Live plants are attractive additions to a snake’s enclosures. They improve the vivarium’s aesthetics, enhancing its naturalistic appearance, and they aid in waste management by taking care of your pet’s nitrogen waste. For some arboreal snake species, they can provide shelter and comfort. But you need to choose plants that are completely safe and non-toxic.
Non-toxic vivarium plants include spider plant, jade plant, pothos, bromeliad, bamboo, cacti, orchids, snake plants, dwarf schefflera, peperomia, African violets, and ponytail plants. Plants such as daffodils, dumbcane, voodoo lily, English Ivy, locusts, common sages, peace lilies, wandering Jew, tulips and Virginia creeper are harmful to snakes or can be invasive inside an enclosure.
There are many considerations when choosing live plants for your snake’s terrarium. You will have to select plants based on the heating, lighting, temperature, and husbandry requirements. For example, plants for desert environments will not thrive in tropical habitats.
What Are Safe Plants for Snakes?
Live plants make a more appealing display in your snake’s terrarium. However, you can’t place any plant into a terrarium without researching its toxicity to reptiles, its invasiveness in an enclosed space, as well as its water, heat and light requirements.
Vivarium Plants for High Humidity Enclosures
These reptile-safe plants are highly compatible with corn snakes, ball pythons, boa constrictors, some varieties of kingsnakes and Burmese pythons.
They thrive in temperatures of 29 to 30 degrees Celsius and can tolerate temperature drops of 18 to 19 degrees Celsius in the night.
Examples of live plants that fare well in tropical environments include:
- Bromeliads (without spines), such as the Costa Farms Blooming Bromeliad
- Corn plants
- Earth stars
- Chinese evergreen
- Dwarf schefflera
- Peacock plant
- Ponytail palms
- Virginia creeper
- Rosary vine
- Sanseveria trifasciata
The above plants will require at least 2 to 4 plant lights running the length of the terrarium, depending on the width of the cage. You can use UVB lights if needed by your pet, otherwise plant lights work just fine.
If you are using a combination of the two, be sure to install the UVB light appropriately to ensure your snake is receiving enough exposure.
Vivarium Plants for Low Humidity Enclosures
The following plants are suitable for enclosures with snakes that don’t have high humidity requirements or like their environment to be relatively dry.
Snakes that will be compatible with such plants include gopher snakes, Texas rat snakes, California king snakes, and Kenyan sand boas.
These are plants with stems that store water. Therefore, they have low humidity and water requirements, making excellent choices for terrariums that are meant to be kept dry.
- Dwarf aloe
- Lace aloe
- Climbing aloe
- Bromeliads (avoid types with spines)
- Elephant trees
- Ceropegias vines
- Cow or oxtongue bowtie
- Cacti without thorns
- Ponytail palms
These are excellent air-purifying plants with low water and humidity requirements. The Sanseviera trifciata species, or Mother-In-Law’s tongue, is a popular choice among snake owners.
Snake plants rot easily, so it is important to water them only when the soil is dry. While they can tolerate full sun and low light, they prefer indirect sunlight, making them a perfect choice for your snake’s terrarium.
Some species of snake plants suitable for snake enclosures include:
- Kirkii pulchra
Tillandsia consists of 650 species of perennial flowering plants from the family Bromeliaceae.
Commonly known as air plants, Tillandsia has silvery leaves that cling to barks, bare rocks, tree branches and anything else depending on what the conditions allow. Some species of Tillandsia grow on desert soil and have minimal root systems.
Species of Tillandsia that can be grown as epiphytes or planted in soil include:
Others are strictly air plants have a thick covering of grey scales. They don’t have any roots and can thrive on rough tree barks or trunks, joints of branches and even in man-made decorations kept in your snake’s enclosure.
The Drunken Gnome Tillandsia Air Plant Variety Pack can help create a stunning and colorful display in your snake’s enclosure, without you having to place them in any soil or plant matter.
