9 Best Plants For Turtle Tank – Plus Which Are Toxic!

Plants make a great addition to any turtle tank. Not only do they look great, but they also provide a boost to your tank filtration, provide places for turtles to hide in, and some can be an additional food source for your turtle.
Best Plants For Turtle Tanks - Java Fern (top left) Amazon Sword (top right) Duckweed (bottom)
Best Plants For Turtle Tanks – Java Fern (top left) Amazon Sword (top right) Duckweed (bottom)

It can be tricky to choose from the wide range of plants available, so I’ve put together this best plants for turtle tank post to take away the headache of you having to research the best turtle safe plants yourself.

All of the plants on this list are turtle safe, readily available, and easy to care for.

I’ve gone over the pros and cons of having turtle friendly plants in your tank and shortlisted 9 of the best aquarium plants available.

Best Live Plants For Turtle Tanks – Top Picks

If you’re short on time and want to know which are the best plants for turtles without having to read the whole article, here are my top picks:👇

Can You Put Live Plants In A Turtle Tank?

Yes, you can. Live plants bring many benefits to your turtles’ tank.

Plants look nice, add a splash of color to the tank, and they simulate the turtles’ natural environment. They also give your turtle somewhere they can go to relax, unwind and be undisturbed for a while, who doesn’t want to do that occasionally!

Plants will help keep the tank’s nitrogen cycle in check by removing toxins from the water as part of their growth process. Photosynthesis (converting light into energy to grow), releases oxygen into the water.

As I mentioned in my best turtle tank filter post, turtles are super messy little critters so the more things you can do to keep their water clean the better.

Plants reduce algae growth in the tank by removing the nutrients from the tank water that algae thrive on. Although nobody likes seeing algae in their tank, it’s actually a good sign that your tank is cycled properly.

Plants aren’t the only way of reducing algae in an aquarium, you could look at adding some algae-eating tankmates if you want to keep fish in with your turtle.

Some plants will provide your turtle with an additional food source. If you want to grow plants for turtles to eat I’d advise using fast-growing edible plants such as hornwort or anacharis.

What Plants Should Go In A Turtle Tank?

There are a few things to consider when choosing aquatic plants for turtles.

Non-Toxic Turtle Plants

No.1 on the list, and for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to poison their beloved pet so it goes without saying that all plants recommended in my list are non-toxic plants that turtles can safely eat.

If you ever suspect your turtle may have ingested something toxic, I have left a link at the bottom of this post where you can find a specialist turtle vet in your area.

Low Light And Oxygen Demands

Turtle tanks don’t have the most amount of light in them, so any plant that needs a lot of light isn’t going to do well in your turtles’ home and should be avoided.

Turtles need a lot of oxygen in their water so any plant that will take oxygen from the water should also be avoided.


Turtles like to dig up and nibble on plants, so you need hardy plants that can withstand your turtle being rough.

Some hardy turtle plants are:

  • Anubias
  • Hornwort
  • Java fern
  • Java moss

Please note: I recommend you quarantine all of your plants before adding them to your turtle tank as they can be carriers of diseases, algae, and pest snails…which can be a nightmare to get rid of!

9 Best Plants For Turtle Tanks Reviewed

Taking all of the above into account, I’ve shortlisted 9 of the best turtle safe plants here so you can easily find a suitable plant for your turtle tank.

1. Amazon Sword

Amazon Sword
  • Name / Scientific Name: Amazon Sword / Echinodorus grisebachii/amazonicus
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Medium
  • Max Height: 18-20 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Mid – High
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: Yes

Amazon sword is one of the most common plants found in the aquarium hobby. It’s easy to care for and is readily available from fish stores and online.

Growing to a maximum height of 18-20″ it’s quite large which means it takes a lot of toxins out of the tank water boosting your filtration.

Turtles more than likely will leave it alone as it’s not overly tasty, but there’s no guarantee!

While it will thrive in a highly lit tank, it can survive in the lower light conditions of a turtle tank due to its low Co2 demand. Just make sure you don’t have a lot of floating plants blocking out what light it can get.

Amazon sword needs a substrate to root in. If you have a mischievous turtle prone to trashing the inside of their tank and tearing plants out of the substrate you may be kept busy replanting it!

2. Anacharis

  • Name / Scientific Name: Anacharis / Egeria densa
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Max Height: 36 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Anacharis (also called waterweed, Brazilian waterweed, or elodea) is a fast-growing low care beginner-friendly aquarium plant.

As it doesn’t require a substrate you can either attach it to the tank bottom, rocks, or driftwood or just leave it floating.

Anacharis doesn’t need a ton of light either so has a low Co2 demand which makes it easy to care for.

Like all other aquarium plants, it does a great job of boosting your turtle tank filtration by removing toxins from the water.

