Live plants are an attractive addition to a snake’s enclosure. They improve the vivarium’s aesthetics, enhancing its naturalistic appearance. They aid in waste management by taking care of your snake’s nitrogen waste. For some arboreal snake species, they can provide shelter and comfort. But you do need to choose plants that are completely snake-safe and non-toxic.
Non-toxic plants for a snake’s vivarium include spider plants, jade plants, pothos, bromeliad, bamboo, cacti, orchids, snake plants, dwarf schefflera, peperomia, African violets, and ponytail plants. Make sure that all plants are healthy specimens that are insect-free.
Snakes need a source of enrichment in their enclosures. While ball pythons, corn snakes, boa constrictors, and other popular pet snakes will benefit from these live plants, other plants should be avoided. 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 a snake’s enclosure.
What Are Safe Plants for Snakes?
Live plants make a more appealing display in your snake’s terrarium. However, you can’t just ut any plant into a terrarium without researching its toxicity to reptiles, its invasiveness in an enclosed space, as well as its water, heat and lighting requirements.
Plants for Humid Enclosures
These reptile-safe plants are suitable for 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 humid, tropical environments are:
- Bromeliads (without spines)
- Corn plants
- Earth stars
- Chinese evergreen
- Dwarf schefflera
- Peacock plant
- Ponytail palms
- Rosary vine
- Sanseveria trifasciata
These plants require at least 2 to 4 plant lights running along the length of the terrarium, depending on the width of the cage. You can use UVB lights if needed by your snake, otherwise, the plant lights will 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.
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 kingsnakes, 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 air-purifying plants with low water and humidity requirements. The Sanseviera trifciata species, or Mother-In-Law’s tongue are 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 an ideal 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 that 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 create a colorful display in your snake’s enclosure without you having to place them in 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 different care schedule compared to other houseplants. After getting your plants, make sure that you soak them for 20-30 minutes.
Note the color and size of the plant after soaking them as this is a good indicator of the health of the plant. Allow your air plant to dry before placing it inside your snake’s vivarium.
Mist your air plant with 2 to 3 sprays of water every 4 to 5 days. In a closed snake enclosure, the plant should retain water for longer. The more the airflow and the lower the humidity inside the cage, the more the plant will need to be watered.
Avoid leaving air plants in the direct sun. They enjoy indirect sunlight, so try placing them in hollowed-out logs or artificial vivarium decorations inside your snake’s enclosure.
Benefits of Vivarium Plants for Snakes
Healthy plants make enclosures more visually appealing. They also create a healthier, more enriching environment for your pet snake.
Although live plants require far more care than artificial plants, the fact that they are alive enhances the wellbeing of snakes.
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 dwarf trees and plants inside a vivarium is a good way of mimicking a snake’s natural habitat.
Most snakes live on or inside plants and trees when in the wild. Snakes, such as corn snakes, are known for dwelling in tree bark or hollow trunks.
According to the Ecological Society of America, arboreal snakes (ball pythons, boa constrictors, and California kingsnakes) use trees, vines, trunks, and shrubs in their lives and have adaptations that 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.
Keeping live plants in a snake’s tank plays a vital role in creating a healthy environment for pet snakes. This is because it helps to control the buildup of nitrogen from your snake urates and droppings.
Snake feces are broken down by bacteria to form ammonia, which is later converted to nitrate. When allowed to build up to excess, nitrite can be toxic. However, live plants can help to remove nitrate.
According to 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 nitrogen compounds to grow and survive.
It is mainly nitrate that accumulates in your snake’s substrate and water, resulting in pollution. The pollution inside your snake’s enclosure can cause sickness and even death unless the water and substrate are regularly cleared of waste regularly or completely replaced.
A large variety of plants use nitrogen, such as nitrite, nitrate, urea, and ammonia. Indoor plants even can eliminate environmental pollutants, such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, chloroform, and xylene. That’s why snake plants are so 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 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 snake and replacing it with oxygen.
Properly landscaping your terrarium with plants also increases the humidity inside the tank, as well as its freshness. The air surrounding your snake will smell and feel fresher, which is important when you have a live animal living inside an enclosed space.