10 Safe Aquatic Plants For Turtles | Affordable And Low-Maintenance

May 26, 2021

10 Safe Aquatic Plants For Turtles (1) (1)

To make a perfect habitat for your turtle, you need to replicate the natural habitat of theirs. And plants in a turtle tank can help achieve a natural-looking habitat for your turtle to thrive, just like in the wild. Not all aquatic plants are safe for your turtles. For instance, azalea and amaryllis can be downright toxic for turtles. 

For this blog, we have handpicked the 10 safe aquatic plants for turtles. At a glance, they’re:

  • Java Fern 
  • Anubias Barteri
  • Amazon Sword Plant
  • Common Waterweed 
  • Moneywort
  • Water Hyacinth
  • Java Moss
  • Hornwort 
  • Dwarf Hair Grass 
  • Duckweed

Now, let’s have a detailed look at these plants and the benefits they offer: 

Java Fern

  • Scientific name: Microsorum pteropus
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 13.5 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow to medium

Java Fern is undoubetedly one of the most popular plants loved by many aquarists across the globe. You can keep this in tanks with all kinds of fishes and turtles. Originally from Southeast Asia, this plant is a slow grower, which means you will not have a tank shrouded by just this plant. This is the type of plant which lets other plants grow alongside it. 

Java Fern costs little and can last up to 10 years under correct maintenance. Quite an investment, you see! Since this plant doesn’t need substrate and frequent trimming, it would be safe to say this is a low-maintenance plant also visually stunning. It doesn’t depend upon the substrate for nutrients. 

For growth, this plant doesn’t need too much CO2. Its leaves can absorb natural light without needing any special conditions to flourish. 

If you’re looking to add a plant that’s easy to look after, is aesthetically pleasing, and won’t take up all the space in the tank, Java Fern is the right choice for you.

Anubias Barteri

  • Scientific name: Anubias Barteri var. barteri
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 9 to 17 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow

Originally from West Africa, Anubias Barteri is super easy to take care of. They demand very little from the outside conditions to flourish.

This plant needs to be planted in the shady areas of your tank. Barteri is famous for controlling weed and algae, so grow it where algae are more likely to flourish. 

The leaves of this plant are broad and robust. Therefore your turtle won’t take it as food – thus, extending the plant’s lifespan. Barteri is a medium-sized plant with broad leaves, and your turtle can take a nap under their shade during underwater diving.

You don’t need to make special lighting arrangements for this plant. The tank’s regular light is more than enough for an Anubias to grow. 

Amazon Sword Plant

  • Scientific name: Alismataceae
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 16 inches
  • Growth rate: Moderate

Amazon Sword Plant, as the name denotes, hails from the Amazon river basin. Known for its ability to thrive in the harshest temperatures and conditions, it can be safely planted in a turtle aquarium. However, it’s more common in plant-only aquariums. The substrate for this plant needs to have a thickness of 2.5 inches. 

Turtles especially love this plant in their habitat because of its bushy nature, where they can hide and rest. Your tank has to be at least 16 inches long to ensure healthy plant growth. Also, minimum maintenance is enough for this plant. However, lighting is a vital element for this plant. It needs at least 10 to 12 hours of light to flourish.

You can get this plant at affordable prices and will last around 3 years if maintained properly. While choosing an Amazon Sword Plant, make sure that the leaves are dark green. Infections in its leaves are common, and therefore regular pruning is advised. 

Common Waterweed 

  • Also known as: American Waterweed, Pondweed, Canadian Waterweed
  • Scientific name: Elodea canadensis
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 3 meters (grows horizontally)
  • Growth rate: Moderate to high 

The Common Waterweed is a bottom-dwelling aquatic plant that is found in slow-moving ponds worldwide. It has dark green leaves with several whorls that intertwine. One of the few aquatic plants that remain green even during the winter, it propagates through stem fragments.

This plant is an additive bonus for a tank ecosystem, as it can soak the nitrogen and ammonia present in the tank. Plus, it can easily sustain itself, thanks to the ability to produce carbon dioxide. 

The dense leaves of Common Waterweed also offer an excellent hideout for turtles. Also, turtle species like Painted turtles and Red-eared sliders love to feast on waterweeds. 

However, suppose you find too many of these plants growing in your tank. In that case, it is a sign of insufficient water parameters. So, regular pruning is needed to avoid the excessive growth of these weeds.

