Plants for Turtle Tanks You Need to Know This main picture

Adding live, water-based turtle plants are a great idea to spruce and liven up your turtle's habitat. Here's how to do it the right way. 

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First of all, let's address a basic question.

But first of all, we need to address a basic question.

Can live plants be added into a turtle tank? Or, are you stuck with those cheap, plastic fake plants that look roughly similar to the real thing, from about 25 feet away...

Can live plants be added into a turtle tank?

The answer, quite simply, is yes.

But:

  • you need to get the right turtle plant
  • you need to know the disadvantages and advantages to having live plants in your tank 

Let's start with some very obvious advantages when it comes to adding plants for turtle tanks.

Let's start with some very obvious advantages when it comes to adding plants for turtle tanks.

Advantages: 

  • Beautifies your tank and makes it more fun and lively to look at 
  •  Your turtles (if they had a choice), would probably prefer to be in a tank that replicates their own native habitat as best as possible 
  •  Live plants help naturally remove waste from the water, especially ammonia and nitrite (which build up fast in aquariums with turtles)
    • Live plants help naturally remove waste from the water, especially ammonia and nitrite (which build up fast in aquariums with turtles)
  • Reduces algae growth
    • Reduces algae growth

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there, because if you are thinking of adding live plants to a turtle tank, you need to do it the right way. If you add the wrong plant, or introduce it incorrectly,  you could end up either losing the plant or even worst, your turtle.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there, because if you are thinking of adding live plants to a turtle tank, you need to do it the right way. If you add the wrong plant, you could end up either losing the plant or even worst, your turtle.

Let's start with some basic requirements and conditions. 

Plant Requirements & Conditions

Before you just throw anything into your turtle tank, you will need to ask a few questions when it comes to plants for turtle tanks.

  • Will this plant be poisonous or toxic to my turtle?
    Will this plant be poisonous or toxic to my turtle?
  •  Will it even be able to grow due to the low-light level and/or my turtle possibly eating it?
    Will it even be able to grow due to the low-light level and/or my turtle possibly eating it?
painted turtle in grass
Before you just throw anything into your turtle tank, you will need to ask a few questions when it comes to plants for turtle tanks.

Let's start with the first question.

Let's start with the first question.

Most plants are not going to harm your turtle if or when they are consumed. Turtles often eat a wide variety of plant and foliage when they are in the wild, and they often are willing to try something that looks green and delicious at least once. 

That being said, there are certain things that grow in the wild that are just downright harmful for turtles, such as ivy, milkweed and water hemlock. Some plants contain harmful toxins, and if your turtle consumes even small amounts, it can have very damaging effects on your turtle's health.

Here is a list of plants and vegetables that you should never, under any circumstances, feed or let your turtle eat: 

  • Onion, avocado and potato 
  • Boxwood and yew 
  • Hyacinth 
  • Rhododendrons 
  • Azaleas 
  • All plant bulbs and seeds (they cause intestinal damage and the turtles cannot process them) 
 That being said, there are certain things that grow in the wild that are just downright harmful for turtles, such as ivy, milkweed and water hemlock.
Most plants are not going to harm your turtle if or when they are consumed. That being said, there are certain things that grow in the wild that are just downright harmful for turtles, such as ivy, milkweed and water hemlock.

Always double-check to make sure that whatever plant you choose will not harm your turtle.

Additional note: All of the live plants listed in this article will be safe for your turtle to consume.

Additional note: All of the live plants listed in this article will be safe for your turtle to consume.

Let's move to the second point.

Let's move to the second point.

The decision to add live plants to your tank also depends on the age of your turtle.

Depending on the plant and the age of your turtle, adding any live plants to your tank may be a cause.
Always double-check to make sure that whatever plant you choose will not harm your turtle.
Let's start with the best options for plants in your tank
The answer, quite simply, is yes.

