Vivarium planting

I have one vivarium, a Zoomed  18″ x 18″ x 24″ that houses 2 Dendrobates tinctorius azureus (blue dart frogs). It’s heavily planted, and one primary focus throughout this project is to continually improve the plantings. The vivarium serves two purposes, first to provide a safe, thriving environment for our two frogs, and second, to be a visually appealing addition to our home that represents a slice of nature (albiet a small, artificial one that is not true to the biotope). This post walks through the construction of the vivarium from the substrate, through the hardscaping and finally recommendations on vivarium planting.

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I followed great advice posted on a dart frog related forum at I used hydroton as a drainage layer (a porous foundation to the tank that collects excess water and allows for the vivarium to maintain higher humidity) followed by fiberglass screening to prevent the upper layers of the substrate from falling into the drainage layer, then soil, and finally sphagnum moss. The soil is a mix of charcoal, moss, and plantation soil.


Being new to the hobby I wanted to maintain flexibility of the vivarium design, so I opted to create my background using pre-fabricated foam ledges from Pet-Tech Products. These ledges are held in place with magents fastened on the outside of the glass. They are easily moved within the viviarium providing flexibility in the tank design. An added benefit was when my first vertical vivarium sprung a leak at the base of the front door I was able to quickly relocate ledges, plants and animals to a new vivarium with minimal disruption to the inhabitants. I used the following ledges during construction of this vivarium:

1 x Magnaturals Small Mushroom Ledge
2 x Magnaturals Gecko Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Mushroom Ledge Terrarium (Medium)
1 x Magnaturals Food & Water Ledge (Earth)
2 x Magnaturals Small Worm Feeder Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Medium Planter Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Small Planter Ledge (Earth)

I probably shifted these ledges around half a dozen times during the first 2 months after the vivarium was initially setup. I have not moved them much since, and several of the vining plants are now rooted in across multiple ledges. I suspect future ledge moves will be a bit trickier now.


My choices in vivarium plants have evolved over time. I was heavy on vining plants and bromeliads for my first viv, but I have slowly migrated to more interesting ferns and Selaginella in the second version.

Bolbitis heteroclita This is an attractive little plant I picked up in July 2012. It’s on the floor of the vivarium wedged between Mexican river pebbles.
Cryptanthus acaulis “Green Form” These cool little Earth Star plants are the green form. They have bloomed once, with a cluster of 1 inch flowers growing from the center of the plant for about two weeks. They have recently grown new vertical stalks. They were slightly odd looking so I trimmed the stalks off to keep the diminutive stature that I love about these plants.
Ficus pumila var. quercifolia – Oak Leaf Creeping Fig I replaced much of my Creeping Charlie with Oak Leaf Fig in July 2012. I love the look of the Charlie, but it was far too invasive and choked out many other plants. I hope this Oak Leaf Creeping Fig proves to be a bit more manageable.
Gloxinella lindeniana To date this was my most expensive plant purchase. The vendor picture was beautiful but my specimen is not quite as impressive and it is much more vertical than I anticipated. This plant continued to grow up instead of out so I have moved it to the side of the viv near the ledges. If it continues to grow up I may remove it.
Neoregelia Zoe These are the best broms I have picked up. The variegated leaves that pinked up nicely. Fireball and Tiger Cub variants are also in the viv, but they have not grown as well or colored up.
Neoregelia sp. This is actually my favorite brom and I don’t know the full name. Ah well, it’s pretty to look at and it dominates the central part of my tank. It flowered already and looked great for a week or two. It pinked up just before flowering, then went back to more of a dark brown.
Pellonia “Watermelon” An attractive vining plant but the stems are somewhat brittle. i can’t rearrange them easily without snapping them, so I end up planting this all over the place. The leaves are kind of dull but they are prettier when misted.
Peperomia Trinervula I like this plant, simple and elegant. It is relatively slow growing and diminutive.
Pilea involucrata “Friendship” This plant is a bit difficult to keep happy in my viv, but it has been doing better more recently. It cannot compete with other more prolific vining plants so I have taken care to perform defensive pruning around it to give it space. Since I have taken this action it has started to do better.
Pilea “Creeping Charlie” A prolific vining plant that requires frequent pruning. The stems are quite strong, and I can bend them around the viv and shape their growth a bit. I’ve been able to get them to grow about 18 to 24 inches from a lower pot up several ledges and around the front of the viv. It really contributes to a vertical jungle look, but I have reduced the presence of this  aggressive grower as I acquired more unique specimens.
Pteris ensiformis “Evergemiensis” This is supposed to be a tall bushy fern. Should be interesting to see it grow in. I have it planted in the mid-ground in front of a ledge so it should add some dimension to the tank. I like the look so far, but I suspect it will need some pruning to keep a pleasant shape.
Selaginella erythropus This is an elegant little low growing plant and one of my favorites. I have it out in the front of the vivarium because of it’s neat texture. It has been growing slowly, but nicely, developing brighter tips of new growth. It routinely withstands being sat on by a frog, so it appears to be fairly rugged as well.
Selaginella kraussiana var. brownii Another July 2012 purchase. This diminuative plant is right out front in the viv. I like the look of the leaves and its tight bunchy leaves. It seemed quite durable as I was planting it, so I have high hopes that it will stand up to frog traffic.
Selaginella kraussiana “Gold Tips” This is a pretty little Selaginella that I picked up in July 2012. It’s planted on a ledge that will hopefully highlight the gold tips on the plans.
Selaginella Plana This specimen is just freakin cool. I love the bright green color and the texture on the leaves. It really jumps out at you when you stand in front of the viv. It has stood up to the beating a large tinctorius can inflict (they use it as a ladder on occasion for climbing from one ledge to another), so overall this has become my favorite plant in the vivarium.
Selaginella moellendorfii “Jori” I bought two of these, and I think one was mislabeled. I believe the second is a closer representation of the spike moss pictured on the vendor’s site (to the left). The second specimen that I have is pictured to the right. Perhaps it still needs to grow out. Either way, then are both attractive plants.
Selaginella sp. 2 Purchased in July 2012 this Selaginella was a bit wiry in appearance. It arrived in a tight cluster that I planted on the right side of the vivarium next to the glass. It’s in a region of low planting, so it should be highlighted along with a host of other Selaginella.

