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9 Best Live Plants For Turtle Tanks – 2024 Reviews & Top Picks

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

turtle in a tank

Fake plants are just fine, but that is not what we are here to talk about today. There are many things that are necessary for a healthy and happy tank of turtles, one of those being plants. That is why we are here today, to help you find the best live plants for turtle tanks.

Turtles love live plants (this plant is our top pick) because they like to eat them, plus it helps replicate their natural environment too. You may be wondering what kind of plants are good for a turtle tank, and deciding on the right ones may be a bit of an issue.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites in 2024

Rating Image Product Details
Hornwort Hornwort
  • Hardy plant
  • Can handle being eaten by turtles
  • Resilient in many water conditions
  • Second place
    Java Moss Java Moss
  • Easy to care for
  • Filters water well
  • Grows quickly
  • Third place
    Java Fern Java Fern
  • Hardy and easy to care for
  • Turtles won't eat the whole plant
  • Natural filter
  • Dwarf Hairgrass Dwarf Hairgrass
  • Doesn't need special lighting or CO2
  • Grows slowly
  • Not demanding
  • The 9 Best Live Plants For Turtle Tanks

    Now, let’s take a look at the 9 best plants that you can go with for your turtle tank, each of which is great in its own way and they are all turtle-safe plants.

    1. Hornwort


    This is a good option to go with no doubt. Hornwort is an aquatic plant that does not reach the surface. It is green and sometimes slightly yellowish, making it a beautiful addition to any tank. Hornwort is pretty resilient to many different water conditions. Water temperature, as long as it is not overly hot or cold, is not a huge deal, nor is lighting.

    They do like a little bit of light, but as long as you have the various turtle lights going this should not be an issue. Hornwort is very hardy and can survive in many different conditions. This includes a turtle tank where it may get eaten. The fact that it grows pretty quickly is also a bonus considering that turtles may eat it quite rapidly. Moreover, this stuff is also ideal for filtering out the water.

    • Hardy and grows quickly
    • Resilient in many water conditions
    • Can handle being eaten by turtles
    • Filters the water
    • Does need good lighting

    2. Java Moss

    Java Moss

    The real beauty of Java moss is that it does not need any special lighting or air requirements. It will do well in dim and murky water, meaning that you can keep it in virtually any freshwater aquarium.

    Java moss is also good for filtering out the water, something that is necessary in any turtle tank. It grows along the substrate, rocks, driftwood, and other aquarium items. This means that it grows easily virtually anywhere, it grows quickly, so being eaten is not a big issue, and it is easy to care for as well.

    • Grows quickly
    • Filters water well
    • Can handle dim and murky water
    • Easy to care for
    • Can be hard to anchor

    3. Java Fern

    Java Fern

    The Java fern is another good option to consider. While it does need to be anchored down with some small rocks or driftwood, it still makes for a fine addition to any turtle tank. Simply tie it down to any bottom surface with some fishing line and everything will be just fine. It does require a little bit of lighting, but the turtle lights will do just fine.

    Java ferns are great at taking waste out of the water, thus acting like a natural filter. Java ferns are not all that tasty and turtles, while they may take a bite every now and then, they won’t outright eat the whole plant. Also, low CO2 levels are no issue either. It is a very hardy, resilient, and easy to care for aquatic plant for any freshwater aquarium.

    • Acts as a natural filter
    • Turtles won’t eat the whole plant
    • Hardy and easy to care for
    • Needs good lighting
    • Can be hard to anchor

    4. Dwarf Hairgrass

    Dwarf Hairgrass

    Dwarf Hairgrass is actually quite similar to normal grass, not unlike on your own lawn. The difference is of course than normal grass is not aquatic, whereas Dwarf hairgrass definitely is. Turtles will love this stuff because it makes for a good layer to cover the substrate, giving them something soft to walk on and mull through on the bottom of the tank.

    It is a very beautiful addition to any turtle tank, almost like an underwater lawn. Turtles may eat some of this stuff, but it is not that tasty so they won’t raze down a whole field of it. Moreover, it doesn’t require much lighting or CO2, plus it does not grow that fast, so it will not invade too much tank space either.

    • Doesn’t need special lighting or CO2
    • Not too tasty for turtles
    • Grows slowly
    • Somewhat basic-looking

    5. Moneywort


    Moneywort is a really cool option to go with. Many people like this stuff for its aesthetic appeal. Simply put, it looks really nice. This is more of a straight plant, in the sense that it has longer and taller shoots with leaves on them, plus they are quite thin. They make for a good option if you have one or two smaller bunches.

