Plants for Desert Tortoise Enclosure

One of the most robust tortoise/turtle species, the desert tortoise can live up to 80 years in the wild. Mostly found in the Southwest corner of the United States, the desert tortoise can survive a variety of harsh conditions. Since they live in the hot desert where there is little water available, desert tortoises adjust by spending most of their time in small holes or underneath rocks and trees.

In fact, the vast majority of a desert tortoise’s life is spent underground in holes and tunnels. In today’s article, I will cover everything you need to know about the best plants for your desert tortoise enclosure.

How big are desert tortoises?

Adult desert tortoises usually reach a length of around 14 inches. They are typically a very tall tortoise species, as their shell grows to a height between 5-6 inches. Males are bigger than the female desert tortoises, with a weight of 5 kg. 

Plants for desert tortoise enclosure

The best plants for a desert tortoise enclosure are Desert Willow and Spider Plants.

Desert tortoises naturally spend a lot of their time relaxing in the shade in order to regulate their body temperature and conserve their energy. They frequently find shade in and around plants. Therefore I strongly recommend getting some plants for your desert tortoise enclosure. 

If you plan on making an indoor enclosure, you should check out the best plants for an indoor tortoise enclosure.

What plants do desert tortoises eat?

Desert tortoises are herbivores, which means they get 100% of their food from plant sources. This is why you should put some plants in your desert tortoise enclosure that they can eat. A desert tortoises diet should be similar to what they would find and eat in the desert.

Desert tortoises can eat the following plants:

Cactus: Tortoises absolutely love to eat cactus. In the wild cactus is a popular and great source of food for desert tortoises because they have a high water content. You can actually buy this spineless cactus on amazon.

Desert Willow: These are great not only because tortoises love to eat them, but they also provide a lot of shade for your tortoise to hide under. You can buy desert willow seeds here.

Bermuda Grass: Desert tortoises can also consume bermuda grass. You just want to make sure that you plant enough so your tortoise can graze as much as they like. I recommend buying these bermuda grass seeds that are specifically for tortoises.

Dichondra: Dichondra is another great option because it is very easy to grow, and usually only reaches a height of 2-3 inches so it won’t completely hide your enclosure. It can also grow in very warm climates which makes it a great match for desert tortoises. You can buy dichondra here.

Alfalfa: Due to its high concentration of fiber, Alfalfa is another great plant to feed your desert tortoise. You can buy alfalfa here. Alfalfa is a great option if you already have some livestock animals such as goats, chickens, or horses. Alfalfa can also be fed to other small pets like bunnies, rabbits, and guinea pigs.

You can learn more in my guide on what vegetables can a desert tortoise eat.

Can desert tortoises eat aloe vera?

While many pets are advised to stay away from aloe vera, this is not the case for tortoises. Desert tortoises can absolutely eat aloe vera. It is natural to their environment, and has similar components to the cactus plant that desert tortoises frequently eat in the wild.

Below are some of the benefits of feeding your tortoise aloe vera:

  • Helps destroy cancerous growths
  • Good for lowering a high cholesterol
  • Increases white blood cells in blood
  • Heals inflammation
  • Provides tortoise with beneficial vitamins and enzymes
  • Helps cure constipation
  • Boosts Kidney Health

If you have any interest in growing aloe vera in your tortoise enclosure, I recommend giving it a shot. You can even use some of the aloe vera for your own personal needs. Aloe vera has many positive effects on human skin.

Just like anything, you should monitor how much aloe vera your turtle eats. If they eat too much in a short period of time, they might have digestion issues.

What can desert tortoises not eat?

There are a couple types of food that you should not feed your desert tortoise. These are listed below:

Fruit: While some people say you can give fruit to a tortoise as a treat, I advise against this. Fruits are typically high in sugar, which can be hard for your tortoise to digest. Most fruits are also not natural to a desert tortoises’ environment. Additionally, many fruits contain small seeds that can cause your desert tortoise to choke.

Meat: Under no circumstances should you ever feed any type of meat to your tortoise. As herbivores, tortoises do not have the ability to properly digest meat. Additionally, meat has a lot of protein which is not an important nutritional need for tortoises. I actually recommend avoiding all food sources that are low in protein. Foods that have greater than 15% protein can cause abnormal shell growth, and also cause liver damage.

Bread: Many tortoise owners make the mistake of giving their tortoise bread. This is not healthy for a tortoise, as they can not properly digest the carbohydrates from bread. It can also cause abnormal shell growth or obesity.

Lettuce: While lettuce is not toxic to tortoises, it provides little to no nutritional value for a desert tortoise. The same goes for other types of vegetables such as cucumbers, corn, and zucchini. 

Closing thoughts

Lastly, it is important to remember that you should always have a bowl of clean water in your enclosure that your tortoise can easily access. Water is not only a necessity for their diet, but it is also very important for aiding digestion.

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