First White Turtlehead Blooms

So not every bloom in the garden is yellow. For instance, I’ve got a single White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) blooming in the Front Island Bed. This is my second effort to grow White Turtlehead, and I hope this time it settles in for the long haul.

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White Turtlehead

White Turtlehead is not an easy plant to find, either in the wild or commercially (I ordered mine from Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin).  Its cousin Pink Turtlehead (C. lyonii) is much easier to find in garden centers. Perhaps it is easier to grow. However, I much prefer the white-flowering species.

White Turtlehead is about 4 feet tall in our garden, upright and without need of staking (so far, at least). It likes full to part sun and lots of moisture. If it lasts, it will spread by rhizomes to make a nice clump.

It is native from New England through the Great Lakes region, as well as in parts of the Upper South.

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A view of the full plant.

This year our White Turtlehead has just one central stem. I’m hoping for more next year. It is growing cheek by jowl with Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). You can confuse the leaves of the Swamp Milkweed and the White Turtlehead. Those of the Turtlehead are narrower and still a bright green, while the Swamp Milkweed is starting to turn maroon red.

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Closer look at White Turtlehead flowers.

Allegedly, White Turtlehead flowers look like a turtle’s head, hence the name. To me they look more like snake heads, especially the way they seem to be sticking their tongues out.

White Turtlehead is one of very few host plants for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. I’ve never seen a Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, and growing White Turtlehead should improve my odds of seeing one.

Do you have any experience growing this plant?

33 Comments on “First White Turtlehead Blooms

  1. Hi Jason. I grew it quite successfully at my previous house in part to mostly shade (better for it in the south, where I live) and a constantly moist site. Mine flopped all over the place, though. At my new house I grow it in much drier soil in more sun (no choice, I’m afraid). It has never really taken off in that spot, unfortunately. And still no sign of the Baltimore Checkerspot!

    • Unfortunately I have found that if you plant it (whatever it might be), they will not necessarily come. But at least you’ve improved the odds.

  2. I have only grown the pink one. I don’t remember ever seeing a white turtlehead. It is pretty. I can see why you like it. I hope you get some Checerspots.

  3. I grew up in Maine on a gloriously “unimproved” property. A stand of this turtlehead grew in a sunny spot next to the outflow of a small stream, in mucky consistently moist soil. I think sun and moisture are the keys to success. I’ve grown the pink form as well. It is far less picky about growing conditions. I found it to be pretty vigorous, bordering on thuggish. But a beautiful thug!

  4. I had the pink first and it’s filled in and solid bloomer in semi shade moist soil
    I had to find a new spot for my white , tree roots keep soil to dry so moved it last month

    Zone 6 Illinois

    • I guess the whites are more finicky. I just really like the look of them. Also not sure if the pink is also a host plant for the Checkerspots.

  5. I like the white turtlehead, can’t quite decide if the closeup looks like a turtle’s head. Sounds as though the white variety need special attention.

  6. I think that Plant Delights had them for a while. I did not look into them because I was busy trying to procure yuccas at the time.

  7. This is funny…I just checked your blog last night and saw the pictures of the Turtleheads but wasn’t going to comment as I’d never seen them before (although I have heard of them somehow). Then on the way to pick up some friends about 10 miles away, I’m pretty sure I saw a group of them growing in a ditch along the road! Beautiful plants! Funny though that they only grew in that one patch…I’ve never seen them anywhere else, and I always keep a lookout for interesting plants along the road.

  8. I love your white turtlehead. Years ago I tried the pink one (not having the white one as a choice), but could never get it established.

  9. We had a huge patch growing in a wet spot in a farm field. I dug some up and moved them to a similar location — and have never seen either again.

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