Terrariums: A Countertop Ecosystem!

This may seem strange coming from a neuroscientist, but I love plants! I know I should probably only get excited about organisms with a pulse, but I’ve always liked plants. In college, I took two semesters of Plant Growth & Development (okay, one was required but the other was an elective!). It was a great experience because it convinced me that I didn’t want to be a plant biologist, and also because it cemented my appreciation for these photosynthetic beauties.

Roses are nice, but lithops… lithops are really cool. They are succulents that have the adaptation of looking like tiny stones. In a rocky area, these guys are hard to find!

In my travels, one of my favorite things to do is visit botanical gardens. Some of my favorites have been Kew Gardens in England, Versailles Palace Gardens in France, The Boboli Gardens in Florence and The Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the New York Botanical Garden. I also like to browse farmers markets and pick out the weirdest looking fruits and vegetables (Maxixe, anyone?).


 My current adventure is to build a terrarium, a little tabletop ecosystem to enjoy in my tiny city apartment. I became inspired to do it when I saw these succulents sometimes called ‘starfish cacti’, which are supposed to grow well in a terrarium. It turned out to be super easy! Here’s how I did it.


(1) Collect supplies. Glass container, medium-sized stones, small stones, active charcoal, potting soil, and plants.

(2) Clean glass container and stones with a mixture of 10:1 mixture of water and bleach. You don’t want bacteria or fungi taking over your ecosystem. Let dry and then place medium-sized stones in the bottom to provide drainage.

(3) Put a handful of active charcoal over the stones. It will also help prevent unwanted bacterial and fungal growth, and absorb odors.

(4) Fill container with a few inches of potting soil, build a hole for your plants, insert plants, and then gently pat soil around the plant roots. Add small pebbles to the top of the soil. Water your terrarium as needed depending on your plants.


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