Plants for Blue Tongue Skinks

     Many of you may know me from various reptile expos around the Pittsburgh area where I sell the plants and cleanup crew that you need to build your pet the best and most successful bioactive enclosure as possible! A bioactive enclosure is one that includes live plants, soil, and a cleanup crew, usually consisting of isopods and springtails. The cleanup crew will consume decaying plant matter, waste from your pet, and mold, as well as help to fertilize your plants naturally. The goal of a bioactive enclosure is to give your pet something that is as close to their natural habitat as possible. An added bonus of turning your enclosure bioactive is the maintenance level. They typically only need spot cleaned in the sense of cleaning the glass, cleaning up any droppings you see, and trimming plants as needed, as well as any other maintenance your pet would typically need. Trimming plants and aerating soil should be done on an as-needed basis. With the goal of properly recreating your pet's natural habitat, you have to learn about your pet's origin!

     Blue tongue skinks go by many names, blue tongue lizards, blueys, and blue tongues all refer to this same lizard. They use their blue tongues to try and startle their potential predators and aggressors and to catch their prey. There are several species of blue tongue skinks, but the Northern Blue Tongue Skink is what this list is focusing on. Their range covers the northern part of Australia and some parts of Indonesia, with a few care differences between the subspecies, but not for the plant options! Choosing a few plants from different sections of the list below will help you to build a beautiful enclosure that your skink will love too!

     The following plants listed are nearly always available on my table. If you want to make sure a certain plant is available at a particular reptile expo, please send an email to at least two weeks prior to the expo.

"Always Good" Plants

     There are a few plants that are what I like to call "always good" plants. They can tolerate a range of watering and humidity requirements, as well as the damage that can be caused by your pet going about its day to day life. This list is short, but these plants will not steer you wrong, especially in a tropical, temperate, or other enclosures that require similar moisture levels.

Spider Plants

     Spider plants may be related to asparagus, but it certainly acts more like a grass. It tolerates a mow very similarly to grass does, so if the plant begins to outgrow the enclosure, a simple cut back will help to mitigate that. They come in solid green, variegated, and curly! Spider plants will eventually send out the iconic pups. If these pups are allowed to touch the soil surface, they will root elsewhere in the enclosure. If you do not want it to spread, simply cut the bloom stalks as they form.


     Pothos are an extremely common houseplant that you can often find in bioactive enclosures. They're very adaptable, being able to occupy the base of your enclosure, creating a ground cover that still leaves space for your skink to hide. They can also climb, especially if you mist the wood the pothos is trying to attach to. Misting the wood behind the pothos vine will encourage roots to form and latch on. This plant is easy to cut back, just pick a point on the stem and cut! These plants come in a variety of colors and patterns, some of which grow faster or slower than others.



     Groundcover plants are those that will cover the ground and not grow too tall. These plants are often vines and will help to provide lots of hiding areas for the clean up crew, in addition to any leaf litter you may add. They also help to hide the substrate, if that is something you would prefer.


     Tradescantia, spiderworts or inch plants, come in various sizes and colors. They all do wonderfully as houseplants and enclosure plants alike. They grow very quickly which can be both a blessing and a curse. Consider the size of your enclosure and the frequency at which you are willing to trim plants in order to decide if you should add this plant to your enclosure. They are a favorite among chameleon keepers, as they grow fast enough to tolerate the damage their pets can do. If your skink is particularly destructive, this may be a good choice for you. If branches of this vine break off, they will easily re root into the soil and create a whole new plant.

Turtle Vine

     Turtle vine looks like it belongs to the Tradescantia genus, however its Latin binomial is Callisia repens. The turtle vine behaves very similarly to the inch plants, but it has a slightly different appearance. The leaves are small and teardrop shaped. They are a light tan color above, occasionally with small brown spots. Below the leaf, they are purple, just like that of Tradescantia zebrina. It is also an easy plant to grow and cut back, if need be. Just like the pothos, simply choose a spot and snip! They also share the trait of easy propagation that tradescantia, if a portion of the vine breaks off, it will re root.

     Something important to note, turtle vine (Callisia repens) and string of turtles (Peperomia prostrata) are two very different, unrelated plants. String of turtles will not thrive in the soil conditions needed to keep your skink happy and healthy. They are a strictly tropical vine that does much better when the soil is kept evenly moist, which runs the risk of causing a respiratory infection and more in your skink. Peperomia prostrata also does not grow as vigorously as Callisia repens and may not be able to tolerate the constant walking and movement of your skink.

Strawberry Begonia

     Strawberry begonias are neither strawberries, nor begonias. They also go by the names creeping saxifrage or Saxifrage solonifera. They are a unique goundcover that spreads in the same way strawberries do, by sending out long runners with a plantlet on the end. They are hardy plants that will tolerate skinks walking over them. Any unwanted plants are easily removed or prevented from spreading by trimming the runners as they form. Eventually, they will send up white blooms on tall stalks that almost resemble a pair of pants with their two long petals. They have hairy, textured leaves and thrive in the conditions needed to keep your skink happy and healthy.

Trailing Philodendron

     Trailing philodendrons are often confused with pothos due to their similar appearance and care needs. Philodendron grow slower than pothos, so they will not need to be trimmed nearly as often as a pothos would. The leaves of this plant are also held closer to the stems, rather than on long petioles like pothos. This means there will not be as much space for your skink to be walking under the leaves and will likely walk on top of them much more often. These hardy plants can take a beating! They also have the same ability to climb as pothos.

