Most tortoises are herbivores, so they consume plants and vegetables. Growing a variety of plants or opting for store-bought plants will give your tortoise a diverse food supply.
The best plants for tortoises include lemon balm, turtle vine, and aloe vera. Other options include dandelions, nasturtium, rose, gazanias, clover, cactus, geranium, and pansies.
Although plants grow naturally, finding them can be more difficult if you live in an area with few plants to forage. Fortunately, you can grow tortoise-friendly plants with a basic setup.
Most tortoises consume a plant-based diet comprising leafy greens, plants, and flowers. According to PLOS One, herbaceous perennial plants make up about 30% of the desert tortoise’s diet.
Most of these plants grow naturally in the wild, so it’s not hard to find foods that your tortoise will find palatable. However, not all plants are safe for a tortoise to eat, and some are toxic to a tortoise’s digestive system, while others can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities.
So, be cautious when choosing what plants to grow in a tortoise’s enclosure. Tortoises have an instinct for foraging, which means they’ll attempt to eat any plant in their environment. You never want to find your tortoise eating toxic plants that might adversely affect its health.
Here are some tortoise-safe plants that you can grow inside your tortoise’s enclosure:
1/ Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a leafy herb from the same family as mint.
Its leaves emit a mild lemon scent that has a calming or relaxing effect. This herb is used to make teas, marinate fish or meat, and flavor baked foods. However, it’s also rich in vitamins.
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 a lot of watering or tending.
2/ Turtle Vine
Turtle vine (callisia repens) is a creeping succulent plant native to South America.
It does well in shaded environments and moist conditions like those found in the areas where it originates. Even so, excess watering should be avoided, as it can lead to discoloration of leaves and rotting of the roots.
Tortoises love turtle vine and consume them in large quantities, which can be unhealthy and should be avoided. You should moderate the amount of turtle vine you feed your tortoise.
Ideally, you should cut them into small pieces and feed them to your tortoise in small amounts every day. If possible, mix them with other plants.
3/ Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a succulent super plant that has many benefits and uses.
According to the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, it contains mucopolysaccharides, amino acids, and zinc, which help prevent skin ulcers.
It’s used to treat a wide range of ailments, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
This water-rich plant grows all year round and does well indoors and outdoors. When growing aloe vera indoors, you should keep the pot in an area with direct sunlight, preferably near the window.
Dandelions are flowering plants that are used for their healing and therapeutic properties in treating ailments, including the following:
However, dandelions contain high oxalate levels, adversely affecting their digestive system. They’re only safe when offered in small amounts, so tortoises can eat dandelions a couple of times per week.
Nasturtium 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 all year round. It does well in open areas with plenty of sunlight and well-aerated soils.
However, suppose you live in a warmer climate. In that case, keeping your potted nasturtium plant in a shaded area during hot afternoons is recommended to prevent the soil from drying up quickly.
Tortoises don’t mind eating nasturtium and will gladly indulge in it when offered. However, you should only provide it in moderation because tortoises produce vitamin C.
Rose petals and leaves are delicious treats for tortoises. However, it would help if you never fed your tortoise roses sourced from flower stores since they’re likely to be coated in insecticides. Instead, you can grow them in your garden as a regular food source for your tortoise.
Fortunately, roses are hardy plants capable of surviving indoors and outdoors. Most newer roses are resistant to diseases and require minimal watering and care.
Gazanias are attractive flowering plants that are common in most people’s gardens.
While many grow them outdoors or keep them as house plants for aesthetic reasons, they’re nutritious treats for tortoise species. In particular, this includes 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 after they’re established.
Clovers are rich in proteins, making them a great addition to your tortoise’s diet.
Nevertheless, they should only be offered in minimal amounts because too much protein can cause shell pyramiding, particularly in young 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.
Cactus can store water in its fleshy stems, which makes it drought-resistant. While humans primarily keep cactus for aesthetic reasons, its high water content makes it an ideal food for tortoises.
There are various cactus species that you can grow in your tortoise’s enclosure, but the most popular varieties include the prickly pear and bunny ears cactus.
When choosing cactus plants for your tortoise, it is advisable to pick spineless varieties, as they won’t prick your pet tortoise’s mouth when it’s feeding.
Pansies are vibrant flowering plants loved by most tortoises, including red-foot tortoises and leopard tortoises.
The most common varieties 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 every day. 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.
It’s not enough to know what plants are safe for your tortoise; you need to be aware of plants that could be toxic or dangerous for your tortoise to avoid them.
Never feed your tortoise anything that you have not confirmed to be safe. If you’re thinking about growing plants in your pet’s enclosure, you need to research the toxicity levels of the plants beforehand.
Here are common toxic plants for tortoises:
- Boston ivy
- Asparagus fern
- Marsh marigold
Tortoises can’t differentiate safe plants from toxic ones. Instead, they’ll eat any plant that is available in their environment.
The consumption of dangerous plants can put your tortoise at risk of illness or death. Therefore, before growing any plant, verify whether it is healthy and safe for your tortoise.
Spider plants are non-toxic and completely safe for your tortoise. So, you shouldn’t have a problem growing them in your tortoise’s enclosure.
Tortoises can eat houseplants as long as they are safe and non-toxic. So, before you feed your tortoise, you should ensure they’re edible and do not pose any health risks.
Tortoises will eat most flowers, provided they’re not toxic to their digestive system.
However, since tortoises can’t distinguish between safe and dangerous flowers, they may unwittingly consume harmful plants that can cause them to fall sick.
Some of the flowers that you should never feed your tortoise include:
- Poison ivy
Herbs aren’t only safe for tortoises but also rich in nutrients. However, some tortoises will avoid feeding on herbs with a strong scent.
Growing herbs in your tortoise’s enclosure ensure your pet has something to nibble on during the day.
The best herbs for tortoises include:
- Aloe vera
Tortoises can eat plants that have been confirmed non-toxic for the species.
Also, some owners add artificial plants to tortoises’ enclosures. If you decide to do so, you must ensure they’re not being eaten.