Carnivorous turtles like musk and mud turtles will more than likely leave it alone, but you never can tell.

Anacharis is one of the best plants for red-eared slider tanks if you’re adding it as a nutritious food supplement.

Don’t waste your time using anacharis as tank decoration or filtration boost with a RES because they’ll just devour it, and quickly!!

It’s easy to propagate in a separate container so you’ll always have some on hand as a nutritious food source and won’t need to keep re-buying it.

3. Anubias

  • Name / Scientific Name: Anubias / Anubias barteri
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Max Height: 4-12 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

The Anubis barteri plant comes in several varieties with each variety growing to different heights. It doesn’t require a substrate so will grow on rocks and other items.

Anubias can survive in low light conditions and doesn’t require a lot of Co2 as it’s a slow-growing plant. Despite it being a slow grower it makes a great addition to a turtle tank because of its bitter taste.

Even the greediest of turtles will more than likely leave it alone so you won’t constantly be replacing it because of it being eaten.

Because it grows slowly it may get covered in algae, but it’s a great choice of plant for a turtle tank.

4. Duckweed

  • Name / Scientific Name: Duckweed / Lemna minor
  • Difficulty: Easy to grow, difficult to control
  • Growth Rate: Very fast
  • Max Height: 1.5 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Duckweed is a floating plant that has very low light and Co2 demands and because it floats, it doesn’t need anchoring to rocks or substrates.

It’s good for algae control as it absorbs the nutrients that algae thrive on and provides a lot of additional water filtration as it grows very quickly.

Because it grows quickly it might get out of hand if you don’t keep on top of pruning it.

The good news is, turtles will generally eat duckweed so you’ll have a helping hand when it comes to keeping it pruned.

5. Dwarf Hairgrass

Dwarf Hairgrass
  • Name / Scientific Name: Dwarf hairgrass / Eleocharis acicularis
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Max Height: 2 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: Yes

Dwarf hairgrass is very similar to the grass that makes up your lawn, but with one clear difference, it’s aquatic grass.

A turtle will really enjoy this as it gives them a nice surface to walk on and helps simulate their natural environment.

Because it doesn’t need a lot of light or Co2, and it grows slowly to a maximum height of only 2 inches so there’s no risk of it over-running your turtle tank.

Another bonus is turtles aren’t overly fond of its taste so shouldn’t eat much of it.

6. Hornwort

  • Name / Scientific Name: Hornwort / Ceratophyllum demersum
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Max Height: 24 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Mid
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Hornwort is another must-have plant for a turtle tank.

It needs more light than the other plants in this post, but your turtle UV light setup should provide all of the light this plant needs.

It’s fast-growing so does a great job at boosting water filtration and oxygenation.

Because it doesn’t need a substrate you can either attach it to rocks, driftwood or let it float on the water’s surface so it’s real easy to care for.

Turtles love to eat this stuff too, so the fact it grows quickly is a good thing.

This is one of those plants that I’d also grow in a separate container so you’ll always have some on hand just in case your turtle eats every last scrap of it.

If you keep fish in with your turtle, hornwort gives them a great place to hide and reduces the risk of them becoming your turtle’s dinner.

7. Java Fern

Java Fern
  • Name / Scientific Name: Java Fern / Microsorum Pteropus
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Medium
  • Max Height: 10 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low-Mid
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Java fern is another great plant for turtle tanks that’s widely available in pet stores and online.

It doesn’t require a substrate so you can anchor it to the tank bottom, rocks, or other items.

It does need a bit more lighting than some of the other plants on this list, but your turtles’ UV light will provide all the light that the java fern needs.

A great beginner-friendly plant that’s super easy to care for, provides a great filtration boost for your tank water and doesn’t taste all that good so turtles tend not to eat it.

8. Java Moss

Java Moss
  • Name / Scientific Name: Java Moss / Taxiphyllum barbieri
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Max Height: 5 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Java Moss is yet another beginner-friendly no substrate required plant that’s great for boosting your tank water filtration and oxygenation.

It has low light and Co2 demands and will grow on practically any surface inside your aquarium giving it a natural look.

It’s easy to care for and grows quickly so will soon regrow if your turtle snacks on it.

9. Water Lettuce

Water Lettuce
  • Name / Scientific Name: Water Lettuce / Pistia stratiotes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Max Height: 10 inches
  • Lighting Requirements: High
  • CO2: Low
  • Substrate Required: No

Water lettuce is another good choice of floating turtle tank plant.

It needs a lot of light, but as it floats your turtles’ UV lights will take care of that and it doesn’t need a substrate.

Its long roots do a great job of filtering toxins from your tank water while also providing somewhere for your turtle to hide under.

Turtles like to snack on this stuff so it’s another plant that you could easily propagate in a separate container so you always have some on hand.

