How to Pick The Best Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

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best live plants turtle tank

The care they require usually involves a source of heat, UVB, substrate, basking platforms, amongst others. All these are to replicate a conducive environment that is similar to what they would have in the wild.

Apart from all basic things that the turtle needs, the addition of plants in their tanks will make them feel more at home and that is why we have this article here to help you make your choice among the best live plants for turtle tanks.

There are a lot of questions regarding the types of plants that can be included in a turtle tank and it is of great concern.

This is because once these plants are introduced, your turtle will eat it, and if it is poisonous, will cause harm to your pet.

So great care has to be taken in ensuring that as you try to provide the best environment for your pet, you do more good than harm.

The Best Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

1. Dwarf Hairgrass

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Greenpro Dwarf Hairgrass Plants

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First on our list of best live plants for turtle tanks is the Dwarf Hairgrass. It is similar to the normal grass found on your lawn, the only difference being that the grass on your lawn isn’t aquatic.

Dwarf Hair Hrass forms a good substrate layer so that your turtles can comfortably walk on it as they move about the tank.

It adds beauty to the tank as it looks like an underwater lawn. It is not tasty so chances are turtles will barely even touch it.

It requires low maintenance, doesn’t need too much lighting or CO2 to grow and survive, so it is a great option for indoor tanks. It grows slowly and won’t take up too much tank space.


  • Beautifies the tank
  • Doesn’t require much maintenance
  • Takes up little tank space


  • It is not tasty and can’t serve as treats for your turtle

2. Java Moss

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Aquatic Arts Java Moss

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Java moss is another great option of live plants for tanks. It doesn’t need any special requirements for survival like lighting or air supply.

This means that you can keep it in any aquarium and it will grow perfectly well.

You will enjoy the good filtration it gives your tank water. This filtration is necessary and helps your tank stay clean and healthy for your turtle. You can easily care for it and it grows fast so being eaten by your turtle won’t be a problem.

It grows on substrates and other tank items, adding beauty to the entire habitat. A perfect piece to making the aquarium a home away from home.


  • Thrives even in low light
  • Grows fast
  • Tasty and serves as treats for your turtle
  • Provides hiding places and security for the young turtles
  • A source of biofilm


  • Pest snails often nest here

3. Moneywort

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Aquatic Arts Moneywort

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Moneywort is another great option when looking for live plants. It has a beautiful look that makes your turtle tank more appealing and homely even for your pet. They grow straight with long and tall shoots.

It is tasty, so apart from being aesthetically appealing, serves as treats for your turtle. It grows fast and being eaten up is not a problem.

It is better to have just a few of them in your tank because they grow fast and tall and can take up a lot of space. Moneywort grows well in the presence of a lot of sunlight and CO2. 

It is not too demanding and will do just fine with your turtle in the turtle tank.


  • Beautifies the turtle tank
  • Is tasty and can be eaten by turtles
  • Are not demanding


  • Grows fast and can take up much space

4. Live Hornwort

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Aquatic Arts Live Hornwort Plant

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Hornwort is a great addition to your turtle tank. It doesn’t reach the surface but grows underneath, providing filtration and beauty, amongst others.

It is known to survive different water conditions like temperature; either warm or cold, and lighting. 

This is, of course, the case if the conditions are not extreme. It is tasty and your turtles will enjoy the occasional thrill of eating this, but that is not an issue as it grows fast. It is not demanding and will survive with no effort from you.


  • Adds to the tank beauty
  • Great with filtration
  • Survives in different harsh conditions
  • Grows fast
  • Is tasty and can be eaten by your turtle


  • Needs to be cleaned before use to avoid introducing snails into your tank

5. Java Fern Bare Root

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Java Fern Bare Root

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We will be ending this list of best live plants for turtle tanks with the Java Fern. It demands very little care but does a lot as an addition to your turtle tank.

Just be sure to anchor its roots with rocks or a line to keep it from drifting and you are good to go. It is a natural filter and is great at taking out waste from the tank water. 

Your turtles won’t jump at this plant because it isn’t too tasty, but they will take a bite once in a while. It is hardy and resilient and will do well in low CO2 levels.


  • Serves as a natural filter
  • Easy to care for
  • Lives for a long time


  • Needs to be washed before use as they come with snails

Advantages of Having Live Plants in Your Turtle Tank

Keeping live plants in your turtle tank comes with a number of benefits.

1. Backup Filtration

One of the most outstanding benefits of having live plants in your turtle tank is the ability to filter water. These live plants can filter out ammonia, nitrates, and other organic compounds that are not wanted in the water.

They make the water cleaner and healthier for your turtle and because they act as a filter system, they reduce the load on your tank filter.

2. Beauty

In the water, there are live plants where turtles swim and it has become a necessary part of a turtle’s habitat. A tank without plants looks unnatural and unattractive to you and the turtle also.

