The Plant Native

Turtlehead

Highlights

It’s a strange common name, but once you see the shape of their individual flowers—you can’t unsee the tiny turtle head blooms. Turtleheads bloom for a very long time—4-6 weeks!—giving pollinators lots to snack on. They get 1-3 feet tall and thrive in areas that are consistently moist. Because they happily grow in a wide range of light—full sun to part shade—turtleheads are a perfect flower for beginner gardeners. Learn more and explore different colors below.

Full Sun – Part Shade
Likes consistent wet areas
Blooms summer into fall
Chelone species

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native turtleheads

Table of Contents

What are the benefits of planting turtlehead flowers?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting native is worth it:

  1. Without native plants, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Native plants are gorgeous! Turtleheads are a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.
GORGEOUS, right?

Turtleheads are host plants for Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies

If you need one more reason to plant turtleheads, here you go—turtleheads are also the host plant for the iconic Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. 

The name ‘host plant’ describes a plant that a butterfly or insect lays its eggs on. Some of our most treasured butterflies—like Baltimore Checkerspots and monarchs—only lay their eggs on one plant. Said another way, without turtleheads, there would be no Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies.

Types of native turtlehead flowers

There are a handful of native species of turtlehead found in North America, each with different flower colors and slightly different native ranges. 

Almost any garden in the eastern half of the US and Canada can plant White Turtlehead

White Turtlehead

Chelone glabra

White Turtleheads have a huge native range, from the eastern Canadian provinces all the way south to Georgia and west to Illinois. They can sometimes have slight pink coloring on the edges of their flowers.

Pink Turtleheads in bloom

Pink Turtlehead

Chelone lyonii

Pink Turtlehead is made for the eastern seaboard. Its native range extends from the east coast of the US, from Maine south to Mississippi. 

Red Turtleheads—which are honestly more pink than red!—in bloom

Red Turtlehead

Chelone obliqua

The Red Turtlehead is the turtlehead for the Midwest. Its flowers are more pink than red, but it’s a different species based on its different name range from Pink Turtlehead.

White Turtlehead has a HUGE native range (map from USDA)

Where are turtleheads native?

The turtlehead with the largest native range is White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra). You can see from the map, that it is happily planted in eastern Canada and south through America’s Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Southern states.

Each of the three native turtlehead species above has different native ranges (click on their Latin names to see their range). 

What are good pairings for Turtleheads?

Great pairings for turtleheads include other native plants that thrive in consistently wet areas. Some great ideas include:

native-aster-flowers-with-a-butterfly-garden

Aster

buttonbush-butterfly-plant-native-gardening

Buttonbush

hummingbird-cardinal-flower-native-plant

Cardinal Flower

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Golden Alexander

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Joe Pye Weed

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Queen of the Prairie

Now you’ve met the native turtleheads of North America! You can see from their wide native ranges that there is a native turtlehead flower for any Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, or Southern garden. Do you have a spot that consistently gets water? Plant a patch of turtleheads and watch the pollinators go crazy.

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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