The Terrarium

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March 2020

The lighting system has been upgraded from two 55W fluorescent tubes to a single, 50W, 6500k COB LED spotlight that offers a much better lumen/watt ratio. The spot is equipped with a 40-degree lens to prevent excessive spreading of the light, and concentrate it on the plants. Some of them are already getting redder, with no burn to be seen as of yet.

Now, my role is to manage watering, draining, and the occasional fertilizing, to keep this little world nice and healthy for as long as possible. One thing is sure, I will no longer make disruptive changes that require the plants to adjust, but just let them grow with as little stress as possible.

The terrarium
The little pit helps me remove the standing water that accumulates in the bottom of the terrarium.
The terrarium
The new LED spot. Note the lens in front of it.


Well, originally, I had a fairly simple and minimalistic terrarium in mind, with just a couple of plants to watch, but the challenge of making it a little jungle kind of… grew on me. I would it to look like a lush landscape, with planters that remind of mountains or tepuis.

So what did I do? First, I installed a thick bed of quartz sand—that in my opinion is much better than clay pellets—on the bottom of the tank. This sand is clean, natural, neutral, and does not break down over time, so it’s perfect for a part of the terrarium that is often waterlogged. On top of it, I spread a layer of very fertile milled xaxim (tree fern roots) to create a substrate for mosses. Last, I added three pots of agglomerated xaxim for hosting plants.

Watering will be done manually, and from the top of the tree fern panel mainly, to irrigate most of the content. The pots however will need a bit of extra water onto them for the mosses to grow well. In that regard, having potted plants is both convenient and viable, because at some point they inevitably need to be divided, or they have to to be moved for some reason, or something goes wrong. Unsightly pots can be hidden behind sphagnum moss or others plants to keep the natural effect.

The terrarium in 2019
Cephalotus roots!
The terrarium in 2019
The bed of quartz sand.
The terrarium in 2019
The final structure. I love green & brown!


I bought a 60x40x40 cm tank to grow a Nepenthes, my favorite genus of carnivorous plants. I initially peeped on N. bicalcarata, but this species has become quite hard to come by, so I finally settled on N. northiana—another lowland species that produces lovely pitchers.

So I made a bed of living sphagnum moss to enhance air moisture and installed the pot with the plant on an inverted vase. A few weeks after, I added a pair of tree fern root panels, also known as xaxim, to create a nice mossy wall. I also managed to insert two Cephalotus ‘Hummer’s Giant’ inside the panels.

The lighting consists of two 55W fluorescent tubes, with a 6500k color temperature. Some amount of natural light will also hit the plant, and I will control it with blinds. There’s also a little fan to provide adequate air circulation within the tank.

The terrarium in 2017
Most Nepenthes become large, so here’s plenty of space. Even then, it’s suitable for a few years only.
The terrarium in 2017
I found that N. northiana grows quite vigorously, in regular lowland conditions. In the background, note the freshly inserted Cephalotus.
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Joshua Marshall
Joshua Marshall
4 days ago

wowww what an amazing setup! i hate how people on my Flytrapcare forums are all against terrariums with most carnivorous plants (except they are okay with some sundews and nepenthes! which is sooo sad) when i had been using terrariums since 2010! 10 years!!! cool right??? the people on that forum said it would cause all these rot issues and it would fry them indoors! i was like really?!?!?!?!? Iv’e grown mine in terrariums indoors under some upclose 1,500 lumen LEDs and they have flourished!!! I tried putting my plants outside like they recommended, but here is the thing…. I’M… Read more »