Incorporating plants in the tank will give it a more beautiful look and it will be more homely for your pet too.

3. Oxygen

Plants give out oxygen to the atmosphere and that also happens underwater. This increase in oxygen content is good for your turtle especially if you have more than one aquatic pet in the tank.

The more live plants you have in the tank, the more oxygen and the better it will be.

4. Happy Pet

The presence of aquatic plants in your turtle tank will make your turtle feel more at home and this will leave you with a happy turtle.

Turtles eat certain aquatic plants and if you have these in the tank, they will occasionally eat them and also hide behind them. It makes them more comfortable and keeps them healthy.

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Luffy Moss Wall Mesh Kit

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Disadvantages of Having Live Plants in Your Turtle Tank

1. Special Care Of Substrate

Some live plants require a substrate for their roots to grow in. if you have this type of plant and you have a substrate in the tank, then you will need to vacuum the substrate regularly to take out poop and leftovers.

Accumulation of these in the substrate can contaminate the water and make your turtle sick.

2. Toxic Plants

Not all aquatic plants are good for consumption by turtles. Some are poisonous when eaten and it is advisable to abstain from using a plant you are not sure of.

3. Messy Tank

Turtles feed on the pants occasionally and when they do, they mess up the whole tank requiring you to clean up. They also dig up the plants for no reason and you will need to clean up the mess. So it puts you under stress unnecessarily.

The disadvantages of keeping live plants in turtle tanks are more of warnings and not things you cannot handle easily.

Things to Look Out For In a Good Live Plant for Turtle Tanks

When looking for plants that are fit to be in your turtle tank, there are a lot of options. In narrowing down these options, it is important that you take a lot of things into consideration so that the life of your turtle will remain healthy.

It is important to add plants that are edible by your turtle. If you have any confusion here, ask questions from professionals before you proceed.

You also do not want to add any plant that is overly tasty because your pet will eat it all up before it even grows. 

But as you try to avoid the overly tasty plants, do not pick up plants that contain toxic compounds.

Make your choice from plants that have a good root system. These plants stay firmly rooted in the substrate and will stay in place. But if you need to add floating plants like water lettuce, it is also fine.

Turtle tanks do not have so much sunlight and CO2 in them. So when making your choice, go for a plant that needs little CO2 and light to grow.

Types of Plants That Should Not Be Added To a Turtle Tank

Most plants are edible by turtles, but some of them are toxic. Avoid adding toxic plants to your turtle tank because it can kill your turtle. Examples of toxic plants are water hemlock, milkweed, and ivy.

Avoid the use of a plant that requires too much light and CO2. Such plants will not survive and will need extra care from you if they must.

Choose plants that are less demanding and can survive in low light levels and low CO2 levels because those are the conditions in a tank.

Choose a plant with a good root system. This will prevent its random floating about in the tank.

Floating Plants For Turtle Tanks

Floating plants are plants that sit at the top of the water surface and has roots that run down into the water.

So why would you want floating plants in your turtle tank?

They can absorb all the nitrates that your turtle tank will produce through the nitrogen cycle.

On top of absorbing all that waste from the tank, they also help to cut down on unwanted algae.

The reason being is they help to restrict the amount of light coming into the tank.

Now, this is a double-bladed sword because, because you may want a lot of light coming down into your turtle tank, but because you will have so many floating plants, you won’t have that much light into your tank.

Many people are asking, what are good floating aquarium plants?

This list is based on plants that grow on the surface of the water, not plants that grow in the water but can float in the aquarium.

So these are primarily plants that are, have roots that go into the water but also flow just on the surface of the water.

We’re going to get into that right now.

Best Floating Plants For Turtle Tanks

1. Frogbit

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Frogbit (Limnobium Laevigatum)

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First, we have a crowd favorite which is called a frogbit.

Frogbit is a really nice plant because it has nice broad leaves, it looks beautiful, it has a smooth texture to it and it’s just a durable plant.

It can withstand a lot and it multiplies like crazy.

This plant will produce runners out from the base and it doesn’t grow super fast where it becomes impossible to control like some other plants that may be on this list.

But overall it’s just a really nice plan to have in your turtle tank and it makes it the perfect beginner floating plant.

Oftentimes we’ll see betas from people on Instagram which will be up on the leaves, just kinda resting there which is actually kind of funny to watch.

2. Dwarf Water Lettuce

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Dwarf Water Lettuce, Pistia stratiotes

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With the frogbit out of the way we’re going to touch on the dwarf water lettuce, which is a very similar plant to frogbit, but in the sense that it will produce runners out the sides of it and create new little plants.

Now keep in mind though with the floating plants, the less flow you have, the bigger these guys will get.

So even though they will be tiny at first, they can become the size of your palm just by being in a aquarium that doesn’t have a lot of flow.

