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Friday - September 03, 2010

From: Arlington, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Water Gardens
Title: Plants for wet soil in turtle enclosure in Virginia
Answered by: Nan Hampton


We recently installed a turtle pond in our backyard in Arlington, VA. We built an enclosure around the pond to protect the turtle from raccoons and herons, and left some open area for the turtle to get out and walk around. The area where he can walk is bare and sometimes muddy because rainwater collects due to the enclosure. I would like to plant something native to Virginia that would soak up some of the excess water, but would survive occasional dry periods. The plant should also be safe for the turtle to nibble on (because you never know what will look tasty to a turtle!). The area is partially shaded -- just a few hours of direct sunlight per day. I don't know much about soil types, but I can tell you that there is some clay in it. Thanks for any suggestions you might have.


What a great idea—an enclosure to protect your turtle!   Here are some possibilities that should do well in your wet soil in part shade.  As long as the soil retains some moisture, all these should do well.   If it gets extremely dry, you might need to do some watering of the ferns.

I found three websites with lists of plants toxic to turtles: 1)  California Turtle and Tortoise Poisonous Plant List, 2) Plants That Poison from the World Chelonian Trust and 3) Edible and Poisonous Plants for Turtles from the Gulf Coast Turtle and Tortoise Society. None of the plants listed below occur on these lists.


Andropogon glomeratus (bushy bluestem)

Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge)

Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hairgrass)

Rhynchospora colorata (starrush whitetop)


Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern)

Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern)

Osmunda regalis (royal fern)

Woodwardia areolata (netted chainfern)


Fragaria vesca (woodland strawberry) would probably be very popular with turtles when they produce their yummy fruits.

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) will do well in moist soil, but might not do very well if it is submerged for any length of time.

The Viola spp. are listed on list #3 as being edible, but listed on #2 as being toxic. The following violets are Virginia natives and would do well in moist to wet partial shade.  However, you might want to take the safer route and not include them in your enclosure although they would be in an ideal habitat.

Viola cucullata (marsh blue violet)

Viola lanceolata (bog white violet)

Viola striata (striped cream violet)

One note of caution—you'll want to be sure that you keep any pesticides off the plants in your enclosure.  They would definitely be bad for the turtles.

Here are a few photos from our Image Gallery:

Andropogon glomeratus

Carex cherokeensis

Deschampsia cespitosa

Rhynchospora colorata

Athyrium filix-femina

Osmunda cinnamomea

Osmunda regalis

Woodwardia areolata

Fragaria vesca

Phlox divaricata







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