Updated: September 26, 2021 by Jennifer Munsell
Live plants are an essential component of a chameleon habitat, and your lizard’s home won’t be the same without them. Since vegetation has many functions inside the enclosure, finding the best plants for chameleons in captivity is of utmost importance.
While there are many different types of plants you may have considered at some point, not all of them are completely safe. Some are even toxic! Adding plants inside your chameleon’s enclosure should make it more comfortable and inviting for them, not transform it into a death trap!
Besides making your pet’s habitat more visually appealing and comfortable to live in, live plants also help maintain healthy humidity levels, clean the air, and provide fresh oxygen for your chameleon to breathe. Plants also create a safe place for your scaly arboreal pet to hide and feel secure inside their enclosure and provide a suitable surface for them to climb on.
If you’re having a hard time deciding which plants to choose for your chameleon’s habitat, you are in the right place! In this article, I’ll list nine of my favorite plants for chameleons, all of which are completely safe, to help you transform your pet’s enclosure into a lush and airy home.
Best Plants for Chameleon Cages or Enclosures
Aside from your pet chameleon, plants will be the second thing anyone will notice when looking at your enclosure setup. The natural habitats of most species of chameleons that are commonly kept as pets are covered in lush greenery, so your scaly pet needs plants to survive and thrive in captivity.
The closer you come to replicating your chameleon’s natural habitat in terms of substrate, plants, and humidity, the happier and healthier they will be living inside an enclosure. One way you can do this is by filling your pet’s tank with safe live plants for chameleons that will create a tropical and foresty feel inside the cage.
While you can use fake or artificial plants too, they just don’t look as good or real as live plants and can cause intestinal obstruction if your chameleon accidentally eats the plastic and other synthetic materials they are typically made of.
Live plants, on the other hand, provide adequate cover for your scaly friend to hide, produce oxygen, and help maintain humidity inside the enclosure.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Great! I’ll just get the first plant I come across, repot it in the enclosure, and hope for the best.” However, things aren’t that simple!
It’s crucial to keep in mind that some plants can irritate your chameleon’s skin, and others can be toxic if ingested. The good news is that all plants from the following list are completely safe for chameleons and won’t cause any harm to your pet lizard.
Without further ado, let’s find out what kind of plants can go in a chameleon cage!
1. Golden Pothos
Also known as Devil’s ivy, Ceylon creeper, or hunter’s robe, the golden pothos is one of the most popular household plants and one of the best plants for chameleons. Virtually impossible to kill, the golden pothos features heart-shaped yellow-green leaves and fast-growing vines that create lush foliage for cover.
Another great thing about pothos is that it grows and thrives in almost any type of lighting. This trailing vine will happily grow in low-light conditions or full sun exposure.
When it comes to soil, the pothos will do well in any type of well-drained potting soil. Since this plant doesn’t have deep roots, you won’t have to water it often.
Ideally, you should allow the soil to dry completely between watering. If it goes too long without water, your pothos leaves may start to droop a little and look miserable, but they usually spring back up as soon as they get water.
The golden pothos is extremely adaptable and tolerates a wide range of conditions, which makes it an ideal plant for chameleons and people without a green thumb. Since pothos is a fast grower, you can trim the vines to encourage more density or even start new pothos plants from the cuttings.
2. Dracaena Compacta
Dracaena compacta, also known as the compact dragon tree, is another excellent plant for your chameleon’s enclosure. Since compact varieties stay small and grow very slowly, they can fit inside a tank easily.
Lush and green, this compact tree is constantly producing new leaves that create great hiding places for your shy chameleon to get out of sight when they want to. Being an arboreal lizard, your chameleon will especially appreciate being able to climb on the trunk-like canes on the tree.
While Dracaena plants can tolerate shade and darker conditions, they do best and will get the most growth in brighter conditions. The compact dragon tree can do well in areas where there isn’t ample bright light, but it will start to wither and show signs of stress without enough sunlight.
All dragon tree varieties need proper drainage, and they don’t tolerate overwatering very well. Ideally, leave the soil to dry out completely before watering again. To encourage better drainage and avoid root problems, plant your compact dragon tree in soil that’s airy and drains well.
Although it’s one of the best live plants for chameleons, the compact dragon tree is slow to show signs of problems. Even if you aren’t taking proper care of your plant, the Dracaena will continue to look good for quite some time. Then, out of nowhere, your plant will start to decline fast, and there won’t be anything you’ll be able to do about it.
3. Rubber Tree
The rubber tree, officially known as Ficus elastica, is another popular plant for chameleon tank setups. Featuring thick and glossy green leaves and sturdy stalks for climbing, this plant can easily become the center of the entire habitat..
As its name implies, the rubber tree is a tree, which means it can grow to be several feet tall. While such a huge plant might look ideal in your home, its size can be a bit over the top for any type of chameleon enclosure if left unchecked. You should keep up with regular pruning to keep the rubber tree’s size under control.