For instance, most turtles become more herbivorous as they age. Sliders for instance, typically have a diet consisting of about 75% vegetables and plants as they get older. For this reason it's probably better that plants be added to the tank when the turtles are still young.

Moreover, you will need to be conscious of something else, namely, the ability of any plant you get to be able to grow and mature given the low-light conditions of most turtle tanks.

The reason for this is that most store-bought light bulbs are typically in the range of 1 watt/gallon, whereas live aquarium plants normally require at least double or triple that, from 2-3 watts/gallon. Thus, try to look for live plants that will thrive in low-light conditions. Here is a one of our favorite lights for turtle tank plants.

The reason for this is that most store-bought light bulbs are typically in the range of 1 watt/gallon, whereas live aquarium plants normally require at least double or triple that, from 2-3 watts/gallon. Thus, try to look for live plants that will thrive in low-light conditions.

So, now that you know the best time to add a live plant to your tank, as well as the fact that it should be able to grow in low-light, let's move on to our recommendations.

Best Plants for Turtle Tanks Recommendations

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

One of the best live plants to add to a turtle aquarium. It's tough, hardy, cheap and is easily found in most pet supply shops. It can be grown both entirely submersed (underwater) or partially. Best of all, most turtle species will not eat it.

Java Fern is not a plant with naturally strong roots and attachments, so you will have to attach it yourself.

The way you do this is to take some floss and strap its roots to an object like driftwood or some stones in your aquarium, and over time it naturally attach itself.

Java Fern Live Aquatic Aquarium Plant

java fern for turtle tank


Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
The way you do this is to take some floss and strap its roots to an object like driftwood or some stones in your aquarium, and over time it naturally attach itself.

By itself however, it will just float around your tank. You can buy a Java Fern online here on Amazon.

By itself however, it will just float around your tank.
So, now that you know the best time to add a live plant to your tank, as well as the fact that it should be able to grow in low-light, let's move on to our recommendations.

Any Anubias species

Another good choice for your tank. These are leafy-plants that taste absolutely horrendous to most turtles, meaning they will leave them alone.

They are also incredibly easy to grow and maintain. All that's needed is to tie them to a rock or piece of driftwood and let them sink to the bottom. If you can, cover the base with substrate to make sure it has a solid foundation.

These plants are very slow-growing, and sometimes will be covered by algae.

Turtles also sometimes knock their leaves off. Here are some options if you want to buy an Anubias Species plant online

Anubias Barteri "Nana" Live Aquatic Plant

Anubias Barteri "Nana" Live Aquatic Plant
These plants are very slow-growing, and sometimes will be covered by algae.
Turtles also sometimes knock their leaves off.

Waterweed (Anacharis)

Waterweed (Anacharis)

This extremely fast-growing plant cannot be in the same tank with slider and painted turtle species as they will consume them, and consume them fast!

However, if you have other types of turtles, such as a box species, they will probably love them! They look beautiful in tanks, and provides lots of area for a turtle to nestle in and relax.

Compared to the Java Fern and Anubias species of aqua plants, they also will need a bit more light to grow and mature.

The cool thing about this weed is its ability to attach and anchor itself to the bottom (or near anything it can attach itself to) of your tank. Here are some great Waterweed plants.

Anacharis Egeria Densa Freshwater Live Plant

Anacharis Bunch plant for turtle
This extremely fast-growing plant cannot be in the same tank with slider and painted turtle species as they will consume them, and consume them fast!
Compared to the Java Fern and Anubias species of aqua plants, they also will need a bit more light to grow and mature.
The cool thing about this weed is its ability to attach and anchor itself to the bottom (or near anything it can attach itself to) of your tank.

All three of these choices would make the best live plants for turtle tanks.

All three of these choices would make the best live plants for turtle tanks.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you have the following to ensure that your plant can grow and thrive in your habitat: 

Hopefully, this article answered any questions or thoughts you may have had. Please let us know in the comment section below!

If you have an enclosure instead of a tank, I recommend checking out plants for desert tortoise enclosure.

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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