaves in this area.
Bromeliads are very safe for reptiles and will often be seen more as housing than as something for your pet to chew on.
7. African Violet (Saintpaulia)
African violets are beautiful flowering plants that enjoy humid environments. These small plants won’t just make your reptile happy but will keep you happy with their bright blossoms. They come in all sorts of colors and can create a lot of color diversity in your reptile’s tank. These plants do need a good amount of light and will do well near a window with natural lighting.
8. Nerve Plants (Fittonia)
Nerve plants or mosaic plants are small ground-cover shrubs with vein-like patterns on their leaves. These plants are great for reptiles because their leaves have no toxic effects on animals. These plants can be pruned to become very bushy and are great add-ins for shy pets who like to hide. Since nerve plants can be so dense, they’ll also do a great job at creating more humid areas around them.
9. Lucky Bamboo
Bamboo is one of those plants that anyone can grow. These plants are amazing because they can grow when planted in soil or water. For reptile species like semi-aquatic turtles, these plants will fit into the environment easily. Bamboo is edible and safe for reptiles. If you’re worried about your bamboo outgrowing your reptile’s tank, there are plenty of ways to prune and redirect this amazing plant.
10. Aluminum Plant (Pilea Cadeirei)
Aluminum plants are another safe choice for reptile foliage. These plants are known as easy-to-care-for house plants that enjoy temperate environments. While they’re easy enough to grow, these plants might actually grow too much! The biggest problem you’ll encounter with these plants will probably be excessive root growth, which just needs to be trimmed back every so often.
11. Inchplant (Tradescancia Zebrina)
Inch plants are beautiful purple and green houseplants that grow inch by inch. As you can see in the video above, these plants can get huge. Their trailing vines make them fun and enriching for arboreal reptiles. These plants are safe if your pet decides to take a munch on them. But, be warned, they might not be the most beginner-friendly plant on our list today!
12. Rattlesnake Calathea (Calathea Lancifolia)
Rattlesnake calathea is one of the taller plants on our list that you can use safely in a reptile terrarium. One thing that makes this plant stand out is its super-long leaves. These leaves are ideal for providing habitat and cover for reptiles that like to hide. You can just imagine your crested gecko lounging on one of these!
13. Herringbone Plant (Maranta Leuconeura)
The herringbone plant gets its name from the awesome pattern on its leaves. This plant is well-suited for tropical environments, so any geckos and chameleons will live happily with this plant. Its wide leaves will collect water that they’ll drink from as well!
14. Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea Recurvata)
Ponytail plants are great hardy miniature trees! They would make a great plant for a large size enclosure. Because of their interesting roots and trunks, snakes might find these plants very enriching. They’re very easy to care for and prefer sunny and dry areas. Bearded dragons might also enjoy lying near or on these plants.
15. Spineless Prickly Pear (Opuntia Ellisiana)
Earlier we said no to cactus! That’s because most of them have dangerous spines that could seriously injury your animals. But, if you have a large turtle or tortoise that lives outside, spineless prickly pear cactus is safe for them. Although these cacti do still have small hairs on them, they won’t cause injury in the same way that most cacti do. Plus, your pet might just be interested in eating the yummy fruits that they create!
16. Aloe Vera
If you’ve been sunburnt before, you know what aloe vera is! These plants are hardy, drought-resistant succulents that are actually really great for your skin and body! Aloe vera plants are super safe for your pets and if they do happen to take a nibble, they might even receive some health benefits at the same time.
17. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium Bifrucatum)
Staghorn ferns are probably one of the most aesthetic plants on our list. Because of the way that these guys grow, they can be mounted on a wall and used almost like decor. For climbing species of reptiles, these ferns will provide huge areas to rest and drink water. We’ll warn you ahead of time that if you do decide to become the owner of a staghorn fern, it’s like adopting another pet. these plants are high maintenance and finicky. But, they’re worth the trouble and 100% safe for your scaly friend.
18. Ice Plant (Delosperma)
Ice plant is one of the most surprising plants on our list. This plant makes a great groundcover for any large reptiles that you’re keeping outdoors. This stuff is super hardy and highly invasive when it does get a chance to grow in wild areas. Not only is this ice plant safe for a large reptile like a sulcata tortoise, but they might also enjoy snacking on it as well!
Echeveria are yet another group of succulents that you can place into your reptile’s terrarium. These succulents like dry sunny areas and would make great additions to a leopard gecko’s landscape. These little plants are pretty easy to take care of and make copies of themselves as they grow. You’ll probably end up with more succulents than you ever thought you would have if you choose these plants.
The last plant on our list is coleus. Coleus is a beautiful, soft, indoor or outdoor plant that you can place in a reptile’s enclosure. This plant is pretty easy to care for and is a bright fun color. You reptile might enjoy hiding in the soft stems and leaves while you might enjoy watching the color of this plant change with the seasons.
How To Add Live Plants To Your Reptile’s Enclosure
Hopefully, our long list didn’t overwhelm you!
There are so many easy small ways to start adding foliage to your reptile’s enclosure.
One of the easiest ways to start putting live plants into your reptile’s enclosure is to just put a pot right in. You’ll want to make sure that your pet won’t be able to tip the pot over once it’s inside. Of course, you’ll also need to make sure that the plant fits!
If you want to incorporate the plants a little bit more, you can plant them directly into your reptile’s terrarium. You can do this by either adding the plants to the substrate at the bottom of the terrarium or by building them into the walls. If you haven’t seen it done before, this video does a great job explaining the process.
Common Toxic Plants For Reptiles
As we talk about safe plants for reptiles, we’d just like to mention a few plants that are toxic to animals.
For the most part, any plant that is unsafe for a cat or a dog will also be unsafe for a reptile and the ASPCA has an excellent list of toxic plants that you can refer to. If you’re sure your pet won’t take a bite out of these plants, you might be able to try them out. But, if you’re not sure, just avoid these common house plants. Pothos, snake plants, lilies, and many ivies are toxic to animals. They can cause side effects that range from an upset stomach all the way to paralysis and death.
Again, if you’re not sure what your pet reptile will do, it’s better to play it safe!
Adding plants to your reptile’s enclosure should be fun for both you and them. You can pick a plant that’s suited for its environment and that looks beautiful. And of course, you can definitely choose a plant that will be safe no matter what your reptile decides to do with it!