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This perennial wildflower is named for its snapdragon-like flowers that resemble a turtle’s domed head and open mouth (it’s also known as snakemouth and the genus Chelone means turtle), and it’s the perfect plant for the soggy areas in your yard.  It’s classified as an obligate wetland plant because it usually occurs in wetlands or poorly drained sites, and it thrives in a wide range of moist-to-wet soils and full or part sun.  The upright, branchless stems grow 1-3’ tall in a clumping habit.  A compact, 3-6" spike of white flowers appears at the tops of stems in late summer, providing much-needed food for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Bumble bees are the main pollinators because they have the strength and size to pry open the bloom and wriggle inside to reach the nectar. Turtlehead is also a preferred host plant for the lovely Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.  


Native habitats include wetlands, swamps, marshes, ditches, wet thickets and meadows, moist woods, and the wet shores of streams and lakes.  Use turtlehead in the wettest areas of the landscape, such as borders of ponds or streams, rain gardens, and shade gardens.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 3-5’ tall and 3’ wide.


Grows in full or part sun.


Prefers moist-to-wet loam, clay, or sand.


White flowers sometimes tinged with pink or purple grow in dense spikes 3-6” long at the top of the main stem from August to September.  Buds bloom at intervals from bottom of spike to top.  Each flower is about 1 ¼” tall with a two-lobed, hooded upper lip and a three-lobed lower lip.  Oval seed capsules follow in October.  Each contains a few flat, brown seeds with wings for wind dispersal.


Lance-shaped, finely serrated green leaves are 3-6” long; they occur in opposite pairs widely spaced along the stem. Each pair is rotated 90 degrees from the position of the pair of leaves below.  Four-angled stems are usually unbranched and smooth (glabra means smooth).


Wildlife Value:

Host plant to 4 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly and turtlehead borer moth, both shown here.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Turtlehead has a long history of medicinal use with Native Americans. Cherokee used the flowers as a laxative and to treat wounds and fevers.  They also used it to increase the appetite. The Iroquois used it as a liver aid. Other groups used the plant to prevent pregnancy. More recently, it has been used anecdotally to treat depression, gallbladder problems, and diseases of the liver.


Another common name, bitterweed, signals that white turtlehead is not a desirable food.

Turtlehead, White, Chelone glabra

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  • Once we're certain we have good germination, we'll make these plants available for prepurchase.

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