With a little imagination, the uniquely shaped flowers look like a turtle about to snap.

Colorful Combinations

Turtleheads are found in beautiful shades of pinks and whites. When looking closely at these interesting blooms, you will see that the common name for this plant makes sense, as the flowers look like snapping turtle heads. These curious blooms are found at the tips of each of the stems and mature stands of these plants can make for a stunning display of blooms. The foliage of turtleheads makes a lovely backdrop with its rich green tones against other plants.

Turtlehead Care Must-Knows

When planting turtleheads, consider their native habitat of a moist area. You can often find these native flowers growing alongside streams and lakes as these plants prefer boggy sites over dry soils. In a drier setting, these plants may require supplemental watering during long droughts to keep them looking their best. This is also true when it comes to plant competition. Although they do like woodland habits, there is an increase in plant competition, especially from woody plant roots. Make sure that they receive adequate water in order to keep up their lush growth when growing under mature trees.

Turtleheads are tolerant of a variety of sun conditions, but for best results, they should be planted in part shade. This will ensure the plants look their absolute best, while requiring the least amount of additional input to keep them happy. While they can handle full sun, there is a larger likelihood of them requiring supplemental watering, as they will tend to dry out faster than when planted in part sun. If all other conditions are ideal, turtleheads can even grow well in full shade, but may experience a lankier habit and will increase the chances of developing powdery mildew.

In order to prevent powdery mildew and other potential foliar diseases, make sure the plants have adequate air circulation. The occasional thinning out of larger, mature stands can be helpful too, as it will increase the airflow to the center of the plants. Along with thinning out plants, turtlehead can easily be divided, either to keep clumps in check, or to help with potential disease problems. The best time to divide turtleheads is in the spring, just as the new growth emerges. This can be done by simply digging up plants and separating the hardy rootstocks and replanting.

More Varieties of Turtlehead

Turtlehead Overview

Description This native wildflower grows exceptionally well in moist, shady soils and puts on an impressive display of blooms in late summer to fall. Even when not in bloom, these plants have striking, leathery, green foliage that can easily fill in a shady spot and add a complementary backdrop to neighboring plants. Turtleheads are right at home in a woodland setting and will spread slowly but surely to create dense clumps of plants. They also make pretty cut flowers.
Genus Name Chelone
Common Name Turtlehead
Plant Type Perennial
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 1 to 3 feet
Flower Color Pink, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Cut Flowers, Low Maintenance
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Drought Tolerant

Pink turtlehead

turtlehead chelone native wildflower
Dean Schoeppner

Chelone lyonii is the tallest of turtlehead species at 3-4 feet in height. It bears clusters of purplish-pink flowers from August through October. Zones 3-8

Rose turtlehead

Rose turtlehead
Greg Ryan

Chelone obliqua flowers look similar to those of pink turtlehead, but they tend to be slightly darker and are borne on plants that remain under 2 feet in height. Zones 5-9

Turtlehead Companion Plants

Toad Lily

toad lily
Greg Ryan

No fall garden should be without toad lilies. These Asian curiosities bloom with orchid-like flowers that demand a close look, when the garden is winding down in fall. They do best in light shade in humus-rich soil that retains moisture, and are suitable for borders or less formal parts of the garden and among shrubs gradually becoming large clumps. Some self-seed but not aggressively.

Marsh Marigold

marsh marigold
John Noltner

This flower likes wet conditions so much that it's often recommended for bog and water gardens where it lights things up with bright yellow flowers. A native of wetlands, marsh marigold forms foot-tall mounds of foliage topped with 1- to 2-inch-wide yellow blooms (a white form is also available) in early spring. It's also a good selection for chronically soggy or poorly drained sites. It often goes dormant after it blooms.


Iris Immortality
Dean Schoeppner

Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have the classic, impossibly intricate flowers. The flowers are constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Some cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil while others prefer acidic soil.

Garden Plans for Turtlehead

Downspout Garden

downspout rain garden plan
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

This garden is up to the high-moisture challenge of the area around a downspout.

Click here to get this garden plan!

Easy Streetside Garden Plan

Easy Streetside Garden Plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Turn your hell strip into a heavenly oasis of color and bloom with fuss-free native plants.

Download this free plan.

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