Although some keepers prefer to maintain their snakes in pseudo-sterile, utilitarian habitats, others enjoy setting up natural-looking vivariums, complete with live plants.
This obviously introduces more complexity to your maintenance regimen, but it can also present a variety of benefits for your snake.
Plus, plants just look awesome!
But you don’t want to just run down to the local nursery, buy a bunch of plants randomly, and then start installing them in your snake’s habitat.
That usually won’t work well, many of the plants will die, and if you choose carelessly, you may even end up with an injured snake on your hands.
But we’re here to help!
We’ll explain everything you need to know about installing plants in your snake’s habitat, including the best method for planting them, a few relevant safety concerns, and, of course, how to pick the best species for your needs.
12 Great Plants for Snake Habitats
There are likely thousands of plant species that you could use in your snake’s habitat, but beginners rarely know where to begin or how to narrow down the choices available. But the 12 species listed below (as well as some of their close relatives discussed in each section) are among the best options.
1. Epipremnum aureum
Better known as golden pothos, there may be no better plant to use in snake enclosures. Hardy and capable of thriving in very damp (they’ll grow hydroponically), dimly lit conditions, these plants are ideal for tropical, rainforest-style vivaria. Note that there are several varieties of golden pothos available, including some with variegated leaves and others with more uniformly colored leaves.
2. Nephrolepis exaltata
Colloquially called the Boston fern, this plant is very popular among house plant enthusiasts, but it also works well in many snake habitats. These ferns are capable of living in dim lighting, but they’ll rarely grow well without access to natural sunlight. Note that while these plants are often sold in hanging baskets, they can be planted in the substrate, where they’ll provide a number of hiding places for your pet.
3. Opuntia ssp.
The prickly pear cactus is a great choice for snakes that hail from arid climates. The spines do present a small injury risk to the keeper and the kept, but most snakes are clever enough to avoid injuring themselves on sharp objects in their area. You will have to provide very bright habitat lighting to keep these cacti alive, or, you can simply remove them periodically, place them outside and allow them to recover before reinstalling them in the enclosure.
4. Senecio citriformis
Sometimes called the string-of-pearls plant, Senecio citriformis is an unusual-looking succulent, with bulbous blue-green leaves. These plants are best-suited for desert-style vivaria with very bright lighting; they will not survive in damp or dimly lit conditions. One of the neatest things about this particular plant is that cuttings taken from the branches will often root readily, meaning that you can start out with one small plant, and eventually have many more at your disposal.
5. Aechmea recurvata
One of the most common plants in home improvement stores and nurseries, the urn plant (as it is often called) will work well in humid snake habitats. These plants produce relatively spikey leaf tips, so care is required when planting them and working around them. Urn plants are available in a number of cultivars, so be sure to research this plant thoroughly and select the option that is best suited for your enclosure.
6. Platycerium bifurcatum
Better known as the elkhorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum derives its common name from the superficial resemblance of its leaves to elk antlers. This fern is a flexible plant, which can be planted directly in the substrate or affixed to elevated branches and grown as an epiphyte. Although it won’t thrive in arid snake habitats, it is very well-suited to rainforest-style vivaria. The elkhorn fern is a very popular houseplant, and it is available at most nurseries and home improvement stores.
7. Tradescantia zebrina
Sometimes known by the colloquial name “wandering Jew,” this pretty purple-and-green plant grows along the ground, and therefore works well for arboreal snake species. However, care must be taken to avoid overwatering it, as it will not thrive in damp substrates. Nevertheless, this plant grows very well in most terraria, and you’ll likely find it necessary to prune it regularly to prevent it from crowding out other plants.
Philodendron hederaceum is a popular houseplant that also deserves consideration from reptile enthusiasts. Many Philodendron species are toxic, but that’s not an issue for snake keepers, so it makes an excellent species for humid enclosures. It tends to thrive well in snake enclosures, as it is hardy and doesn’t require particularly strong light to survive.
9. Aloe vera
Most famous for the soothing extracts it provides, Aloe vera is also a good plant to include in arid snake habitats. There are a variety of Aloe vera cultivars available, including some that possess spikes, so it is important to select one that will work best for your needs. Aloe vera plants exhibit a relatively vertical growth habit, so they’re best used in snake enclosures with a fair bit of height.
10. Sansevieria trifasciata
Often called Mother in Law’s tongue, Sansevieria trifasciata is one of the houseplants that is most commonly used in reptile enclosures. Hardy, relatively drought-tolerant and dependent on bright lights, it is best suited for use in desert-style terraria. However, like a few other plants we’ve discussed here, it grows vertically, so you’ll need to have a fairly tall enclosure to adequately accommodate these interesting plants.
11. Echeveria laui
A very interesting-looking succulent with grey to pink leaves, Echeveria laui is a great option for keepers of sand boas or other desert-dwelling snakes. Unlike many other plants that thrive in arid regions, this plant lacks spines, making it a pretty safe choice for snake cages. Note that there are an array of cultivars of this plant species on the market, and they not only differ in appearance, but hardiness and necessary growing conditions too. So, be sure to choose the cultivar you purchase carefully for the best chance at success.
