White turtlehead Chelone glabra

👤 Non-toxic to humans
🐾 Non-toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Easy-care


Chelone glabra, commonly known as white turtlehead, is a perennial plant that is notable for its unique flower shape that resembles the head of a turtle. The flowers are typically white, though some may have a pinkish tinge. They consist of a two-lipped, tubular structure: the upper lip is hooded, and the lower lip has three lobes. The flowers are densely packed in spike-like clusters at the top of the stem. The leaves of white turtlehead are dark green, coarsely toothed, and mostly opposite along the stem, which makes the foliage appear quite lush. Each leaf is lance-shaped with a pointed tip and a texture that may be described as somewhat wrinkly with pronounced veins. The plant has a robust and erect stem, which is simple or occasionally branched. The overall appearance of white turtlehead is that of an upright, clump-forming plant with a somewhat bushy character due to the fullness of the leaves and the height at which the flower clusters are displayed. The blossoms appear in late summer through to early fall, providing interest in the garden and acting as a nectar source for pollinators during this time.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Family


    • Synonyms

      White Turtlehead, Turtle Bloom, Snakehead, Balmony, Bitter Herb, Shellflower, Fish Mouth

    • Common names

      Chelone glabra var. linifolia, Chelone obliqua, Chelone pubescens, Pentstemon laevigatus.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      White turtlehead is not commonly known to be toxic to humans. While there might be reports of mild toxicity if ingested, typically there are no severe symptoms of poisoning associated with this plant. However, as with any plant, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction or gastrointestinal upset if parts of the plant are consumed.

    • To pets

      White turtlehead is not listed as a toxic plant to pets such as dogs and cats. While it's always advisable to prevent pets from eating plants, there is no widely reported toxicity or symptoms of poisoning in pets with the ingestion of this plant. Caution should nevertheless be exercised, as individual animals might have unique sensitivities.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      2-4 feet (0.6-1.2 meters)

    • Spread

      2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area

      North America


  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Supports Wildlife: Chelone glabra, commonly known as white turtlehead, is a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds, helping to support the local ecosystem.
    • Attracts Pollinators: This plant is particularly attractive to bees, which makes it excellent for supporting pollination in gardens.
    • Aesthetic Value: White turtlehead has distinct white flowers that resemble a turtle's head, adding unique visual interest to garden settings.
    • Naturalizing Areas: It can be used to naturalize wet areas, such as around ponds or streams, where other plants might struggle.
    • Low Maintenance: Once established, Chelone glabra is a low-maintenance plant that requires minimal care to thrive.
    • Soil Erosion Control: Its root system helps to stabilize soil, preventing erosion in wetter areas.
    • Educational Use: As a native plant, it can be used in educational settings to teach about local flora and natural gardening practices.
    • Habitat Restoration: Local to North America, it can be utilised in restoration projects to help re-establish native plant communities.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    • Antiparasitic - Chelone glabra has been traditionally used to expel parasitic worms.
    • Laxative - It potentially acts as a mild laxative.
    • Antipyretic - The plant may reduce fever.
    • Hepatoprotective - There is some evidence to suggest it offers liver protection.
    • Anti-inflammatory - Components within Chelone glabra might have anti-inflammatory effects.
    • Cholagogue - It could promote the discharge of bile from the system.
    • Antiseptic - The plant has been used for its potential antiseptic properties.
    • Immune System Modulation - It may influence the immune system.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • Chelone glabra, commonly known as white turtlehead, can be used to create a natural fabric dye, providing a range of colors from soft greens to yellows, depending on the mordant used.
    • The plant's seed heads add an ornamental element to dried flower arrangements and can be used to craft unique, natural decorations.
    • Native Americans have used the sturdy stems of white turtlehead to weave small baskets or as a reinforcement material in basket-making.
    • The flowers of white turtlehead are known to attract butterflies, specifically the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, making it useful for butterfly gardens and conservation efforts.
    • It can serve as a teaching tool for ecology and botany education, being a native plant with distinct ecological relationships and adaptations.
    • The leaves of the plant can be used to line planting beds as a natural mulch to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.
    • White turtlehead can be planted along pond edges or in rain gardens as it tolerates wet soil and can help prevent erosion.
    • For people practicing nature photography, the plant offers an aesthetically pleasing subject with its unique flower structure and attraction to wildlife.
    • It is ideal for creating a themed garden that mimics the wetland habitats of northeastern America, providing an authentic natural landscape.
    • In winter, the seed pods and stems offer visual interest in the garden, as they stand out against the snow and provide food for birds.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The White Turtlehead is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The White Turtlehead is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Protection: Chelone glabra, commonly known as white turtlehead, is often associated with protection due to its sturdy and resilient nature, symbolizing the ability to shield and safeguard against negativity.
    • Healing: In some traditions, white turtlehead is used for its medicinal properties, representing healing and the restoration of one's health.
    • Good Fortune: The bloom's unique shape, resembling a turtle's head, is sometimes believed to bring good luck, symbolizing good fortune and prosperity.
    • Communication: The "open mouth" appearance of white turtlehead flowers is thought to symbolize open communication and the expression of thoughts and feelings.
    • Overcoming Obstacles: Due to the plant’s ability to grow in tough conditions, it can represent endurance and the power to overcome challenges.

