Thursday, September 10, 2015

Native Spotlight: Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonnii)

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw 
Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonnii) has been a feature in my front yard native plant bed for a few years now. This species is not native to Maryland according to the USDA Plants Database, but is native to several states both north and south of us.  Go figure. This spring I transplanted a few to a spot that received a little less sun than those in the main bed. I see that those in the slightly shadier spot have a deeper rich green color to the leaves, and appear a bit happier than those in the sunnier area. But those in both locations are rugged and have held up well over our very dry summer. The plants spread by rhizomes, and every few years I have to thin them out.

A couple of years ago I planted White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), which is native in Maryland, in a fairly shady spot in the back yard under a downspout. This small bed has been good for Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinali), and other moisture-loving plants. Unfortunately, not much rain has been shunted off our roof since June, so I’ve done some supplemental watering.

My hope with the White Turtlehead was to attract the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. According to most sources, its caterpillars feed mainly or exclusively on Chelone glabra. However, I heard recently that the butterfly is unlikely to locate small stands of White Turtlehead in residential gardens. Mine is definitely a small stand.

Another thing I learned this year is that pinching off White Turtlehead grown in shady areas is a good springtime practice. This year, I had whacked mine back hard earlier in the summer, as they had shot up before the flower buds had even appeared, and threatened to become top-heavy. Next year, I’ll be prepared to pinch them early. I don’t really expect to see Baltimore Checkerspots in my yard, but I like the idea of having their host plant available. Just in case.

About the author:
Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, MD. She blogs at
This guest blog post is part of a monthly Native Plants series posted around the 10th of each month.



  1. I also have both species of Chelone, planted near cardinal flowers (and blue species of lobelia). The hummingbird that is a regular visitor to the cardinal flowers also visits the Chelone glabra.

  2. Judy F8:48 AM

    Interesting that the plant isn't listed as native to MD when it hosts a butterfly named after Baltimore.. It would be neat to experiment with sharing your plant with neighbors strategically to make a flight path from the nearest woodland remnants and maybe the butterfly will find its way to you!

  3. Just to clarify, the White Turtlehead is native to MD, but the Pink is not. I probably could have organized the post a little better to make that clearer.
    -Rachel Shaw


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