Ficus elastica prefers partial to full exposure, but it can’t stand too much heat or too much light. Additionally, although this plant likes humidity, it doesn’t like to be overwatered, so allow the soil to dry completely between watering.
A mixture of soil, bark, and sand is a good option for growing and maintaining this plant and will ensure good drainage. Once the roots start to overgrow the pot, replant your rubber tree into a slightly bigger pot, since rubber trees prefer tighter settings.
One thing you should keep in mind is the sap from the rubber tree can be mildly toxic to chameleons in large amounts. If your chameleon likes to eat plant decorations or you notice that they are eating a lot of rubber tree leaves, it’s best to remove this plant from the setup. However, most chameleons won’t bother with them.
4. Yucca Plant
With its sturdy tree-like trunk and long, spiky green leaves, the yucca plant is a great plant for a chameleon habitat.
Indoor yucca plants can come with a central tree trunk that supports foliage or as a shrub with several stalks, all of which end in foliage. Both types will make a great addition to your tank, and it’s up to you to decide which variety is better suited for your lizard’s home.
What makes yucca one of the good plants for chameleons is the fact that it is sturdy enough for your chameleon to climb on it. However, its narrow and long leaves don’t create much of a hiding space. Unlike some of the more common lizards that like to interact with their owners, chameleons are solitary creatures that need plenty of hiding areas to feel comfortable at home.
The biggest benefit of adding a yucca plant to your chameleon tank is that it is one of the most effective plants for air cleaning. This means your scaly pet will be breathing fresh air as long as you keep the yucca tree alive.
Another great thing about these plants is they aren’t fussy and don’t require any special care. Simply pot your yucca plant in standard potting soil for houseplants and ensure it has adequate drainage. This plant prefers partial shade, so placing it directly under a heating lamp is a bad move that will probably kill your plant.
Besides disliking excessive, direct heat, yucca trees will also shrink if they are overwatered. As far as watering goes, keep your yucca moist but not wet, and allow it to dry completely before watering it again. Yuccas are very drought-tolerant, so your plant won’t especially mind if you forget to water it from time to time.
5. Weeping Fig
Weeping fig, known officially as Ficus Benjamina, is another member of the ficus family and one of the most popular plants used for chameleon habitats. The weeping fig is a fabulous choice for your chameleon since it is sturdy enough for climbing and has lush green foliage that is ideal for hiding.
There are several weeping fig varieties, all of which can be a bit touchy when it comes to light and watering. First of all, these ficuses prefer to get some actual sunlight. If you can’t keep your chameleon tank near a window, take your plant out of the cage and place it in a sunny place once in a while.
Overwatering and lack of water are also things that can make your ficus lose leaves and look dull. To prevent loss of foliage, allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. When watering your weeping fig, instead of drenching the soil completely, try to keep it damp.
Weeping figs also don’t like to be moved around a lot and will start losing leaves in revolt if they are disturbed too much. Once you find a place that your Ficus Benjamina likes and thrives in, it is best to leave it there. They also don’t like too much heat, so avoid placing your plant near hot UV bulbs and heat lamps.
While this might seem like too much fuss over a single plant, the extra effort is really worth it, because the weeping fig can give the entire tank a lush tropical rainforest feel.
Bear in mind that Ficus Benjamina produces sap when injured or cut, which can irritate your chameleon if they touch or consume it. So, if you notice that your plant is leaking sap, remove it from the tank until the injury is healed.
Hibiscus plants are best known for their elegant and gentle blossoms that come in various shades of purple, red, yellow, orange, and more. While undoubtedly beautiful, hibiscus plants are rather difficult to grow indoors, so you might want to reconsider getting one if caring for plants isn’t your forte.
The exception to this is hibiscus rosa-sinensis, also known as Chinese hibiscus. This variety is just as beautiful as the rest of the hibiscus species without being quite as high-maintenance and difficult to grow.
Hibiscus plants like bright and direct light, so if the light inside the enclosure isn’t enough, you’ll need to take the plant out and keep it in a bright and sunny location. You can also keep two plants and rotate them between the enclosure and the sunny spot.
Keep your hibiscus plant in an all-purpose potting mix and stay on top of repotting, since it doesn’t like to be root-bound and prefers to have space inside the pot. Water your plant thoroughly but allow the surface layer of soil to dry completely before watering again.
Plus, some chameleons like to chew on hibiscus flowers which is a good source of vitamin C. So don’t be alarmed if you catch your pet lizard munching on hibiscus flowers, since they are completely safe and won’t put your scaly friend in any danger.
7. Jade Plant
This chameleon live plants list wouldn’t be the same without the jade plant, which is a very popular choice for chameleon enclosures. This fleshy succulent will add an exotic feel to the entire enclosure. Its woody stems are also sturdy enough for your pet lizard to climb on, although its small and fleshy leaves don’t create much coverage.
