Chelone glabra growing on a streambank. Photo: Bea, flickr.

By Alyssa Abaloz
This week’s native plant is Turtlehead, or Chelone glabra.
An herbaceous perennial found in most of the eastern United States, turtlehead is easily spotted in a native landscape.

The leaves of Chelone glabra are thin with jagged edges, but the surface is smooth to the touch. Photo: Justin Tso.

Reaching heights of 2-3’, clumps of turtlehead can be found in the wet soils of streambanks and floodplains. These plants prefer partial shade, but a composted layer of leaf mulch can help them tolerate sunny areas.
Turtlehead is a source of food for insects large enough to access the flowers’ nectar, such as bumblebees. Caterpillars of the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly almost exclusively survive on the turtlehead leaves, especially when they are young. 

The caterpillars of the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly feed exclusively on turtlehead leaves. Photo: Larry Reis.


Turtlehead tends to grow in clumps. Photo: Jamie and Marina Berger.

Smooth stalks and leaves helped give Chelone glabra its name. Glabra translates to smooth or hairless in Latin.
Late summer brings about dense spikes of white blooms that last through autumn. These two-lipped flowers resemble turtle or tortoise heads, giving way to the turtlehead’s common name. Its genus name, Chelone, means tortoise in Greek.
Greek mythology identifies Chelone as a nymph who refused to attend the wedding of Zeus, and was later turned into a turtle as punishment.