12. Haworthia nigra
An unusual plant with bumpy green leaves, this South African succulent is a good choice for arid snake enclosures. Interestingly, this species doesn’t require the incredibly bright light than many other succulents do, making it easier for many hobbyists to keep alive. This species isn’t as commonly available as some of the other plants discussed here, but with a bit of effort, you should be able to track down a specimen.
Adding Plants to a Snake Enclosure: The Basics
Adding plants to a snake enclosure is not that different than adding them to a lizard or tortoise habitat.
In fact, because your snake won’t eat the plants, it is even easier to add plants to a snake habitat and involves less risk.
But you’ll still want to go about the project in a sensible manner and keep your pet’s health and safety in mind to achieve the best possible results.
Essentially, this means doing a couple of things:
- Select plants that’ll thrive in the climate of your snake’s enclosure. Like snakes, most plants have evolved to live in a specific type of habitat. Plants are often a bit more flexible than snakes in this regard, but you’ll still want to pick plants that are most likely to survive in your pet’s habitat. So, select plants that’ll thrive in damp and dimly lit conditions for your green tree python enclosure, and pick drought-tolerant succulents for your sand boas habitat.
- Decide on the best installation strategy for your situation. Many keepers try to install their plants directly into the enclosure substrate, but you may want to consider keeping them in small pots or containers. This makes it easier to move or replace the plants as necessary, and it often yields better overall results. You can simply use corkbark, branches, rocks, and similar items to camouflage or hide the pots and retain a natural aesthetic.
- Prepare your plants correctly before adding them to the habitat. You have no way of knowing what types of pesticides your plant has been sprayed with before you brought it home, so it is typically wise to rinse the plants thoroughly with cool water before adding them to your habitat. Additionally, some keepers like to discard and replace the potting soil in which the plants are growing, as an additional safety practice.
- Try to design the plant layout in a way that’ll minimize damage and make maintenance easier. You don’t have to worry about your snake munching on the plants you add to his habitat, but you may find that your snake’s activity damages some of the plants you install. Accordingly, it is wise to install the plants in places your snake is unlikely to crawl over. Similarly, be sure to install the plants in places in which it is easy to access them when you need to provide them with water.
- Prune your plants regularly. Assuming you are successful installing plants in your snake’s enclosure, you’ll often find that they begin to take over the habitat. This can reduce the amount of space available to your snake and cause the enclosure to begin to look cluttered. But this is easily remedied by simply pruning your plants regularly with a pair of garden scissors.
The Subject of Safety
While you needn’t worry that your snake will fall ill after consuming a toxic plant in his enclosure, injuries remain a possibility. Some plants, for example, are covered in sharp thorns or spines. These could cause puncture wounds to your snake, which may be serious in some cases.
Additionally, you’ll want to use care when selecting plants to ensure the plants do not cause you any problems. Some plant species produce saps that can cause skin irritation, so you’ll want to be careful to avoid such species if you have sensitive skin.
Plant Installation Tips and Tricks
Now that you have some ideas for species selection, you should be ready to purchase some plants and get started adding them to your habitat. But before you do, consider the following tips and tricks, which may make things easier and produce better results.
- Select plants that exhibit varying growth habits. If you look at a natural habitat, you’ll see that it is comprised of a variety of plant species, which all grow in different ways. Some become tall trees, others are soil-hugging ground covers. Still others grow as bushes or vines. So, when picking plants for your enclosure, try – to the extent possible – to select a collection that exhibit several different growth habits.
- Consider rotating your plants regularly. If you select plants that require a lot of light exposure, you’ll likely find that they begin to wilt and languish a bit over time. One way to combat this issue is by employing a regular plant rotation. Keep the plants in your snake’s habitat for a month or so, and then swap them out with others. Keep the plants that are not in your snake’s habitat in an ideal location, so that they can recover and regain their vigor before being put back in the snake enclosure.
- Research the available cultivars and varieties of your chosen species. Many popular plant species are available in a number of different forms called cultivars or varieties. Often, these varieties differ in aesthetic ways, but they may also differ in terms of lighting requirements, susceptibility to fungal or bacterial pathogens, or growth habit. A little bit of homework will help you pick the best options available.
- Improve the lighting quality in your snake’s enclosure if necessary. If you find that your plants are not thriving in the relatively dim light of your snake’s cage, consider upgrading the lights present. Full-spectrum bulbs will usually improve plant growth and vigor, and they’ll rarely be troubling to your snake. Just be sure that your snake has plenty of dark places to hide if he so chooses.
Plants are rarely a necessity for snake enclosures, so you needn’t feel as though they’re required. Most snakes will live long, healthy and happy lives in relatively spartan, no-frills enclosures that lack plants entirely.
However, if you would like your pet’s enclosure to resemble a small slice of his natural habitat, consider giving live plants a try. The potential downsides of doing so are relatively minor, while the potential upsides are rather appealing. Just be sure to employ the tips provided above and be deliberate when selecting the plants you install.
Do those things, and you’ll likely achieve success adding live plants to your snake’s enclosure.