Time series vivarium images





Favorite images



viv-azureus-Peperomia_trinervula-20130124-left_1329-sm   viv-azureus-FTS-Feb2013_1345-sm

Plants that did not work out

Azolla caroliniana

The description on this sounded really neat – an aquatic floating fern. It turned out to be more of a fern “paste” that melted away in a wet portion of my vivarium. It was also crumbly and difficult to deal with – had I really understood this I would not have purchased it. The pictures from the vendor’s website look awesome though.

Cryptanthus – “Sunshine”

I ordered this and had 2 other earthstars substituted. Neither of those earthstars worked out. One was fairly beat up with unattractive leaves, and the second (unnamed) had a giant roach in it (yuck) and was too massive in scale for my viv. I have officially given up on earthstars.

Dischidia nummularia

I planted a few cuttings from this small vining plant. It was quickly overtaken by more aggressive vines. I lost track of it and it has been absorbed into the vivarium with no trace of it 4 months later. I do recall that it was somewhat fragile when planting initially, shedding leaves to the touch. I suspect either way it would not have lasted long with two fairly large frogs romping around the vivarium.

Victoria Bird’s nest fern

This was a heck of a lot bigger than I expected. It’s now in a planter outside the viv. Perhaps if I had a 100 gallon tank this would work out.

Wandering Jew ‘Red’

I hated this plant. It’s flowers were beautiful, but I found the leaves unattractive. It was also a tremendous grower and, frankly, invasive in a vivarium. I ripped it out and tossed it.

Selected vivarium photos

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DartDen ::

This is my favorite dart frog related forum. There is so much wonderful information on getting started in the hobby on this site. I highly recommend it to people interested in the hobby as a great resource for researching and asking questions about frog care.

Pet-Tech Products ::

Source for the magnetic ledges that I used for hardscaping. Though their products are quite expensive, I’m quite happy with the look and the flexibility of the vivarium. The owner was great to work with as we worked through issues with a falling ledge. We ended up using higher strength magnets which he sold to me at a discount.

Black Jungle Terrarium Supply ::

They have a wide selection of interesting plants. I have purchased plants from them in two rounds, slowly displacing the original vines and bromeliads that I purchased from Josh’s Frogs. I prefer the look of a well pruned and structured vivarium plant design, and Black Jungles selection is great for finding the starting points for a variety of plants that suit that need.

Josh’s Frogs ::

I bought some initial plants to get the vivarium started. I focused on broms and vining plants, and in the end I pulled broms to make room for the plants above and to cull back some of the pups. The broms were ok but took some time to pink up in the higher portions of the viv. This site is good for what I would consider “starter” plants, but the variety does not compare to what is available at Black Jungle.



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