10 Best Plants for Turtle Tanks

It can be hard to choose plants for a turtle tank because turtles aren’t always gentle on plants. When not knocking them over they may poison them with ammonia-rich waste or simply eat them instead!

Therefore, you’ll need to choose hardy plants that can survive their unintentional onslaught. Here are 10 of the best plants for turtle tanks!


Our Favorite Turtle Safe Plants

Here are our top recommended plants for turtle tanks:

Anubias

Anubias Barteri

Anubias are one of the best plants for aquarists who don’t like live plants. They are nearly impossible to kill, versatile in how you use them, and are beautiful to look at as well.

Anubias are originally from Central and West Africa, where they grow along shady streams in steamy jungles. Since the water levels are variable the plants have the ability to grow both submerged and emersed (above water).

Once established these plants are extremely tough and resist being dislodged by a clumsy turtle. Since many turtles will nip at plants Anubias are a great choice because they are not only tough but bitter tasting as well.

Anubias require no specialized lighting and only need a hard surface like rocks or driftwood to attach to. The main downside is that they are quite slow growing, only putting out a new leaf every month or so.

  • Scientific Name: Anubias sp.
  • Origin: West & Central Africa
  • Height: 1-12 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Growth Rate: Very Slow

Duckweed

duckweed plant

If Anubias is the ultimate in slow growing plants for a turtle tank, Duckweed is the exact opposite. Light hungry and swift to multiply, a few stray Duckweed plants can coat the surface of a body of water in mere days.

These plants thrive right alongside turtles because they favor the conditions of a turtle tank: bright light exposure and still water rich in nutrients. Since they grow along the surface they can easily outcompete even algae for light and carbon dioxide.

Removing handfuls of Duckweed weekly also helps export nutrients from your aquarium system, effectively creating a secondary biological filter!

The main downside to keeping Duckweed is that it’s nearly impossible to get out of a system once established. Even a single stray plant will multiply into several within a few days. If you decide to buy Duckweed, make sure you really like it!

  • Scientific Name: family Lemnoideae
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Height: floating plant
  • Light Needs: High (surface dwelling)
  • Growth Rate: Very Fast

Java Fern

Microsorum pteropus - java fern

Java Fern is a great first plant for turtle keepers looking to try some for the first time. These semi-aquatic ferns are originally from Indonesia and are as easy to care for as they are attractive.

They share many care requirements with Anubias, in fact. As low light plants Java Fern don’t grow especially quickly. However they will typically put out a few new leaves per month. They may even create clones along the growing tips of their leaves that bud into new sprouts.

Java Fern has a rich, dark green that creates a more jungle-like atmosphere in a turtle aquarium or terrarium. As epiphytes the “root” should never be buried in the substrate. Instead, you can attach them to rocks or driftwood where they can absorb nutrients directly from the water column!

  • Scientific Name: Microsorum pteropus
  • Origin: Indonesia
  • Height: 12-24 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate (in higher light, CO2 addition)

Anacharis

Anacharis is one of the most popular plants in the aquarium world. So long as you have at least moderately intense lighting it will thrive, sending out fast growing shoots that drape themselves across the surface.

It can be grown either as a floating or rooted plant. If rooted, light intensity needs to be higher to keep the lower leaves from browning and being dropped.

Anacharis has very thin roots and is also prone to being disturbed and uprooted by clumsy turtles so many aquarists simply let the plant float along the surface.

Keep in mind Anacharis is a very soft-leaved plant that many turtles find particularly tasty. This browsing does the plant no real harm so long as they don’t graze it down to nothing. A dense stand of Anacharis can provide a ready salad source for a long time if well maintained!

  • Scientific Name: Elodea densa
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: Variable
  • Light Needs: Moderate to High
  • Growth Rate: Fast

Hornwort

hornwort

Hornwort is another plant that can be flexibly used as a floating or rooted plant. However, it is much tougher than Anacharis and less tasty to hungry turtles.

Hornwort is also much more cold tolerant than many plants for turtle tanks; it’s found all over the USA, Canada, and Europe where it regularly overwinters in outdoor lakes. This makes it ideal for an outdoor turtle container pond.

Hornwort does much better floating than rooted however it tends to make very dense, untidy looking tangles. If used in a turtle pond you’re likely to lose sight of your turtle quickly. Even in an aquarium the dense bristles can be dislodged, creating debris that needs to be regularly removed.

