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Though chameleon owners can choose to use artificial plants in their pet’s cage, there are many benefits to using live plants in a chameleon enclosure. Among other things, they will help maintain humidity and moisture levels and provide a natural cover and climbing area. Some species of chameleon will even eat greenery, so providing real, nontoxic plants can keep your pets healthy, as well.
Light and Water
The UV lighting from chameleon lights is usually enough for plants to grow and thrive. Avoid placing plants directly under a heat lamp, as that can be far too hot and damage plants.
Though you will be providing live plants with some water by regularly misting your chameleon enclosure, you’ll probably still need to water them separately as well. A good way to tell if a plant is getting enough water is to stick your finger in the soil. It should be dry on the top inch and damp below that. Avoid over-watering plants, as too much water can drown the roots and cause them to rot.
Getting Started With Live Plants
In the wild, chameleons are an arboreal species living in and among trees. As you’re setting up your chameleon cage, keep in mind it’s essential to give them plenty of vertical climbing space to mimic their natural habitat and encourage their instincts.
When creating a naturally planted chameleon habitat from scratch, start by buying or building a wood planter box with drainage holes for water. Fill the bottom third of the container with rocks or gravel, and the rest with soil. It’s best to use organic potting soil that contains no fertilizers or pearlite (those small white balls found in some types of potting soil).
Next, choose nontoxic, hardy plants such as pothos, ficus and hibiscus. Planting in layers can give your chameleon plenty of places to hide and things to climb. When planning plant placement, a good rule of thumb is to use shade-loving plants on the bottom, leafy plants in the middle, and flowering plants at the top.
Aspidistra plants, also known as “cast-iron plants,” provide good ground cover in shady areas. These slow-growing plants thrive in nearly any condition, making them excellent for indoor use. There are also many different species of nontoxic ferns that flourish in shady conditions and add beauty to a chameleon enclosure.
With their bright green, shiny leaves and rapid growth, pothos plants are beautiful and very easy to care for. These plants grow rapidly in a variety of light and soil conditions, and can even grow with no soil at all.
Schefflera arboricola, also known as the dwarf umbrella tree, is a favorite among chameleon keepers. The plants are relatively easy to care for and are medium-light plants, which means they need bright but indirect light. When watering this plant, be very cautious not to over-water. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.
Ficus trees (Ficus benjamina) are also very popular plants for chameleon enclosures because they require relatively high humidity and temperatures and prefer regular misting – just like a chameleon does. In the right conditions, a ficus tree can grow up to six feet tall. However, ficus plants will retain their tree-like shape regardless of their size.
Hibiscus is a tropical plant that can grow up to six feet tall and is known for its colorful flowers. These plants are relatively easy to care for and also do well in warm, humid conditions.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, there are many plants that make good choices for your chameleon enclosure. You can also consult with your local garden store for additional options. Happy planting!