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Chelone glabra (turtlehead)

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Technical sheet - Chelone
Species Distribution Map: Click to enlarge
Map Color Key © 2013 BONAP

Chelone glabra


Spikes of elegant white flowers top shiny green foliage in late summer and early fall. Grows best in moist meadows, stream banks, and swamps. Favorite breeding site for the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly.

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2-4 Feet


1-3 Feet


18 Inches

Bloom Color


USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8

turtlehead Interesting Notes

Chelone glabra, or turtlehead, has spikes of elegant white flowers atop shiny green foliage in late summer to early fall. The flowers can possess a touch of pink and resemble snapdragon flowers. In optimum conditions, the plants grow 3-4 feet tall and are an excellent specimen plant in rain gardens and along a water edge. It is called turtlehead because the flower shape resembles a turtle’s head.

Native to the eastern United States into eastern Canada, turtlehead grows in open woodlands in floodplain areas, sedge meadows, fens, and marshes. It prefers full or partial sun in wet to moist soil conditions with fertile soil containing organic matter. It can tolerate periodic flooding and can do well in a garden if watered during dry spells. In shady areas, plant may stretch. To maintain a good height, Chelone glabra can be pinched or staked in spring or early summer.

Chelone glabra is a welcome plant in our rain gardens and along our pond edge, adding a stately vertical element to a naturalistic design. It is a favorite breeding site for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly and is well-loved by nectar seeking bumblebees. While the foliage is a feast for some sawflies and other Lepidoptera caterpillars, it is avoided by deer and other mammals due to its bitter taste.

Chelone glabra Growing and Maintenance Tips

Best grown in moist to wet, rich, humusy soils in part shade. Appreciates a good composted leaf mulch, particularly in sunny areas. Consider pinching back the stem ends in spring to reduce mature plant height, especially if growing plants in strongly shaded areas where they are more likely to need some support. In optimum environments, however, staking is usually not required.

Good Substitutions

turtlehead Chelone obliqua Tiny Tortuga™ 'Armitpp02'
turtlehead Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'

Key Characteristics & Attributes

Part Sun
Part Sun
Deer Resistant
Deer Resistant
Cut Flower
Cut Flower

Additional Information

Soil Moisture Needs
Green Infrastructure
Bioretention/Rain Garden
Wetland Indicator Status
Obligate Wetland (OBL)
Plug Type
Horticultural Plug
Landscape Plug™
For Animals
Caution: Toxic
Native to North America
Clay Tolerance
Season of Interest (Flowering)
Late Summer
Propagation Type
Open pollinated