So if you have a lot of flow they’re going to stay small.

But if you have pretty much stagnant water or something that’s not moving around a lot, it will grow much, much larger.

And the dwarf water lettuce is a bit more difficult to keep in control like the other than the frogbit because it grows very quickly compared to it.

But this does require medium light and now it can grow in relatively low light.

Keep in mind that this plant, sometimes it’s a little finicky compared to like frogbit, which is much easier in our opinion.

But if this thing does grow in your requirement is going to grow like crazy, its roots will become very long and it can reach almost the bottom of a 55 gallon tank, which is 24 inches.

3. Red Root Floater

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Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus fluitans)

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This is called a red root floater and it is it’s kind of like the other two floating plants that we just presented.

However, this one is more of just like a creeping plant instead of like one single plant that’ll produce a lot of leaves in a circle and then the leaves come out from there.

This is more of like a blind type plant, so it’ll just kind of creep along and keep like growing lengthwise and then shooting up leaves from there.

But the thing with this plant is this will actually get red under really good light and naturally it has red roots hence the name red root floater.

These also do put off these beautiful tiny little yellow flowers that are just truly amazing to look at in the aquarium.

And they’re so tiny, like probably the tip of a tiny pencil and it’s just cool to look at.

It can take over on aquarium rather quickly once it gets going.

So you will have to clean these out every once in a while.

4. Salvinia Auriculata

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Tropica Salvinia auriculata

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Salvinia in general has several different species, but this is our favorite type.

The reason being is it’s not as invasive as say, salvinia minima is, which has destroyed several waterways that, you know, once you release a plant in the wild, sometimes it could take over if it’s an invasive plant.

And the reason why we like this one more than say salvinia minima is because salvinia minima can take over your aquarium just like it takes over waterways in the wild.

This however it does not, the salvinia auriculata actually grows kind of like one kind of plant and it actually just sticks together.

And this also has these weird leaf shapes which kind of look like little teacups I would say which is really cool and unique.

5. Duckweed

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Now, the first four plants that we presented on our list are plants that both serve a purpose and look nice, right? They’re ornamental floating plants and they absorb nutrients.

But the last plant on our list is maybe less desirable, but it shouldn’t be.

It does serve its purpose and it has multiple benefits.

So our number five floating plant is duckweed. Everybody’s favorite and we know what most of the people are saying.

“How could you choose duckweed? It’s a nuisance.”

It is a nuisance. It’s absolutely one of the worst and best floating plants for a couple of different reasons.

One, if you ever have a nutrient problem or say your tank is overstocked and you don’t have fish that’ll eat this like goldfish, this will absolutely destroy any nitrates that you have in your tank making your water cleaner.

I know a lot of people have issues with their tap water, having night nitrates in their water and floating plants are a great way to take care of that, but particularly duckweed because it grows so fast.

It produces babies I think of multiplies once every 24 hours or something like that because it grows absolutely insane.

It’s impossible to get rid of it usually once it’s in a tank but overall this plant has a truly invasive plant, but why? Why would this make the list?

Well, one, like I said, it absorb nutrients like crazy. It will clean your water too.

It’s actually a super food.

Now you could take this right and you could dry it out or you can blend it up and make like a slurry and then you could dry that slurry out or you could bake it and make it into a flake food and this is so nutritious for turtles and fish alike.

They’ll eat it, they’ll gobble it up and it also makes a good snack for turtles, so that’s why it makes the list because it is a functional plant.

It has multiple uses and overall it’s readily available in most stores.

Commonly Asked Questions About Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

Can I Use Plastic Plants in My Turtle Tank?

Yes, you can. But the use of plastic plants will deny you the benefits of having live plants like filtration and oxygenation.

It is also risky because if your turtle eats the plastic plant, it will fall sick.

What Kind Of Plants Do Red Eared Sliders Eat?

Red-eared sliders can eat any of the following plants; common waterweed, hornwort, java fern, and amazon sword.

Not all red eared sliders may like all of these plants, but the plants are safe to be eaten. 

Is Bamboo Safe For Turtles?

No, bamboo isn’t safe for turtles. This doesn’t stop your turtle from eating it so try to keep it away from your turtle tank.

Are Spider Plants Toxic To Turtles?

No, spider plants are safe to be eaten by turtles.

The San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society has spider plants listed among their Tortoise Diet Care Sheet.

Time to Plant Up!

The confusion on what plants are safe for your turtle tank has been taken care of to a large extent by now. Knowledge is power and with what you have now learned, you can provide better care for your pet turtle.

Adding plants to its tank helps in keeping the water clean, and in providing more oxygen.

These are all very relevant and make the tank feel more like home.

All products here are the best for your turtle tank and it lies in your choice of what is best for your turtle.

No matter your choice, you will not be disappointed.