Moss Balls

Fluval and Exo Terra Moss Balls

If you have sudden algae bloom in your turtle’s tank, this will lower the water oxygen levels which isn’t good for your turtle.

Fluval Moss Balls or Exo Terra Moss Balls will help prevent the problem by absorbing and trapping the phosphate in the tank water that algae thrive on.

They also remove unpleasant odors, harmful nitrite, and nitrate from the water giving your tank filtration a boost.

Moss balls look natural so they make an attractive tank decoration and a fun toy for your turtle to flip around.

Plants Toxic To Turtles

While your turtle will happily live with plants in their tanks, there are some plants you should definitely avoid, including:

  • ☠️ Azaleas
  • ☠️ Ivy
  • ☠️ Milkweed
  • ☠️ Pothos
  • ☠️ Rhododendrons
  • ☠️ Water Hemlock

All of the above plants are toxic to turtles. The level of toxicity may vary from mild to severe depending on your turtle and its own sensitivities.

Gardening Know How has an in-depth list of Plants Toxic To Turtles on their website.

Cons Of Plants

Like everything else, there are pros and cons to keeping plants in a turtles’ tank. Some of the cons are:


Turtles are messy little critters and any time they’ve had a chomp on your plants there are sure to be large chunks of plant matter that will need removing from the water so they don’t clog up your filter, or start to rot and cause an ammonia spike.

Plants on the tank bottom are good places to trap turtle poop. You’ll have to get your gravel vac or a net and regularly clear this away before it breaks down and releases ammonia into the tank water.

Turtles are notorious for being mischievous and will quite often rip every single plant out of the substrate, or whatever they’re attached to, just for the fun of it.


Some plants, such as duckweed grow really fast and need regular pruning.

Plants need to be fertilized so that they will grow and stay healthy. Liquid fertilizer such as Seachem Flourish is a much better and safer option to fertilizer tabs, as your turtle may eat the tablet.

Dead and rotting plant matter in the water may trigger an ammonia spike, so make sure you remove any dead leaves quickly.

I’ve seen some websites recommend you use a thin fishing line to attach your plants to rocks or driftwood, but I advise against this as your turtle may ingest the fishing line if it comes loose, which could end in a costly visit to the vet!

You can use Seachem Flourish Glue which is an aquarium-safe waterproof adhesive for attaching plants to rocks, driftwood, and substrate, so it is much safer for your turtle.

Seachem Flourish Glue

Having visited the Dekamer Sea Turtle Research Rescue and Rehabilitation Center while on vacation in Turkey and seeing firsthand the terrible effects of turtles ingesting fishing lines and other plastic items, please don’t use fishing lines for any purpose in your turtle tank.

Do Turtles Eat Plants?

Yes, they do. Most turtles are herbivorous, which means the vast majority of their natural diet is plant-based. If you put plants in your turtles’ tank there’s a good chance they’re going to get eaten.

Turtles are like us when it comes to food. Some things that one turtle will eat, another turtle won’t touch. Once you figure out what plants your turtle does and doesn’t like to eat you’ll know what your best choices are.

You can also supplement your turtle’s diet with dark green leafy veggies.

Do Turtles Eat Duckweed?

Yes, they do. Most turtles enjoy duckweed and it’s a highly nutritious food source for them.

What Plants Do Red Eared Sliders Eat?

Aquarium plants that red eared sliders typically like to eat are:

  • Anacharis
  • Azolla
  • Duckweed
  • Frogbit
  • Hornwort
  • Water hyacinth
  • Water lettuce

Again, it comes down to your RES as an individual as to what they may or not like to eat. My buddy’s RES can’t get enough anacharis and can make a huge amount of it disappear overnight!

What Plants Will Turtles Not Eat?

Generally, turtles will not eat the following plants because they have a bitter taste:

  • Amazon sword
  • Anubias
  • Dwarf hairgrass
  • Java fern

However, there are no guarantees that your turtle won’t eat these plants. It all comes down to each individual turtle. Some are picky eaters, some are gluttons that will eat anything and everything!

Can I Use Artificial Plants?

If you are not green-fingered or you have a turtle that destroys any plants that are added to its tank, then an artificial plant can be a good alternative to live plants.

They don’t require any looking after like a live plant does, but they also don’t provide you any of the benefits of live plants, such as removing toxins and oxygenating the water.

Turtles are curious creatures and will probably try to nibble on your fake plant, but once they realize it’s not a tasty plant to snack on, they should leave it alone.

Final Thoughts On The Best Turtle Tank Plants…

Now you know what to look for when picking the best plants for turtle tanks, whether you want a plant to supplement your turtle’s diet or a plant to help keep the water clean, you’ll find something suitable on this list.

If you’re still undecided, here’s a quick recap of my top 3 picks:

Should you find yourself with a sick turtle, you can find your local turtle vet here.

Check out the turtle section for equipment reviews and care guides.