Discover the White Turtlehead


Jim Kingdon, Public domain.

White Turtlehead, Chelone glabra, has masses of beautiful white hooded flowers at the ends of the stems from late summer to mid-fall, which are most effective when planted in groupings. They are attractive in gardens. The flowers are excellent for cutting. It is a good choice for shaded or woodland gardens, rain gardens, bog gardens, pond or water garden peripheries, and wildflower or native plant gardens. In nature, it can be found in ponds and stream edges, marshes, and wet borders.

Turtle head is a perennial plant that blooms from July to September. Some other non-scientific names include: shellflower, snakehead, turtlebloom and fishhead. Its serrated pointy leaves remain dark green in colour throughout the season.

Quick Growing Guide

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Botanical Name: Chelone glabra

En français: Galane glabre



Sun / Shade:

Water: Moist to wet

Hardiness Zones:

Where Turtlehead Grows

This plant favors moist situations in the wild, such as swamps and shores or damp woodlands. It can also be found growing around waterways. It will also grow in ordinary conditions in gardens; however, it may not grow as tall as it would in damper settings. This makes it a viable option for rain gardens.

White Turtlehead Pollinators

White turtlehead flowers do not have any fragrance, but bees do enter the tubular corolla. The flowers produce up to 3 milligrams per day, which is a large amount of nectar, so they can attract a lot of bees.

The Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), a butterfly, depends on this plant for its life cycle. The larvae of this butterfly form webs their first year, overwinter in leaf litter, and then return in April to mature their second year. They can decimate their host plant, but only for good.

It may also attract hummingbirds.

Spectacular Baltimore checkerspot on the end of a finger
Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) depends on White Turtlehead

Propagating Chelone glabra

Chelone glabra grows in spreading clumps in shady sites and requires moist soil. It grows equally well in mineral-rich or highly organic soil, such as in bogs. It is often found in flood plains, near springs, around sedge bogs, in scrubland, along shorelines, and in ditches alongside tall plants such as cattails and cord grass. Plant in autumn or in spring with moist, chilled seeds. Borders as long as the soil moisture requirements can be met.

Turtelead is easily divided. Division can be done in the spring or fall, when the plant is dormant. The seeds are ready for harvest, usually after the first frost. They turn darker brown at maturity.

It can also be propagated by seed, though it does not self-seed well in most gardens. When the seed heads become brown, the seeds are ready to be gathered. To germinate, seeds require sunshine and 90 days of cold, moist stratification.

Caring for White Turtlehead

Consider pinching back the stem ends in spring to reduce mature plant height. it slowly spreads by rhizomes.

For companion plants, try pairing them with Eupatorium colestinum, Iris virginica, Lobelia siphilitica, or Osmunda cinnamomea.


Although this plant is not edible, a tonic derived from it is said to be beneficial for indigestion. It has also been used as an anti-depressant or to treat gallbladder problems, though science has not confirmed these findings.

Native Americans used this plant for a variety of reasons, including: skin sores, wounds, laxatives, to prevent pregnancy, to treat fever, as a dietary aid, and more. It is characterized as a wetland plant and therefore requires planting near or in swamp areas, marshes, ditches, wet meadows, the wet shores of rivers, streams, and lakes, and anywhere where water is abundant.


Turtlehead has no major diseases or pest issues, although it may be susceptible to mildew in drier soils, where air circulation is poor, and also in excessive shade. It is also deer-resistant due to its bitter-tasting leaves.

“Chelone” is Greek for “turtle,” derived from the fact that the flower itself, when turned to the side, resembles a turtle head. “Glabra” is latin for smooth, meaning that there is no hair on the leaves or stems.

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