     Philodendron come in lots of different shapes and sizes and could easily fill each section of this list. It would be easy to make an entire enclosure of just philodendron! All philodendron species would be great additions to a skink's enclosure.



     What I am calling "understory" plants are the the plants that will act as a midway point between the tallest and shortest plants in this list. They will fill the space between nicely and give your skink some nice places to feel safe. Ironically, most of the plants on this list are considered understory plants when taken out of this context and placed in the wild.

Bird's Nest Ferns

     Not all ferns would thrive in a skink's enclosure. Bird's nest ferns are a different story. Due to their thick leaves, they can tolerate drier conditions than their more lacy counterparts. They also will stand up to your skink's daily activities much better than other ferns. Birds nest ferns are hardy and grow in a vertical rosette form. They have several different varieties, some of which look like they've been pulled right out of the ocean, like Crispy Wave ferns! They are a slow grower that would do best on the cool side or kept in an area close to the water bowl. If your skink splashes water out, or if you empty the water bowl near the fern when the water is changed, this will help keep the fern happy and healthy in the enclosure.



     Alocasia is a genus of about 90 species, some of which would be too tall for most blue tongue skink enclosures. Alocasia 'Polly' is a common species that will get to be too tall for the enclosures. But never fear! There are several species of alocasia that will stay short enough and provide vertical interest, as well as big leaves for your skink to hide under. Some examples of alocasia that would do well in your skink's enclosure without outgrowing the height limits would be Black Velvet, Dragon Scale, Jewel (Alocasia reversa), Miri (Alocasia reginae), and Silver Dragon.


Jewel Orchids

     Don't let jewel orchids intimidate you! They are incredibly easy to care for when compared to their more famous epiphytic counterparts, especially when they are kept in terrariums or vivariums. Jewel orchids are mainly going to be decorative. They don't provide much in the way of comforting hides and foliage, but they do make a statement in the enclosure. There are lots of species to choose from, some of which have dark leaves, others have green leaves that look like lightning strikes are running across it, and some are a combination of the two with even more colors to boot!




     Peperomia is a genus that contains over 1,000 species, each with their own unique size, color, and growth pattern. Some peperomia stay short, even acting as groundcover, such as the aforementioned String of Turtles. Others have strong, sturdy leaves that give a unique appearance to your enclosure. Others yet would behave more like a small shrub, like Peperomia Rosso, which will provide a space for your animal to hide within. It can be hard to tell what is a peperomia and what isn't, due to their extreme diversity, but they are all pet safe, and most are going to be great additions to your skin's enclosure. Some are too fragile to withstand the daily activities of your skink, but others, like Baby Rubber Trees are able to tolerate their mucking about. Be sure to choose ones that are tough to ensure they will hold up.



     Canopy in this sense refers to any plants that will grow to the top of the enclosure. These plants are going to be the tallest ones, allowing for vertical interest while looking at the tank, giving it a finished look. If you plan on keeping your skink in an enclosure that is less than 12 inches tall, some of these should be avoided.


     Dracaena is a wide and varied genus in the asparagus family, now containing plants that used to be in the Sanseveria genus. I would like to note before continuing that snake plants, those that used to be classified as Sanseveria are not included in those that would do well in a blue tongue skink enclosure. They need substrate that is too dry. Tropical dracaena, sometimes called dragon trees or corn plants, don't have leaves or branches that often can give them a nice area to hide in, but there are other species of tropical dracaena will have shorter or thinner leaves that will still allow the area to feel open. There are some species that stay smaller and could be classified as an understory plant, while others grow tall. Should your dracaena grow too tall for the enclosure, simply cut its stem. The plant will callous over and begin to grow branches.

Parlor Palm

     The parlor palm, also called the neanthe belle palm, is a small species of palm tree. They are a slow grower that is another plant that would fill in the space near the water bowl nicely. Being a palm tree, they can tolerate wet feet fairly well, though they can still be planted and survive elsewhere in the enclosure. Should this plant need to be trimmed, it is best to simply cut the trunk and allow the plant to grow back from a stump, rather than trimming the leaves. This is a slow grower that will not need to be trimmed often.



     Schefflera, also called umbrella plants, are in a similar boat to Dracaena. They will need trimming to keep the plant to size, though they are slow growers. Simply choose a spot on the branch and cut with a clean pair of pruners. This plant is a true tree, but when space is limited for root growth, such as in an enclosure or pot, the size is limited. They are easily trimmed to size and grow slowly, making them low maintenance as far as canopy choices go.



     Chinese evergreens, Aglaonema spp., come in a variety of colors and forms, though they all have a very similar growth habit. Their large, colorful leaves will bring vertical interest into the enclosure. This plant has a moderate growth rate and is a relatively low maintenance plant. Should it need any trimming, simply choose a space on the stem and snip! Like the dracaena, the plant will grow back with branches.


     Choosing one or two plants from each category will help to ensure you create a wonderful bioactive tank for your skink. If you choose to forego the groundcover, consider adding leaf litter to the soil to give space for your cleanup crew to hide. Having these plants does not mean you do not need to provide other, nonliving areas for your skink to explore. Adding cork bark or other types of wood and branches will give your skink a reliable place to explore and rub against during shedding. When you are building your bioactive enclosure, remember to leave space for any necessities, such as hides and water bowls. It's easy to get carried away!

As always, if you have any questions on how to assemble your bioactive enclosure or what you should include, please send an email to