    That being said, don’t add too many of them as they grow quite tall and will take up lots of space in the water if you do have too many. This stuff may be eaten by your turtles, but it grows fairly quickly so that should be no issue. Moreover, while it does like lots of light and CO2, moneywort is not overly demanding so it will do just fine in the depths of a turtle tank.

    • Very nice looking
    • Can handle being eaten by turtles
    • Fairly hardy
    • Grow quickly and take up a lot of space
    • Needs lots of lighting and CO2

    6. Red Ludwigia

    Red Ludwigia

    The reason why many people love red ludwigia is because it is extremely low maintenance. You will not have to provide it with any special nutrients, lighting, or aeration. It will do just fine on its own and feeding off of the nutrients in the water. Being so easy to take care of makes this plant a prime choice for much more than just turtle tanks.

    It is a taller plant, so you will only want to add a couple of bushes here and there in order to avoid overstuffing the swimming area, but a few will do just fine. Also, this is a very fast growing plant, one that does like to be eaten by turtles. While turtles may eat a good deal of red ludwigia, it grows really fast so it will replenish itself in no time at all.

    • Very low maintenance
    • Fast-growing
    • Attractive
    • May take over your aquarium
    • Tasty to turtles

    7. Water Lettuce

    Water Lettuce

    Water lettuce is another really neat option to go with for your turtle tank. These guys are floating plants that rest on top of the water. Their light requirements will definitely be met thanks to the fact that they rest on the water’s surface, and will therefore be able to absorb plenty of UV rays.

    Moreover, turtles love to eat this stuff, plus it provides for some good cover too. It’s quite a hardy plant that will have no problems surviving in turtle tank conditions. There is also the fact that they add a certain amount of visual appeal to any tank as well.

    • Hardy and appealing
    • Interesting floating plants
    • Don’t need special nutrients
    • Need strong lighting
    • Will be eaten by turtles

    8. Water Hyacinth

    Water Hyacinth

    A water hyacinth is also a cool floating plant option to go with. Except for the look of it, this stuff is extremely similar to water lettuce. It floats on top of the water, so it has no problem getting air and light. Moreover, it is also a very hardy and resilient plant, so keeping it alive is no issue.

    There is also the fact that turtles like to eat water hyacinth, so it does make for a tasty snack. Also, these things look really nice, especially when their flowers bloom, making them very visually appealing.

    • Hardy and resilient
    • Floats on top of the water
    • Beautiful blooming flowers
    • Needs to be trimmed regularly

    9. Moss Balls

    Moss Balls

    Moss balls are a very unique choice to go with, but a good one none the less. These things are simply moss balls, aquatic moss, that rests on the bottom of the tank. They aren’t especially tasty, so while turtles might snack on them, they won’t outright consume them.

    Moreover, they do fine in low light aquariums, which is great for the bottom of a turtle tank. Moss balls also make for a fun toy that your turtles can push around and play with. They also make for really good water filters that take unwanted compounds and excess nutrients out of the water. We can’t forget the fact that they look really neat as well.

    • Fun toy for turtles
    • Great water filters
    • Interesting-looking
    • Can handle low light
    • Not a full plant

    What Kind Of Plants Are Good For Turtles?

    When it comes to a turtle tank, there are a variety of options that you can go with, but there are a couple of things that you do need to keep in mind when selecting them. One of the main things to look out for is that you only add plants that the turtle can eat (like hornwort).

    While you do not want plants that are overly tasty, because the turtles will eat them before they ever get a chance to grow, any plants that may contain compounds which are toxic to turtles need to be avoided. Turtles love to eat plants, so any kind of plant that is edible for a turtle is a big bonus.

    Moreover, you want to add plants that root easily in the substrate. You need the plants to stay firmly rooted in the substrate, so any plant with a good root system is a big bonus. Furthermore, turtle tanks usually don’t have too much light or oxygen in the water, so any plant that doesn’t have too big oxygen or light requirements is ideal too. Floating plants (like water lettuce) are nice for turtles too, because they can provide some cover, they look nice, and they are often edible too.