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Moneywort

  • Scientific name: Bacopa monnieri
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 12 inches
  • Growth rate: Fast

Moneywort is a popular aquatic plant that proliferates from its stem. If not pruned, the plant can grow straight to the top of your aquarium and beyond. So, an open-top tank is suitable for this plant. One of the cool features of Moneywort is that it will grow straight inside the water but will swirl once it reaches the water’s surface. It even flowers inside the tank. 

This plant doesn’t need specialized fertilizers or substrates to flourish. It will extract the nutrients from your turtle’s leftover foods. Though lightning isn’t much of a concern for these plants to grow, they can turn brown in the absence of light. It has minimum maintenance needs – making it a perfect beginner-friendly plant. 

Water Hyacinth

  • Scientific name: Eichhornia crassipes
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 10 inches
  • Growth rate: Moderate

A free-floating plant, Water Hyacinth, is used by turtles as a resting place. It has thick glossy leaves and even blooms with pink-colored flowers. One of its prominent features is that it can filter the excess amount of nitrate present in the water, thus helping the turtle tank’s ecosystem.

Proper lighting is essential for a water hyacinth to grow well in a tank. However, These plants do not require additional nutrients to flourish, thanks to their ability to draw nutrients from the water. However, they are also notoriously famed for overgrowing in ponds and lakes. So if that should be a concern for you, you need to weed out the surplus hyacinths time and again from your tank. 

Java Moss

  • Scientific name: Taxiphyllum barbieri
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 2-6 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow

If you like to do aquascaping for your turtle’s tank, Java Moss is the right plant for you. The main benefit of adding this plant is that it helps in increasing oxygen content.

It is a hardy plant that sprouts in the winter or cold temperatures. Though Java Moss doesn’t require fertilizers, adding some sure does help with the growth. As for lighting needs, low to moderate lighting is enough for this plant to grow in the tank.

So, turtles bite on Java Moss? Yes, turtles bite on it. They love to nibble on it. But the growth rate of Java Moss will compensate for the loss. Java Moss can widely propagate in all parts of the tanks. So, a turtle nibbling on it won’t make a difference. However, you need to prune these plants if they get out of hand.

Hornwort

  • Scientific name: Phaeoceros laevis
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 10 feet
  • Growth rate: Fast

An ideal plant for beginners, Hornwort can survive in almost all sorts of water conditions. This plant can be rooted in the substrate or simply left to float on the surface. Aesthetically pleasing, Hornwort will make your turtle habitat a fantasy land only seen in documentaries. They also release debris which can be food for small fishes. 

The benefit of a Hornwort plant is that it helps in improving the quality of water by minimizing the tank’s nitrogen levels. For its maintenance, you need to change the water from time to time. Lighting is also crucial for this plant to grow. When requirements are met, it can fill up the whole aquarium. So, you need to prune it to keep its branches within the tank. 

Dwarf Hair Grass

  • Scientific name: Eleocharis parvula
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 1 to 2 inches
  • Growth rate: Fast

The Dwarf Hair Grass grows in the bottom of your tank like carpet. Along with the bottom dwellers, your turtle will also enjoy strolling on its surface. This is a sturdy and adaptable plant, so your turtle will not damage it while walking on it. 

It spreads fast, so planting little goes a long way. Proper lighting also helps in its rapid growth. The benefit of having this plant is it helps in controlling the nitrate levels in the tank. It also removes pollutants. 

A popular plant for aquarists, it is a common choice among those looking to achieve a natural-looking tank setup. 

Duckweed

  • Scientific name: Spirodela polyrrhiza
  • Care level: Easy
  • Maximum size: 0.3mm to 4 inches
  • Growth rate: Fast

One of the tastiest snacks for turtles, Duckweed is highly rich in protein turtles need. Did you know that Duckweed can produce ten times more protein per acre than soy? That is the number one benefit of planting Duckweed in a turtle tank. 

Turtles feed on Duckweed, but the good thing is that this plant propagates extremely fast, almost overnight. They require a low-to-moderate amount of lighting to grow. 

However, if there is more than one turtle in your tank, they might collectively gobble it up before the plant has a chance to grow. It’s almost like a race against time.

Plants To Avoid For Your Turtle

Arrowhead vine, Begonia, Boston Ivy, Calla Lily, Chinese Evergreen, Firethorn, Elephant’s ear, Dumb cane are some plants to avoid for your turtle. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.