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A Comprehensive Guide to Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is a herbaceous perennial that grows in wet places such as floodplains, swamps, and ditches. It is the host plant for the Baltimore Checkerspot. This plant can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Taxonomy and History of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Herbarium specimen of turtlehead (Chelone glabra).
Herbarium Specimen — Chelone glabra L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) was originally described by Carl Von Linnaeus in 1753 in Species Plantarum. It has kept this name since. This species is a member of the Plantain Family (Plataginaceae).

Physical Description and Alternative Names

Whitish flowers of turtlehead (Chelone glabra).
Flower of Turtlehead — R. A. Nonenmacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


This plant is a herbaceous perennial that grows from 2 to 3 feet tall. The opposite, simple, serrated leaves range from 3 to 6 inches in length and 1 to 3 inches in width.

Alternative Names

This plant is also known by White Turtlehead and Chelone.

Range and Habitat

Floodplain Forest in Delaware.
Floodplain Forest — Author Image


This species is found in eastern North America, except Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.


It is generally found growing in wet areas such floodplains, swamps, and ditches.

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly on vegetation.
Baltimore Checkerspot — D. Gordon E. Robertson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
White-tailed deer at woods edge.
Eastern White-tail Deer — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Host Species

This plant is the host for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton). Two other sawflies and a flea beetle also use this plant for food (Wikipedia).

Other Wildlife Value

This plant is a favored browse plant by deer.

Interesting Facts

The genus name, Chelone, is Greek for tortoise. (Missouri Botanical Garden).

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