    Benefits Of Keeping Live Plants In Your Turtle Tank

    turtle in aquarium
    Image Credit: norberto, Shutterstock

    There are quite a few different benefits that come with keeping turtle plants in your tank. We are calling them turtle plants because in most cases, we are referring to plants that turtles can eat.

    At any rate, what are the benefits of keeping live plants in turtle tanks?

    Backup Filtration

    One of the biggest benefits here is that live plants have the ability to act as a backup water filtration system. The best plants for turtle tanks can filter out ammonia, nitrites, and other unwanted organic compounds in the water.

    They make the water cleaner, better for your turtles to live in, and they take some of the load off of the filter too.


    Simply put, aquatic turtle plants will make the aquarium look much better. Aquariums and turtle tanks without plants look weird and unnatural. Not only will it look better to you, but it will be better for the turtle too.

    No matter what the case, some live plants in the tank definitely help increase the visual appeal.

    More Oxygen

    Plants have the ability to oxygenate the water. Turtles do need a lot of oxygen, which is also the case if you happen to have some fish in the same tank.

    The more aquatic plants you have in the tank, the more oxygen the water will have, which is always a good thing.

    turtle inside tank
    Image Credit: Pixabay

    Happy Turtles

    Perhaps the best parts about having some live plants in your turtle tank is that it will make your turtle much happier.

    Turtles like to eat certain aquatic plants, plus they like to hide among them too. Simply put, some good aquatic plants will make your turtle feel at home.

    Can I Use Plastic Plants In My Turtle Tank?

    The short answer to this question is yes, you can use artificial plastic plants in your turtle tank if you so choose. However, in our opinion, if looking after a couple of live plants is too difficult and time consuming, then you probably don’t have enough time to really look after a turtle at all.

    At any rate, yes, plastic plants will do just fine in a turtle tank, plus of course they don’t need any maintenance and there is no chance of them dying.

    However, when it comes down to it, real plants are much better for turtle tanks for many reasons. First off, plastic plants cannot oxygenate the water as they do not go through photosynthesis.

    At the same time, plastic plants cannot filter out any microorganisms and unwanted compounds from the water. Furthermore, turtles surely cannot eat plastic plants, and if they do, they will get sick. You are better off with real plants.

    What Kind Of Plants Do Red Eared Sliders Eat?

    red eared slider
    Image Credit: Dieter Seibel, Pixabay

    Red eared sliders are some of the most commonly kept turtles, which is why we would like to talk about some red eared slider plants that they like to eat.

    Keep in mind, they may not like to eat all these plants, but they won’t hurt the turtles either.

    Common Waterweed

    This is one of the best plants to go with for red eared sliders. Most turtles really seem to love the taste of this stuff and it has lots of nutrition in it. Moreover, it is very easy to grow, inexpensive, and does not require much maintenance at all.


    This is probably one of the best options to go with for various reasons. While turtles usually don’t love the taste of this stuff, some are known to eat it, plus it is not harmful either.

    There is also the fact that Hornwort doesn’t need substrate, it does fine in most conditions, and it does not require much maintenance either.

    Java Fern

    Java ferns are also very easy to care for. They do need to be tied down to something as they are known to come free from substrate and float around.

    However, other than that, this plant does not require much maintenance at all. Some turtles do like to eat this stuff, but most will just stay away from it.

    Amazon Sword

    Amazon sword plants work well for turtle tanks too. This is another plant that is easy to grow and does not require much in terms of maintenance.

    Red eared sliders may eat a bit of it, but they usually won’t eat a whole plant, but they may tear it out of the substrate if the mood strikes them.

    red eard slider on grass
    Image Credit: Flyri, Pixabay

    What Plants Should I Avoid Adding To My Turtle Tank?

    There are not too many things to keep in mind here. Some plants to avoid, first off, are toxic ones. Some of the plants that turtles can absolutely not eat include water hemlock, milkweed, and ivy. Other than those, most plants are edible for turtles.

    Moreover, a plant that requires way too much light and oxygen is not ideal, especially if it is going to be underwater. Finally, any plant that has a weak root system (or does not float), is not going to be ideal for a turtle tank. They need to be rooted well in order to avoid floating around the tank randomly.


    There are many awesome plants that you can get for your turtle tank (this is our top pick). If you have a larger tank, don’t be afraid to diversify a little bit. Generally speaking, space permitting, the more plants you have the better. Turtles love plants in their tank so do them a favor and get some!

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    Feature Image Credit by Megan Czarnocki, Shutterstock

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