Hardy and relatively easy to care for, jade plants can outgrow even the biggest enclosures, so you’ll need to trim your jade plant regularly. Besides keeping its size in check, regular pruning will also encourage your plant to branch out and develop a more shrub-like appearance.
To grow and thrive, jade plants need several hours of direct sunlight every day. You can either place the entire tank near a sunny window or take the plant every few days to a sunny spot to ensure that it’s getting enough sunlight to thrive.
When it comes to watering your jade plant, less is more! Since they are succulents, jade plants don’t need much water; in fact, they are happier without it during the winter months. During the winter, let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Avoid soaking the plant, and just keep the soil moist.
Jade plants don’t mind staying in the same pot for several years before replanting. However, if you repot your jade plant often, it will grow faster. This is an important thing to keep in mind if you want to prevent your plant from outgrowing the enclosure in record time.
8. Boston Fern
If you want to add a hanging basket inside your chameleon’s enclosure, the Boston fern is a wonderful option. This plant has lush foliage that offers the perfect shade for your chameleon to hide and chill whenever it pleases. Featuring a multitude of tiny leaves that grow from thin and long stems, the Boston fern will flow well inside the tank and give it a cozy, foresty feel.
While this fern is an ideal plant for chameleons, caring for it is another story. Ferns, in general, can be tricky since they need specific lighting and humidity conditions. However, once you figure out what your fern likes and dislikes, caring for it won’t be difficult.
Keep your Boston fern in a mixture of all-purpose soil with peat moss soil. The soil should drain between watering but still remain moist. Water your fern often enough to keep the soil moist but not drenched and avoid letting the soil dry completely between watering.
Since all ferns require high levels of humidity, they are a great plant for chameleon enclosures. Just make sure not to place your fern directly underneath any heat or UV lamps in the enclosure.
9. Parlor Palm
The parlor palm is another great plant for chameleon habitat due to its lush green foliage that can easily cover an entire enclosure. This palm will create a ton of comfortable hiding spaces for your chameleon to retreat to and relax. Although the stems aren’t strong enough for climbing, its rich leaves are great at catching water droplets and keeping your chameleon hydrated.
Parlor palms do well in a good organic potting mix when the soil is evenly moist. This palm isn’t a fan of overwatering, and its leaves will start to turn brown if you go overboard with water. Allow the top inch or so of soil to dry completely between watering and water sparingly so the soil doesn’t become soggy.
The great thing about parlor palms is they are a low-light plant that does well in darker apartments. They do particularly well under bright, filtered light and will thrive if placed near a window or if your chameleon’s enclosure happens to already be near one.
FAQs Live Plants for Chameleons
Can you put real plants in a chameleon cage?
Yes, you can put real, live plants inside a chameleon cage as long as they are not toxic to chameleons. Adding live plants inside your pet chameleon’s enclosure is one of the most important aspects of setting up your pet’s cage. Not only are live plants nice to look at, but they also have many important functions inside the chameleon’s habitat.
Live plants clean the air and make sure your chameleon has enough fresh oxygen. In addition, they help to maintain the humidity inside the enclosure. Plants also create hiding places for a chameleon to retreat to, which helps them feel safe and secure in their environment. Finally, chameleons are arboreal lizards, and live plants allow them to climb like they do in the wild.
Do chameleons like fake plants?
Chameleons won’t object to having a few fake plants inside their enclosure, as long as they are mixed with some live plants, too. While there is nothing wrong with plastic plants, per se, they can’t help with humidity nor do they hold water droplets as long as live plants. Fake plants also can’t clean the air inside the enclosure, and they may cause an intestinal obstruction if your chameleon accidentally eats them.
On the plus side, fake plants don’t require any care and last longer than live plants. There is also no risk that you’ll end up killing your plants due to overwatering, light exposure, or too much heat. Artificial plants are also versatile, and they are much easier to replace or move to a different area of the enclosure than live plants.
Final Word on Plants for Chameleons
Live plants serve many functions inside a chameleon tank and are an important component of the entire habitat. Knowing what kind of plants can go in a chameleon cage will help you create a safe and comfortable habitat for your scaly pet.
Not only will live plants create a foresty or tropical atmosphere inside the enclosure, but they will also make your chameleon feel comfortable and at ease. Good plants will be sturdy enough to allow your chameleon to climb, and they should also ideally have lush foliage to create hideouts for your shy and reserved lizard to retreat to.
There are so many safe and attractive plants you can choose for your chameleon’s enclosure that you may have a hard time deciding what is the best one. While all plants listed above are safe and good options, I’ve found that the golden pothos is the overall best for chameleon habitats.
The golden pothos adapts to various conditions, is easy to care for, and provides your chameleon with everything it needs in terms of climbing, hiding, and eating plant matter. If you are looking for a more compact and sturdy plant, consider getting a rubber tree, which is great for climbing and hiding.