Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 4 — Turtlehead

Chelone glabra

Jim Kingdon photo, Wikipedia Media Commons

Turtlehead (Chelone) gets its name from its unusually shaped flowers, which resemble the head of a snapping turtle. There are several species of turtlehead, including Chelone glabra, a Minnesota native wildflower with white flowers and deep green foliage and Chelone lyonii, sometimes called pink chelone, which is not native to Minnesota.

Turtlehead grows best in wet soils thought it tolerates less moisture in shadier sites. It’s slow to start growing in the spring, but eventually plants will reach 3 feet in height. It blooms in late summer into fall, adding a touch of pink or white to the late part of the garden season. Butterflies and bees like turtlehead, but the closed “lips” of the flower are a challenge for bees, who will try to muscle their way into the flower, which is amusing to watch. One problem with turtlehead is that deer like it, so if you are bothered by deer in your garden, this might be a plant to stay away from.

In garden centers, the turtlehead you are most likely to see is ‘Hot Lips’ (Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’), a pink variety with bronze to green foliage. It often grows taller than 3 feet and is hardy as far north as USDA Zone 3. It’s said to be deer resistant.

For gardeners with a backyard pond, turtlehead is one of the must-have plants for northern gardens.