Every 1-2 weeks
2500 - 10000 Lux
Every 2-3 years
Late spring to early summer
As needed
  • water dropWater

    The white turtlehead should be watered regularly to maintain consistently moist soil, especially during dry spells. Typically, watering with 1-2 gallons per week is sufficient, but this can vary depending on soil type and weather conditions. It is best to water deeply and less frequently to encourage root growth rather than light, frequent watering. During the growing season, make sure the top inch of soil is moist to the touch before watering again, but take care not to overwater and flood the plant as this can lead to root rot.

  • sunLight

    The white turtlehead thrives in partial shade to full sun. For optimal growth, a spot that receives morning sunlight and afternoon shade is ideal. While it can tolerate full sun in cooler climates, it is essential to protect it from the intense midday heat which can scorch the leaves, especially in hotter regions.

  • thermometerTemperature

    The white turtlehead prefers moderate temperatures and will grow best when the temperature range is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is hardy and can survive minimum temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for many temperate regions. However, extreme heat above 90 degrees Fahrenheit can stress the plant, so providing some shade during hot spells is beneficial.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning the white turtlehead is primarily done to maintain plant shape and remove spent flowers to encourage rebloom. After the first flush of flowers fade, deadheading can promote a second flowering period. Pruning back the foliage in late fall or early spring can also help to keep the plant tidy and healthy. The best time to perform significant pruning is in the early spring before new growth begins.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    Turtlehead prefers consistently moist soil that's rich in organic matter with a slightly acidic to neutral pH, generally around 5.5 to 7.0. A good soil mix may include peat moss, compost, and perlite in equal parts to ensure adequate drainage and fertility.

  • plantRepotting

    Turtlehead does not require frequent repotting and can often thrive in the same pot for several years. Generally, consider repotting Turtlehead every 2-3 years to refresh the soil and provide room for growth.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Turtlehead plants fare well in average room humidity but will appreciate conditions that mimic their natural moist habitat. Maintaining a humidity level around 50% or higher is ideal for these plants.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Place Turtlehead in bright indirect light with moist soil.

    • Outdoor

      Plant Turtlehead in part shade with moist, rich soil.

    • Hardiness zone

      3-8 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    The White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) begins its life as a seed, usually germinating in spring after experiencing cold stratification through winter. Seedlings emerge and develop into juvenile plants, growing in moist soil conditions, often alongside streambanks or in wetlands. The plants then mature, forming upright stems with distinctive, lance-shaped leaves, and reach flowering maturity in late summer to early fall, producing white, turtlehead-shaped flowers that are pollinated by bees and butterflies. After pollination, the flowers develop into capsules containing numerous small seeds. Seeds are dispersed near the parent plant or by water, allowing for colonization of new areas. The plant goes dormant in winter, with the roots surviving underground, ready to sprout again the following spring.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Late spring to early summer

    • For the Chelone glabra, commonly known as white turtlehead, the most popular method of propagation is through seed sowing. The best time to sow seeds is in fall or early winter, to allow for a period of natural stratification. To propagate by seed, you would collect mature seeds from the plant in late summer. These seeds are then scattered lightly on the surface of a moist, well-draining potting mix or directly in the garden where you want them to grow. Since the seeds need light to germinate, they should not be buried too deeply. Covering the seeds with a fine dusting of soil or pressing them gently into the soil surface is sufficient. Keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged is crucial for germination, which can take anywhere from two to six weeks.