Don’t Kill Them! The Best Carnivorous Plants for a Terrarium

Terrariums are generally not recommended for most carnivorous plants, especially temperate species. Common problems with terrariums include poor drainage, poor air circulation, and for temperate plants, not allowing for a dormancy period. But there are some carnivores that do quite well, even thrive in terrarium environments! Read on to discover the best carnivorous plants for a terrarium.

 

Plants for True Terrariums

I’m referring to a “true” terrarium as a transparent container the plants are directly potted into. You put soil in the bottom of a glass bowl or jar, put the plant in, and you’re done! This is different from a “greenhouse” style terrarium that I detail further down the page!

Terrestrial and Aquatic Bladderworts (Utricularia)

Most terrestrial bladderworts are tropical or subtropical, which means they don’t need a dormancy period. This is the first thing to know when deciding on carnivorous plants for a terrarium. Bladderworts are also not concerned about drainage, so potting them directly into a tank, bowl, or jar with no drainage holes is perfectly fine. Transparent containers like these would even allow you see the carnivorous bladders under the soil! Avoid porous, clay containers, but don’t be afraid to get creative!  I have mine planted in tea cups! They love a good, moist soil of peat moss and a bit of perlite or sand for some aeration. Occasionally, they like being flooded with water. Don’t be afraid to get them soggy!

Utricularia Sandersonii in a glass bowl terrarium
Utricularia sandersonii. Photo credit: aquaticplantcentral.com

Most terrestrial bladderworts are also not too picky about light. Whether it’s direct sunlight or indirect windowsill light, it’s all good, but don’t give them too little! More light will encourage them to flower, which is the main reason why people grow them.

If your terrarium is completely transparent though, make sure it does not get direct sunlight. The roots will burn and it will very quickly become too hot for the plant to survive. Bright, indirect sunlight is best.

Aquatic bladderworts are more suited for a pond or aquarium environment. You can add them in with aldrovanda (see below) for a multi-carnivorous aquarium! While some aquatic bladderworts float freely in water, most do like some substrate to anchor. The Savage Garden recommends one cup of peat per gallon of water. Also consider the size of your aquatic bladderwort when putting it in a tank. Small varieties will be happy in 1-gallon containers, while larger ones will need at least a 50-gallon tank!

Waterwheel Plants (Aldrovanda)

Aldrovanda Vesiculosa. Aquatic carnivorous plant.

Aldrovanda vesisculosa is the lonely, last-living species in its genus. It floats freely just below the water surface with no roots to anchor it. The entire plant is a stem about 4 to 6 inches long with clamshell traps similar to the Venus flytrap. Like aquatic bladderworts, one part peat to one gallon of water is recommended. They like lots of light and lots of room to float around, at least 5-10 gallons. They are susceptible to algae, so be sure to change the water when algae begins to build up. Aldrovanda should also be fed regularly with aquatic bugs like water fleas and mosquito larvae.

 

Plants for Greenhouse-style Terrariums

Greenhouse-style terrariums refer to large containers like an aquarium that holds multiple plants in their own planters. This is advantageous for housing several different types of plants in one terrarium, because you can still pot them in their own preferred soil mixes. These terrariums also usually require some modifications like light fixtures, fans for air flow, foggers for humidity, etc. Barry Rice has a good build guide on his website for a 55-60 gallon tank. The total cost is about $300, though I’m sure you can scale down if you have fewer plants.

Greenhouse style carnivorous plant terrarium
Photo credit: Barry Rice. Sarracenia.com

Tropical Sundews (Drosera)

Tropical or subtropical sundews will do nicely in a terrarium all year round. The easy sundews like drosera capensis and spatulata will be happy with lots of light, water, and ambient humidity. For more of a challenge, try growing tropical sundews from Brazil! Most of these need lots of light, cool temperatures, and very high humidity. You will definitely need to install some fans and fogging devices to keep temperatures low and humidity up. Read my sundew facts post to learn more about sundews!

Nepenthes

Asian Pitcher Plant. Nepenthes khasiana.
Nepenthes khasiana.

Most Nepenthes species tend to grow fairly large, so keeping them in a terrarium is best for cuttings and young plants. Depending on if you have lowland or highland varieties, you may need to adjust temperature and humidity. Unfortunately, I am not (yet!) a Nepenthes grower, but here is an excellent care sheet!

Cephalotus

Cephalotus follicularis. Australian pitcher plant

Cephalotus follicularis is essentially the perfect greenhouse terrarium specimen! They stay small and compact, don’t require dormancy, love lots of light and moderate to high ranges of humidity, and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (as long as they’re not too hot or freezing, of course!). Many growers have seen great results growing Cephalotus under 6500K LED lights.

Heliamphora

Heliamphora ionasii. Sun Pitcher carnivorous plant.
Heliamphora ionasii.

Ah, Heliamphora! The prized unicorn of carnivorous plant collectors! Heliamphora almost certainly need controlled, greenhouse conditions in order to thrive. Like South American sundews, Helis prefer high humidity, lots of light, and cool temperatures. My friend Francois grows amazing Heliamphora and wrote a great guide here. 

Final Thoughts

I don’t recommend putting temperate plants (ie: Venus flytraps and Sarracenia) in a terrarium unless 1) You are growing very young plants that you germinated from seeds or 2) you plan to put them into dormancy during the appropriate time of year. Generally speaking, these plants fare best outdoors in natural conditions. However, it’s important to learn, experiment, and most of all, have fun! Try different growing set ups and see what works for you and your plants. Everyone has their own conditions and methods. The only way to find out what yours are is to try a few different things.

Thanks for reading! I hope this post gave you a good place to start for your carnivorous plant terrarium!

8 comments

  1. robin says:

    thanks, could I have a list of easy to find carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews for my terrarium with no dormancy needed, I’d like to have 4 or 5 choices, Thank you.

  2. robin says:

    thank you
    , that’s a good start of plantst for terrariums from this article……..
    don’t want to over crowd them.
    I think 2 drosera binata, and 2 drosera spatulata will look really nice.
    I have those now, depending on their size, 2 will be used first.

  3. robin says:

    I love the choices of drosera binate, and drosera tropical, I’m not into venus tly traps or sarracenia’s that much.
    thank you.

  4. Lance says:

    You gave some incorrect information on the Cephalotus. The Cephalotus does require a winter rest/dormancy to survive. Refusing to let one have a winter rest can and will kill it.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Lance,

      I’ve read several accounts by expert growers who have grown Cephalotus for many years without a winter rest period. All the conventional wisdom I’ve read supports this. John Brittnacher and Matt Miller are two examples (see this thread here). Also California Carnivores says no dormancy is required on their care sheet here and I’m inclined to believe them as well.

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