How To Make a Lichen Terrarium: A Step By Step Guide

Lichen terrariums are fantastic additions to your home. Not only do they look earthy and Eden-like, but encouraging lichen growth in a terrarium is easy enough for anyone struggling with their green thumb. Plus, lichen terrariums make a great school or family project that all ages can enjoy.

Read on to learn how to make your very own lichen terrarium!

What Is Lichen?

How To Make a Lichen Terrarium

Some people make the mistake of using lichen and moss interchangeably. The reality is that, while they share many similarities, lichen is a separate growth.

Lichen grows when two stable organisms work together. Fungi mix with an alga or a special kind of bacteria to symbiotically deliver and receive the nutrients needed to survive. Both the fungus and the alga do not have all the tools to photosynthesize on their own and so need the other to process energy.

The resulting product, lichen, looks like a growth that, when moist, produces vivid colors. Most often green, you can generally see lichen in the wild on rocks, trees, or objects close to water. 

Think of an old dock on a lake, and look at the creeping green growths on the pillars holding up the dock. Rising out of the water, you may catch patches of bright green in petal-like patterns. That’s lichen!

Contrary to lichen, moss is a plant capable of photosynthesizing itself.

How to Make a Lichen Terrarium in Three Easy Steps

How To Make a Lichen Terrarium

While you can certainly purchase lichen-growing terrarium kits, lichen takes a long time to grow, so it may be easier to go foraging for lichen in the wild. Follow these three steps to create the lichen terrarium of your dreams.

Step One: Prepare Your Terrarium

While the word ‘terrarium’ is often tossed around to describe a glass container that holds plants, the truth is that terrariums are closed glass jars or bottles where the process of photosynthesis happens in a sealed container. So an “open” terrarium isn’t, by definition, a terrarium.

You won’t be able to grow your lichen in an open terrarium, so make sure you have a glass container that is easy to seal and big enough for you to work with. Next, fill the bottom inches of your terrarium with gravel (where the moisture will drain and evaporate), and then procure medium-grade soil optimal for organic growth.

Step Two: Find Your Lichen

Research the kind of lichen that grows natively in your region. Do not cross state or federal lines to collect your lichen, as that can accrue fines. Because lichens are alive and a fungus/plant hybrid, not all lichens are natural in each habitat.

When you feel confident you know what you’re looking for, go for a foraging walk and scope out your lichen. When you find a big patch, wet the lichen so it is easier to procure. Grab enough to give your terrarium a starting boost, but make sure you leave some to continue to grow naturally in the wild.

Put your lichen in a bag (paper works best) and keep it nice and moist as you bring it home.

Step Three: Place Your Lichen in Your Terrarium

Place your lichen on a rock or twig inside your terrarium. Mist generously, and then use a paper towel to wipe extra condensation off the inside wall of your glass container. Seal your terrarium tightly, and place it in a spot in your home that gets plenty of natural, though not always direct, sunlight.

Roughly once a week, spray your lichen to keep it nice and moist. Be prepared for a long wait—lichen grows slowly, but your patience will pay off.

Ready, Set, Grow!

Experimenting with terrariums is a great way to create a garden environment, even if you don’t have access to a plot or an outdoor space. In addition to lichen terrariums, you can create moss terrariums or even succulent terrariums.

With lichen, patience is the name of the game. As long as you’ve done your homework, your resulting lichen terrarium will be vibrant and beautiful.