Most tortoises are herbivores. They love to forage for plants, eating their tasty flowers, vines, and leaves. If you want to enhance the look of your tortoise enclosure, adding live plants is ideal. This will give your tortoise a constant source of food, shade it from the sun, provide hiding places, and keep the tortoise entertained.
Tortoises can eat dandelions, lemon balm, and marigolds as flowers. Air plants are safe for tortoises to eat, as well as spider plants and climbing plants. The best choices for air plants are brachycaulos, ionatha, maxima, and aeranthos. For climbing plants, choose the creeping rosemary, grape vines, and climbing roses.
Tortoises can also be kept with artificial plants, as long as they’re plastic and large. This will prevent them from chewing through the fake material. Large ones may be hard to fit in a tortoise’s mouth, so it can’t eat them.
Edible Plants For Tortoises
All tortoises naturally subsist on a plant-based diet. For this reason, it’s not hard to find plants that tortoises like to eat. The issue comes in finding tortoise-safe plants.
Many varieties are appealing to the tortoise palate but toxic to their system. Others are safe to eat, but only in moderation. Of the plants that are safe, not all of them are easy to grow, nor are they easy to source. To strike the right balance, they need to check a few boxes. Narrow down your shortlist to plants that are:
Safe to add to your tortoise’s enclosureThrive well in indoor or outdoor enclosuresCheap enough to buy several, so you can swap them outColorful or possess interesting textures, so they can entertain your tortoise
Tortoises like to eat plants that engage their foraging instincts. In the wild, tortoises often target blossoms and weeds because of their bright coloration. Leafy greens are easy to get ahold of, so tortoises can crush them between their beak-like mouth plates. They also prefer familiar meals so that they can follow their instincts.
Even if your ideal plants don’t tick all these boxes, your tortoise may still enjoy feeding on them. That’s because tortoises love variety, and some have curious personalities. As long as the plant is natural, not artificial, and isn’t dangerous to tortoises, you can choose a type that fits in the enclosure.
Can You Put Plants In Your Tortoise Enclosure?
It’s safe to establish plants in your tortoise enclosure. For outdoor pens, they can be rooted in the ground and protected until they’re large enough to survive a tortoise’s insistent munching.
You can also set them in a pot so that you can move them in and out when the tortoise’s biting becomes too damaging. For indoor enclosures, potted plants are a great choice to spruce up the tank’s look and give your tortoise foraging enrichment.
For these reasons, put plants in a tortoise enclosure. It’s the best way to mimic their natural habitat. According to the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, plants in a tortoise enclosure have been known to improve mood and health.
After all, they improve air quality, make tortoises feel more at home (and less stressed), and provide extra nutrients. If the plant can survive long periods in your tortoise’s tank, this should become its main home.
Are Fake Plants Safe For Tortoises?
Fake plants are a good choice if you don’t want the constant upkeep. Of course, the main risk is the tortoise eating the fake plants and ingesting pieces. This may cause impaction. Tortoises are curious, so yours might take a bite. To prevent this, you should get:
Large plantsArtificial plants made of plastic, not fabric or silkKinds that can be buried deep in the substrate
Plastic is a good choice as it’ll reduce the chances of your tortoise swallowing pieces. Likewise, the temperature and humidity of the enclosure won’t harm or soften the artificial plant.
Depending on the tortoise’s size, it may not be able to get through the plastic material. If it’s buried in the substrate, it won’t be able to knock it over and access smaller pieces. It also won’t knock the plant onto itself and become stuck.
Opt for a large fake plant with leaves bigger than your tortoise’s mouth to make it difficult to consume. If your tortoise has a hard time putting it in its mouth, it’s less likely to cause intestinal blockages.
What Live Plants Can Tortoises Eat?
Many owners prefer live plants that their tortoises can chew on. This not only provides enrichment, allowing tortoises to rip and tear at food. It also gives your tortoise additional nutrients and gives the tank a brighter, more natural appearance. For plants that fit these criteria, you can grow:
This is the most common plant grown for pet tortoises as it’s:
Bright yellow colorTextured and interestingEasy to chew
From an owner’s perspective, dandelions are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. They’re easy to care for and grow quickly. In fact, the chances are that these plants are already growing in your backyard.
You can pick off and offer the flowers to your tortoise or let the pet roam freely to eat them. In the winter, this plant can be grown indoors with UV light. Dandelions can also be dried, although the dried variety will be less appealing.
The lemon balm is an aromatic herb known for its health benefits. If you grow herbs on your windowsill, you can offer the leaves and stems to your tortoise. Placing them within the enclosure may result in the lemon balm getting destroyed, so it’s best to harvest them outside the tank for your pet.
Feed lemon balm in moderation. According to the Journal of Immunotoxicology, it contains eugenol, which can cause liver damage in large quantities. For this reason, it is only safe to plant in your tortoise’s enclosure if you know that your tortoise isn’t eating it.
Marigolds are an annual plant that’s easy to grow and requires little care. The bright colors will entice your tortoise’s foraging instincts and encourage it to graze. It’s safe with no harmful compounds.
