Most tortoises are herbivores, consuming a plant-based diet comprising leafy greens, plants, weeds, and flowers. According to PLOS One, herbaceous perennial plants make up 30% of the desert tortoise’s diet.
Most of these plants grow naturally in the wild, so it’s easy to find foods that a tortoise will find palatable. However, not all plants are tortoise-safe, leading to serious digestive concerns.
So, choose the plants you put in a tortoise’s enclosure carefully. Tortoises have a foraging instinct, so they’ll likely eat whatever plants they find in their living environment, even ones that are toxic.
What Plants Are Toxic To Tortoises?
Never feed a tortoise anything that you haven’t confirmed is safe. If you’re thinking about growing plants in a tortoise’s enclosure, research the toxicity levels.
Here are some common toxic plants for tortoises:
- Boston ivy
- Asparagus fern
- Marsh marigold
Tortoises can’t differentiate safe plants from toxic ones.
What Plants Are Safe for Tortoises To Eat?
Here are some tortoise-safe plants you can grow inside a tortoise’s enclosure:
1/ Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a leafy herb from the mint family. The leaves have a mild citrus scent with a calming effect.
Lemon balm is also rich in nutrients, including A, B, and C, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus.
As a perennial plant, lemon balm grows all year round, making it a reliable food source for tortoises.
It thrives indoors and outdoors and doesn’t require much watering or tending.
2/ Turtle Vine
Turtle vine (callisia repens) is a creeping succulent plant native to Mexico and Central America.
It thrives in shaded environments and moist conditions, like those found in the areas where it originates.
Excess watering should be avoided because it leads to leaf discoloration and rotting roots.
3/ Aloe Vera
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Miller) is a succulent plant species with many beneficial properties and practical uses.
The main nutrients in aloe vera are vitamins A, B, C, and E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound-healing properties, reducing inflammation and soothing sore skin. Also, it boosts immunity and optimizes the digestive process.
According to the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, mucopolysaccharides, amino acids, and zinc can prevent skin ulcers.
This water-rich plant grows all year round and thrives indoors and outdoors. When growing aloe vera indoors, keep the pot in an area with direct sunlight.
Dandelions (Taraxacum) are native to Eurasia and North America.
Dandelions are an excellent source of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
They have anti-inflammatory properties due to lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. Also, they contain polyphenols, which are beneficial to cardiovascular health.
However, dandelions have high oxalate levels, adversely affecting tortoises’ digestive systems. They’re only safe in small amounts, meaning tortoises can eat dandelions once or twice weekly.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a colorful flowering plant that’s easy to grow and maintain.
Besides its beautiful appearance, this plant is rich in nutrients, particularly Vitamin C, which helps to boost the immune system.
Since nasturtium is a perennial plant, it can be grown and harvested throughout the year. It does well in open areas with lots of sunlight and well-aerated soils.
However, if you live in a warmer climate. In that case, keeping the potted nasturtium plant in a shaded area during hot afternoons is recommended to prevent the soil from drying up.
Tortoises don’t mind eating nasturtium and will gladly indulge in it when offered. However, only provide it in moderation because tortoises naturally produce vitamin C.
There are 100+ species of roses, including shades of white, yellow, orange, pink, and red.
Rose petals and leaves (Rosa) are tortoises’ favorite treats. The nutritional benefits are Vitamins A, C, and E, iron, and calcium.
Also, roses have been used as a remedy for various ailments, including inflammation, skin conditions, and digestive problems.
Roses are hardy plants capable of surviving indoors and outdoors. Most newer roses are resistant to diseases and require minimal watering and care.
Gazanias (Gazania rigens) are perennial, low-growing flowers with dense, hairy leaves and flowers that resemble daisies.
While many grow them outdoors or keep them as house plants for aesthetic reasons, they’re nutritious treats for tortoise species, especially sulcata and desert tortoises.
While gazanias don’t require fertilizer, they thrive in well-aerated soils with good drainage. They’re water-efficient and only need to be watered once or twice a week.
Clovers (Trifolium) are rich in proteins, making them a good addition to a tortoise’s diet.
Nevertheless, they should only be offered in minimal amounts because too much protein can cause shell pyramiding, particularly in young or juvenile tortoises.
Growing clovers is easy since they don’t require fertilizers to thrive. Like most of these plants, they only need well-drained soil and daily watering to grow.
Cacti (Cactaceae) can store water in their fleshy stems, which makes them drought-resistant.
While humans primarily keep cacti for aesthetic reasons, their high water content makes them an ideal food for tortoises. This is ideal in the summer, especially if a tortoise is reluctant to hydrate.
There are various cactus species that you can grow in a tortoise’s enclosure, but the most popular varieties include the prickly pear, cholla, saguaro, and organ pipe.
When choosing cactus plants for a tortoise, pick spineless varieties. While tortoises will tolerate the discomfort, a spineless variety will make the consumption process more comfortable.
Pansies (Viola tricolor var. hortensis) are flowering plants liked by most tortoises, including red-foot tortoises and leopard tortoises.
Pansies are edible flowers that contain vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, protein, and antioxidants.
Pansies are also a good source of flavonoids, which aid the digestive process and control inflammation.
The most common varieties of pansies include the following:
- Blue mood pansy
- Charlon supreme pansy
- Alba minor pansy
- Cool wave white pansy
Unlike most plants, pansies aren’t perennial. They thrive during the summer and require at least 4-6 hours of sunlight daily. Note that too much direct sunlight can affect the flowering process.
So, locate pansies in a partially-shaded location when the temperature gets too high in the afternoons.
To keep the plants healthy, you can even use tortoise poop fertilizer.