The following air plants require bright light and periodic soaking in water:
How to Take Care of Air Plants
Air plants require a slightly different care schedule compared to other houseplants. After purchasing your air plants, make sure you water them by soaking them for 20 to 30 minutes.
Note the color and size of the plant after soaking as this is a good indicator of how a healthy and thriving air plant looks. Allow your air plant to dry before placing it in your snake’s vivarium.
Taking care of air plants regularly is relatively easy. Mist your air plant with 2 to 3 sprays of water every 4 to 5 days. In a closed enclosure, the plant should retain water for longer. The more the air flow and the lower the humidity inside the cage, the more the plant will have to be watered.
However, make sure you don’t over water air plants either as doing so can kill them. If your plant looks limp or unhealthy, soaking it in water for 30 minutes can help perk it up.
Finally, you must also avoid leaving air plants near the direct sun. Air plants enjoy indirect sunlight so try placing them in the tree trunks or artificial vivarium decorations inside your snake’s enclosure.
Benefits of Having Vivarium Plants for Snakes
Live plants are attractive and useful additions to any snake terrarium for a plethora of reasons. Most hobbyists believe that plants are all about creating attractive scenery for the owner as well as the snake. However, they have more to offer than an attractive appearance.
Although they require slightly more care than artificial plants, the fact that they are alive makes a massive difference to the lifestyle and wellbeing of your snake.
The following are some significant benefits of keeping live plants in your terrarium.
A Source of Shelter
Plants and trees play essential roles in the wild because they provide shelter, hiding spots and food for many animals.
Whether your snake is terrestrial, arboreal (tree-living) or fossorial (underground-living), providing structural elements such as dwarf trees and plants inside a vivarium is an excellent way of mimicking a snake’s natural habitat.
Most snakes in the pet trade live on or inside plants and trees when they are in the wild. Snakes such as corn snakes are known for dwelling in tree bark o hollow trunks.
According to the journal, Ecological Society of America, arboreal snakes (such as ball pythons, boa constrictors, and California kingsnakes) use trees, vines, trunks, and shrubs in their daily lives and have particular adaptations that help camouflage their bodies in these natural elements in the wild.
While you can provide your snake with artificial structures and hides, there are many qualities of live plants and real bark and trunk that may contribute to improved mental health in snakes.
Real plants, with their different smells, textures, tastes, and colors can help feel snakes feel secure and comfortable.
In certain types of terrarium setups, such as temperate forest or tropical rainforest, it’s not easy to find or remove waste. Keeping live plants in the tank plays a vital role in creating a healthy environment for your snake as it helps control the buildup of nitrogen from snake droppings.
Sometimes, keeping compatible plants and snakes together can even help clean your snake’s terrarium for long periods, even years without needing to break down the enclosure for a complete water or substrate change.
Snake feces are broken down by bacteria to form ammonia, which is later converted to nitrite and eventually nitrate. When in excess, ammonia and nitrites can be toxic.
However, it is mainly the nitrate that accumulates in your snake’s substrate and water, resulting in vivarium pollution. Pollution inside your snake’s enclosure can cause sickness and even death unless the water and substrate are regularly cleaned or replaced.
However, to clean your snake’s environment, you’ll have to break the vivarium down, which doesn’t only lead to the loss of a well-built, established habitat, but also disturbs your pet.
Furthermore, breaking down a vivarium can be costly as you will need to buy new materials. On the other hand, a well-planned vivarium with plenty of plant life can save you the hassle and expense, and lead to a happier snake as well in the long-term.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, plants are an integral part of the nitrogen cycle, as they’re the final users of nitrogen compounds. They require relatively large amounts of nitrogen compounds to grow and survive.
A large variety of plants use nitrogen, such as nitrite, nitrate, urea, and ammonia. Another study in the journal, Environmental Health and Toxicology indicates that indoor plants even can eliminate environmental pollutants, such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, chloroform, and xylene. Snake plants are popular for air purification.
During photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and naturally release oxygen and moisture. This allows plants to maintain the air quality in a small space, such as a small room or a terrarium.
Using plants for air quality is vital for temperate or tropical setups as you’ll need to minimize airflow from the outside to maintain optimum humidity levels. In this situation, a live plant will help control the air composition by using carbon dioxide produced by your pet and replacing it with oxygen.
Properly landscaping your terrarium with plants also helps increase the humidity inside the tank, as well as its freshness. The air surrounding your herp will smell and feel fresher, which is extremely important if you have a live animal inside an enclosed space.
Good Indicators of Environmental Problems
When you add plants that are compatible with your snake, both will need the same kind of habitat and environmental setup to sustain them. In general, most plants and snakes need the same humidity, light, temperature, air, moisture, and substrate composition requirements.
Therefore, your plants’ condition is an excellent way to determine the overall wellbeing of your terrarium – including how it could be affecting your pet snake.
If there are any issues with your snake’s environment, such as imbalances in moisture, light or heat levels, chances are you’ll see signs of it first in your plants before your snake.
Signs of stress and illness draw unwanted attention from a snake’s rivals and predators because the latter will predict the snake as vulnerable. Therefore, snakes are naturally adapted to hide signs of sickness and stress.
This can be a problem for snake owners, because you don’t know your snake is unwell until the problem progresses and shows visible signs, such as weight loss, skin sores, or fecal abnormalities.
However, plants are excellent indicators for environmental issues because they’re quick to show any impact from the environment.
A stressed plant will look limp, stunted and unhealthy. If you do notice any changes in the plants despite taking proper care of them, check the humidity, light, and temperature of your snake’s enclosure.
On the other hand, you know your plants are healthy when they are firm or upright, have good color and appear healthy and dynamic. Your plants should also produce new leaves and show overall steady growth.
How to Select Plants for Snake Vivariums
Most plants in stores have been treated with a wide variety of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. The residues of these chemicals can cause harm to your pet, despite the plant itself being non-toxic to your pet.
Therefore, it helps to purchase plants from reputable sources only, such as local nurseries and organic farms that grow their own stock and are willing to discuss the chemical treatments used while growing the plants.
You must also check the soil that comes with the vivarium plant. Look out for perlite. These are small, white Styrofoam-looking pellets that are added to many potting soils to enhance the soil moisture absorbing properties.
Perlite can cause harm to snakes if ingested in significant amounts. To remove the perlite, you can replace the potting soil with garden soil or soil that doesn’t come with any additives.
While feeding your snake, be sure to monitor its appetite, weight, water consumption, and droppings. Keep a lookout for unusual signs such as rubbing the face or mouth, salivation, changes in breathing patterns and weight loss. If you notice anything unusual, let your vet know.
Live Vivarium Plant Care
Most types of vivarium plants require little to no maintenance after being planted inside a snake terrarium. However, it is vital to note that each species of plant has its own temperature, light, water and humidity requirements.
In general, most plants require some form of good lighting, whether it is from a bulb or indirect sunlight. Furthermore, a suitable substrate mixture, as well as some occasional pruning, is usually needed for the maintenance of most plants in a bioactive environment.
Adding Other Decorative Elements
Adding some decorative elements to your snake’s habitat can do wonders to how its enclosure can look. To create an ideal territory for your snake that’s safe and comfortable, you must add small sections of bark, branches, terracotta pots, and a few hides, along with live plants.
A hide can be made by placing a clay pot that has been cut into half with a small entrance. Alternatively, you can also add tree trunks and commercially sold snake hides for your pet display.
Some snakes enjoy climbing, so be sure to include tall live plants, along with ladders, hammocks or ramps, according to your preference and setup.
Any item added to a snake enclosure must be very secure. For example, while placing climbing elements make sure you anchor the object to the bottom of the cage to prevent your snake from falling or getting injured. Moreover, all bark and branches should be attached to the walls of the enclosure to prevent them from breaking.