What Houseplants Can Tortoises Eat?
Houseplants are easy to grow and cheap to buy, making them a good choice for tortoise enclosures. You can purchase a few and rotate them out as your tortoise chews them down.
The Boston fern is a common houseplant because of its hardy nature and beautiful, long-reaching fronds. Unlike most ferns, this plant doesn’t need a lot of sunlight, which makes it a popular indoor plant.
Ferns can look similar, but the only safe fern to eat is the Boston fern. Tortoises appreciate the leafy nature of this plant as food and often hide behind its draping fronds to recharge their social batteries.
The coleus is a great addition to an outdoor garden or enclosure since it repels cats and dogs. This can give your tortoise a tasty plant to munch on while also keeping it safe from other pets.
Ensure that your plant is a coleus and not a perilla because the latter is toxic to tortoises. If you’re unsure, don’t give your tortoise access to it. Most can’t resist a nibble here and there, and this can be dangerous.
The friendship plant has wide, oval-shaped leaves with a fuzzy surface. Your tortoise will enjoy pulling at its large, tempting greens. Its flowers are also safe for tortoises and come in many different colors, including:
Geraniums are a plant that’s safe for your tortoise to eat. It’s known for its small, tightly-clustered leaves and its brightly colored, bushy flowers. They’ll fit neatly in your tortoise’s mouth and offer tempting flavors.
Geraniums can be grown indoors as houseplants, but they’re not the most beginner-friendly plant. To circumvent this problem, use a loamy potting mix and don’t overwater them.
Plants For Tortoise Enclosure
Here are plants that survive well in tanks, can handle rough chewing, and add to the aesthetic appeal:
Are Air Plants Safe For Tortoises?
The term “air plant” refers to a genus of plants that don’t need soil. Specifically, this is the genus tillandsia. The most common ones added to a tortoise tank include:
Brachycaulos: Common and small, with reddish tipsIonatha: Common and beginner-friendly, with deep green leaves that grow red and pink at the tipsMaxima: Large, and turns red before blooming into purple flowersAeranthos: Small- to medium-sized, with grey-purple leaves, and easily flowers with pink budsCapitata: One of the largest varieties, with soft, pale green leaves
Air plants need to be submerged in water once a week. As long as the base is exposed to air and receives good circulation, it’ll grow. They’re usually attached to a wire or placed on top of a rack.
In a tortoise enclosure, you can attach these plants to a rock. For larger varieties, use a log or piece of wood and attach the plant from there. Support the plant with a thin piece of wire and ensure that the base is exposed.
Are Spider Plants Safe For Tortoises?
Spider plants are safe for tortoises and can be added to their tanks. They’re a good choice for tortoise enclosures because they’re known to be hardy and beginner-friendly.
As long as their soil is clean, these plants can survive with little maintenance. Many owners note that their torts don’t eat the spider plants in their enclosure. Tortoises appreciate them as hiding places and visual stimuli but not as food.
Are Climbing Plants Safe For Tortoises?
Climbing plants can be a nice addition to an outdoor enclosure. However, not all kinds are safe for tortoises to eat. These are the only non-toxic varieties:
Climbing roses are hardy, beautiful flowers that can grow with enough light and water. As a bonus, you don’t need to worry about pesticides, unlike with store-bought roses.
Rose leaves and flower petals are safe for your tortoise to eat in moderation. Some love eating the leaves, while others ignore them. Make sure that your tortoise isn’t eating too many.
Thorns can present issues for some tortoises. You can remove the thorns from the vines on the ground level. Don’t break them off, as this can lead to permanent damage to the plant. Instead, clip them off with clean garden scissors. Thorns won’t grow back once removed.
Alternatively, some climbing rose varieties are cultivated to be thorn-free or at least have minimal thorns. The zepherine drouhine is a true thorn-free rose, while the sweetheart rose is a variety that has minimal thorns.
As a trailing rosemary, it’s a part of the same family as traditional rosemary, but it’s edible and healthy. However, creeping rosemary should be fed sparingly to tortoises. It should be offered in small amounts and only on occasion. That makes it ideal for tortoises that are allowed to explore your backyard.
If you choose to place it inside the enclosure, most tortoises will ignore it. The look and drape of the vines won’t appeal to their natural foraging instincts. The little they do chew on should be healthy.
Grape vines are trailing plants. Their wide leaves give tortoises safe hiding spots and shade them from direct sunlight. This can add more balance between basking spots and resting areas.
When planted, tortoises will munch on the grape leaves that they can reach. Expect vines nearest to the ground to be constantly nibbled on. Young, fresh leaves are safe for your tortoise to eat in moderation.
However, grapes can only be consumed in small amounts due to their sugar content. Don’t allow grapes to stay on the vine where tortoises can reach them. Harvest them regularly.
Tortoises can eat various plants, as long as they’re non-toxic and engage their natural foraging instincts. You can mix-match the selection or try them out individually to see what your tortoise prefers.