However it’s one of the hardiest plants in the hobby. Hornwort takes next to no maintenance other than an occasional trim and is very attractive when well maintained.

  • Scientific Name: Ceratophyllum demersum
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Height: Variable
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Growth Rate: Fast

Marimo Moss

marimo moss ball

Marimo Moss balls are a slightly unusual choice that require careful consideration before using them as plants for turtle tanks. These are actually spherical colonies of cold water algae from Japan and Northern Europe that roll along the bottom of mountainous lakes and rivers.

Therefore, they require not only cooler temperatures (below 75-78℉) but nutrient poor conditions. Since turtles are extremely messy, Marimo Moss can be challenging to grow unless you have an extremely efficient canister filter capable of handling the waste output of your turtle.

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Larger turtles may also decide to gnaw at the tempting balls of soft algae. Therefore, these are best used with carnivorous or baby turtles in clean, cool conditions! If your ball begins to brown, placing it in a cup of water and refrigerating it for a week often revitalizes it.

  • Scientific Name: Aegagropila linnaei
  • Origin: Japan & Northern Europe
  • Height: Diameter up to 12 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Growth Rate: Very Slow

Java Moss

java moss

If you like the mossy look of Marimo Moss but want something easier to care for, Java Moss is a surefire winner. This tropical true moss is native to Indonesia, where it can rapidly cover logs, rocks, and even other plants in tangled webs of growth.

Like most true mosses, Java Moss can also be grown in wet terrestrial conditions, making it perfect for terrariums and paludariums. It needs next to no care, either.

Even if tossed into a tank with standard low-light aquarium fluorescent fixtures and allowed to float, it will eventually form a dense tangle of growth.

However Java Moss looks best fixed to a hard surface so it can form mossy, swamp-like growths. It grows quickly, for a moss, and smaller fish and turtles readily use it for cover.

  • Scientific Name: Taxiphyllum barbieri, formerly Vesicularia dubyana
  • Origin: Indonesia
  • Height: Up to 6 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Growth Rate: Fast

Water Lettuce

Water Lettuce is a very popular pond plant that can also be grown indoors if your lighting is high enough. Not only do the dangling roots provide shelter for submerged turtles but they help the plant uptake tons of ammonia and other nitrogenous wastes from the water column.

Water Lettuce is an excellent algae control plant as a result. They help shade the lower water column while uptaking nutrients that algae would normally use.

Your turtle may decide to snack on the broad, crispy leaves however Water Lettuce has a moderate growth rate. In fact, it can be downright invasive in many bodies of water.

When grown outdoors it prefers partial shade as it can burn in direct during the hottest parts of the summer.

  • Scientific Name: Pistia stratiotes
  • Origin: Tropical regions Worldwide
  • Height: 3 inches
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Growth Rate: Fast

Frogbit

frogbit aquarium plant

Amazonian Frogbit is a tropical alternative to the sometimes difficult to manage Duckweed. It has a very similar appearance, only the individual leaves are larger.

Frogbit is found in the hottest portions of the steamy Amazon rainforest and prefers temperatures of 78-86℉. Its growth rate can slow drastically outside of this range.

Like many fast-growing floating plants Frogbit is a great choice for a turtle tank because it shades out algae and soaks up nutrients. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates that can sicken or kill a turtle or fish are taken up by Frogbit as essential nutrients.

Just be careful not to keep Frogbit or any other floating aquarium plant in a tank with a strong current. The outflow of an uncontrolled filter or powerhead can submerge the plants repeatedly, eventually killing them.

  • Scientific Name: Limnobium laevigatum
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: – (floating)
  • Light Needs: Moderate to High
  • Growth Rate: Fast

African Water Fern

African Water Ferns are a small genus of epiphytes similar in habits to Anubias and Java Fern. As low light plants they readily grow in tanks without specialized plant lighting and thrive on the waste that turtles release.

African Water Ferns can be attached to any hard surface where their rhizome, a root-liek structure, will release threads that secure them to a rock or driftwood.

These plants have the same dark green look as Java Fern but often have forked or scalloped leaves that give them a very unique character.

While slow growing they are almost impossible to kill and will eventually create young sprouts along their leaves that can be transplanted elsewhere.

  • Scientific Name: Bolbitis sp.
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Height: Up to 15 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Growth Rate: Very Slow

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