Setting up a Vivarium

By Pat M. a regular on the sites message board.



Alocasia: (sp. Black velvet)

Right now this plant is relatively small; however, it will grow quite large, and may possibly have to be moved out of the tank. They are a broad leaved plant, making them suitable for such creatures as tree frogs to sit on, and this particular variety will grow to around 18” in height. There are several variations of Alocasia, but I picked this one for the nice leaf/vein contrast and the fact it is one of the smaller varieties.


In this tank I’m using several orchids. I’m not sure if it’s true for all orchids, but I believe a great majority are epiphytic. This means they don’t grow in the soil, they prefer being anchored to something or growing in some sort of bark mixture. Four species are used in this tank. I’m using a dendrobium and an oncidium species (which are the two in the far right corner in the Pict). I don’t know a whole lot about them, but

I got them for a dollar a piece at Lowe’s, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong. The orchid to the left of these two is a vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia). This is more of a vine-like plant that will have off white flowers that smell of vanilla. The last species is a jewel orchid which is covered below.

Jewel Orchid :

Jewel orchids are used more for their foliage than their flowers. As you can see the foliage really is incredible. This particular plant is a Ludisia discolor, a terrestrial orchid that prefers low light and high humidity (and is therefore ideal for terrarium/vivarium growing). You can see it’s almost in bloom, and will have a spike of several white flowers. NOTE: Although it looks like the orchids are planted in soil, they are actually rooted in a mix of bark and spaghum moss.

Sansevieria: AKA snake plant

This is yet another species I don’t know much about. I used it as a substitution for a bromeliad (discussed later). I believe this plant may outgrow the tank, but until then it fits in nicely. It’s leaves are thick, and able to support frogs and small lizards. It has a low light requirement and can survive the high humidity.

Cryptanthus bivittatus minor: AKA “earth star”

These are absolutely beautiful plants, and some of my personal favorites. The larger of the two is around 5″ wide, and shouldn’t grow much bigger. They come in this bright red, pink, and also a black. They probably come in other colors, but these are the only three I’ve seen. They too are epiphytic, and as you can see, I’ve secured them to the cork backing. The outside of the leaves are somewhat spiky, but not too bad. They should be misted regularly to keep them from drying out.

Creeping fig:

This stuff is the easiest plant I’ve ever kept. It grows extremely fast and is virtually unkillable. It can be used as a groundcover, as a vine, and mine stays alive even when it is in the water. It is pretty much an all purpose vivarium plant. The only way to kill it is if you let it dry out. You must make sure it gets misted if the humidity in the vivarium is very low.


These are epiphytic plants like the orchids. They hold water in the center of their leaves, which many frogs, especially poison dart frogs, use to lay their eggs in. Some are hardier than others, but I’ve had trouble growing the ones found at Home Depot and other stores difficult to keep under vivarium conditions. I’m assuming this is due to low lighting. There are many varieties with various colored foliage and flowers and also a great variety of sizes.


Ferns are great vivarium plants. You can just go to your local garden shop and pick one up, and they’re pretty inexpensive. Just make sure they are a low to medium light variety that can put up with tropical temperatures and humidity. There are tons of different varieties with their own unique foliage. The following are plants I’ve never kept, but I’ve heard make suitable vivarium plants, in case you would like to do a little research…



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