Postbag Questions and Answers
Here are a selection of questions that we have received by email and the answers that we have provided.
List of Plants: Could you give me a diet plant listing that would be suitable for Hermanns tortoises?Click here
for a brief list of plants that we have compiled that would be suitable for mediterranean tortoises, but have a look on the site as this list covers only a fraction of the plants available, and new entries are being added all the time.
Philodendron: Are Philodendrons safe for a red footed tortoise?
All the research we have done shows that most of the Philodendrons
contain toxic oxalates which could cause mucous membrane irritation, pain and even swelling of mouth, tongue, oesophagus and stomach. So it would be a species of plant that the Tortoise Table would advise against feeding.
Beech Leaves: Can you tell me if Beech leaves are safe for my tortoises to eat?
leaves are not toxic as such (so your tortoise will not become seriously ill if he accidentally nibbles some), but they are high in tannins, which have a bitter taste and can inhibit the absorption of iron. We found it noted that in areas where Hermann tortoises are native in France, they are noticeably absent from Beech forests and areas with ferns as ground cover, so that is probably significant.
Sweet Alyssum: Is the plant Sweet Alyssum OK to feed to a Horsfield tortoise?Answer:
As for Sweet Alyssum
, there are no known toxins, but as a member of the Brassica family it shouldn't be fed to excess and is advisable to feed in moderation as part of a varied diet.
Are all Aloe edible? I have one called Aloe ‘Black Gem’. Answer:
All Aloes are edible, but the Tortoise Trust
notes that the Golden Toothed Aloe (Aloe nobilis
) can cause dermatitis in humans . The other thing about aloes, like most succulents, is that if tortoises have too much then it can cause a bit of diarrhoea, but feeding your Aloe ‘Black Gem’ (aloe x alworthia) in moderate amounts should be fine.
Bay Leaves: Are Bay leaves suitable to be given to a Horsfield tortoise?Answer:
The term “Bay leaves” is applied to quite a few plants, so we have to be sure you mean the one that we add to flavour cooking, the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
. If that is the one you mean, then it does contain hexane which is only mildly toxic but also mildly anaesthetic and said to cause headaches and nausea. The long term toxicity in humans exposed to high levels (not of the hexane but one of its metabolites) can cause nervous system failure. The same is true of animals but we can find no evidence of relevant research on tortoises. So I think that for now we would advise you not to feed Bay leaves to your tortoise, especially as there are plenty of plants that are edible and growing right now.
Bee Balm: Can I feed Bee Balm to my tortoise?Answer:
Bee Balm (monarda didyma) should be fine for your tortoise in moderation.
Queen Anne's Lace: Your site says Wild Carrots (Queen Anne's lace) is toxic. Another site says it is OK. I realize there is probably some conflict on a few plants, but this one is so plentiful around here in Massachusetts.
If there is no concrete evidence of safety or not for tortoises, then we tend to err on the side of caution. Here is our entry for the Queen Anne's Lace
: “Toxic. This plant contains furocoumarins which absorb UV radiation upon exposure of the skin to sunlight and become photoactive and could then cause cell damage (severe blistering, eye lesions). Wild Carrot is easily mistaken for Poison Hemlock which is also an extremely toxic plant.” This information almost certainly applies to humans or mammals in general, and there is very little research done on the effects of various plants on reptiles. Reptile skin is obviously very different from human skin and might not be affected at all, but in the absence of firm evidence we thought it best to be conservative in our recommendation.
The main danger with Queen Anne's Lace is that it is very easily mistaken for Poison Hemlock
) which is very poisonous to humans and animals, so unless you are sure of the plant ID I'd be careful in feeding it to your tortoise.
Dill: Can tortoises eat Dill?Answer:
On the surface of it there doesn't seem to be much wrong with dill, although one source says: "Dill is said to contain the alleged 'psychotroph' myristicine". There are also reports that dill can cause photosensitivity and or dermatitis in some people. But I think for both of these effects to take place a tortoise would have to eat a lot of dill (and in any case dermatitis isn't usually a problem with tortoises). I can't see anything terribly wrong with dill, although it seems to be relatively high in protein. You could probably feed small amounts of it to your tortoise, as part of a wider, varied diet, but because it is a herb with a strong scent, you might find that your tortoise doesn't like it anyway.
Sedum furfuraceus: Is Sedum furfuraceus suitable for feeding to tortoises?Answer:
The only sedum that is not safe for tortoises is the Sedum acre (Biting Stonecrop), but as with all succulents and cacti, overfeeding can result in diarrhoea, so don’t feed in large quantities.
Red-Footed tortoise table: Do you have any information on plants that are okay to put in a Red-footed tortoise table for decoration?Answer:
As I'm sure you know, Red-footed tortoises need high humidity so plants chosen for your tortoise table should be ones that can cope with this type of environment. It will depend on the size of the indoor enclosure you have as to which plants are suitable. Red-Foots also like shade so tall plants that can provide this might be a good choice. And it is probably a good idea for you to plant at least some of the plants in pots to stop the tortoise from eating all but the lower flowers and leaves that hang down. Access to fresh water is also important, and many people use sphagnum moss as a substrate, or as a covering over a substrate to retain moisture and increase humidity (this will require a light spray every day to keep the humidity levels up).
Obviously any of the plants in the Tortoise Table database that have a Green 'traffic light' will be safe to plant in the enclosure, but here is a list of plants that other Red-footed tortoise owners have found to be successful in their indoor enclosures (some of which can be eaten and some for shade and decoration).Asparagus Fern
-- This does very well in Red foot enclosures. The berries, if eaten, can cause gastrointestinal problems, but indoors this plant almost never has berries and you could just pick them off if they occur. The Boston Fern
also might work in an indoor enclosure.Yucca
-- does very well and because it has a stem with leaves at the top it provides cover and shade. Campanula
-- all should do well -- try the creeping ones -- but they will get eaten, so you could put them in a pot and let some hang down to ground level for snacks.Carex grasses
-- should be fine and they don't usually get eaten (although my Horsfields have just demolished one I planted in their enclosure) -- and there are some very pretty, decorative varieties.Hostas
should be fine (try the small leafed ones), but they will probably will be eaten.
And here are some other plants that we thought might do well.Spider plant
should grow well, but will probably be eaten (but if put in a pot on top of the substrate the tortoise could only eat the leaves that hang down). Grape vine
– this of course can get big, but you could try it. Prayer Plant
– This would look very decorative, although they might eat it.Abutilon
– This would provide shade, but it can grow quite tall, but it might be fine in a pot. My tortoises love the flowers.
and see also Abutilon
I have just bought some plants in pots from a garden centre. Please tell me why you say it is dangerous for tortoise food plants to grow in compost with fertiliser? What can happen if it eats flowers/leaves that are grown in the compost with added fertilizer?Answer:
The thing about fertilisers, is that the plant will obviously absorb them and the levels of elements such as nitrogen, etc. might be too high for the tortoise. It is doubtful that a tortoise will get very ill or die from eating a plant that is grown in fertilised soil, but it's just being cautious to try and avoid excess chemicals of any sort if possible. Also, of course, if your tortoise eats the little balls of fertiliser that are in the soil of the pot, it could be bad for him. So it is usually advised that you take the plant out of the pot, wash most of the soil off and then plant it. The reason that we say not to feed straight away if you buy plants from garden centres, etc. is that they might well have been sprayed with insecticides, and so it is best to let the plant grow for a little while and feed fresh flowers and leaves, rather than ones that are on the plants when you buy them.