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Posted: 20 Feb 2018, 22:29
by j450n
Would be really very grateful for some advice about a couple of plants - was wondering if I can put the following in my tortoise habitat:
Pilea Peperomioides
Microsorum Diversifolium
Would these be tortoise safe?
Can't see any useful info and haven't been able to ascertain from looking around the web...
Thanks, Jason

Re: Advice?

Posted: 20 Feb 2018, 22:54
by Nina
Hi Jason and many thanks for contacting us. We have three species of Pilea in our Database, but we don't have Pilea pereromioides, so I will check it out (but it might be tomorrow before I can get back to you). In the meantime, here are the three Pilea (which are all safe) that we do have: ... oyjaufLiM8 ... oyjiOfLiM8 ... oyjp-fLiM8
As you can see, those species of Pilea look quite different to yours, but as far as I know most species of Pilea are not toxic, but I'd like to check it out further and will get back to you.

Microsorum diversifolium (Kangaroo Paw Fern) is a lovely fern from New Zealand. Although many ferns are edible, some contain toxic properties, including carcinogens. I have had a search, and can't find anything that indicates toxic properties in this plant, but I can't find evidence that it is safe either (there are 20,000 species of fern, and they can differ greatly in their properties).

The one thing that does concern me is that this is one of the ferns that grows from horizontal rhizomes -- a specialised type of swollen stem -- and these rhizomes are carried above the surface of the ground in the Kangaroo Paw Fern. We always advise not to feed plants that grow from bulbs, tubers or rhizomes. Rhizomes have a very high starch and protein content, which is not good for tortoises, and because the Microsorum diversifolium bears its rhizomes above ground instead of below the surface of the ground as many plants do, then they are more available for the tortoise to eat. So I would advise erring on the side of caution and not planting this fern in your tortoise's habitat.


Re: Advice?

Posted: 21 Feb 2018, 11:04
by j450n
Thanks for the (quick!) response and the info Nina. Much appreciated.
Ah - on closer inspection I can see the rhizomes on the kangaroo paw which you talk about, interesting... not to worry, sure I can find somewhere in the house for it!
Encouraging that the Pilea sounds like it might be safe :-)

Re: Advice?

Posted: 21 Feb 2018, 12:28
by Nina
Hi Jason,

Well, I've been looking this morning and can't find anything to say that Pilea peperomioides has toxic properties. It is listed as safe on various lists for cats and dogs -- but of course that doesn't mean that it is safe for tortoises. Most scientific studies relate to toxicity to humans and other mammals (livestock, for instance, or pets), so it is sometimes difficult to find out if a plant contains properties that might be toxic for tortoises.

I did check on specific properties -- goitrogens, oxalic acid, various alkaloids, etc. -- that we know are not good for tortoises, and I can't find any scientific studies that say this plant contains them. So I think it should be fine to plant in your tortoise table (actually you said 'habitat', so I'm not sure if this is indoors or outdoors). Because of the slightly succulent nature of the leaves, I think that if your tortoise ate a lot of this plant, it could possibly have a bit of diarrhoea, but I'm not sure (most succulent plants if fed in large quantities do have that effect).

By the way, what species do you keep? Some tortoises prefer some plants more than others. It's probably a good thing not to plant the fern in your habitat, as it will need a fair amount of watering, and it can be difficult to keep moisture-loving plants in an indoor set-up because of the heat from the lights that dries everything out (unless you keep Redfoots, which prefer a more humic environment)

The only other thing (and this has nothing to do with safety), is if you plant something in your tortoise's enclosure, and he likes it, then he will eat it to the ground in no time and your plant will be gone. One thing you can do is plant it in a pot and sit the pot in the enclosure, and that way the tortoise can nibble on leaves that hang down, but not completely demolish the plant in one go. It's just a matter of experimenting, and if your tortoise doesn't fancy eating the plant, or only nibbling it, then the two an co-exist happily!

The other caution is that if you have recently bought a plant from a garden centre or somewhere similar then you shouldn't feed the leaves immediately, in case they have been sprayed with insecticide, and wait for new growth before allowing your tortoise access to it.

That Pilea is a really nice plant, by the way -- I used to have one as a house plant years and years ago, and I think the leaves are really interesting and attractive!


Re: Advice?

Posted: 21 Feb 2018, 22:27
by j450n
Nina you're awesome, thanks ever so much :-)

The 'habitat', yes - neither a table nor outdoors - it's a custom build vivarium of sorts I've been working on for the last few weeks.
I'm aware of general thinking about these though I have an Indian Star.
I don't believe there is any other way of maintaining the humidity required.

My custom build gives good floor space - and I have been working on a system of automated, configurable venting (fan assisted) so that I can try to best manage the heat / humidity / air and the challenges these three can bring.
I want good air quality, but also to be maintaining humidity and temp.
Ideally I want the humidity to increase a little at 'night time' also, as might be expected in the natural environment....

I want the habitat to look as organic / natural as possible (though of course will inevitably end up using plants that are from completely different parts of the world - though you get my meaning).
I have sculpted 'walls' (made from aquarium grade expanding foam, silicon, coir, bark etc.) and incorporated some mesh pots / portions of pots into the 'walls' so they no longer look like pots, but natural formations. Pockets really...
So - quite a few of the plants I have will be going into the 'walls', some growing up, some trailing.
Have some for the ground also - my plan being much like you suggest for these.
Expecting plant casualties :-)

Am aware of the dangers of shop bought plants (insecticide etc), though thanks - that's how I ended up with the Pilea and Kangaroo Paw actually - bought them on the off chance they'd be safe purely because they'd be organically grown.

Thanks again Nina, can't imagine how anybody could possibly have been more helpful!!

Re: Advice?

Posted: 22 Feb 2018, 08:08
by Nina
Aww, thanks for the compliments, Jason! It's great to see someone taking so much time and care to provide a great environment for their tortoise!

Your plans for the heating and ventilation sound really interesting, and it would be great to hear more about your set-up and see photos too. We have a section on this forum for Asian Species (In the Tortoise Species section at the bottom of the Forum Index page) and I'm sure that people, including all of the TTT people (none of us keep Stars) would love to hear more about yours.

I think your plan for pockets containing plants on the walls is a brilliant idea! I wonder if that would be a good place to plant an air plant? They love humid conditions and don't need any soil/growing medium at all -- you could even just glue them to the wal at the base of the plant with some silicon adhesive. Plus they are edible ... o54zOfLiM8 . Almost all garden centres sell them now (and if you can get them on their own and not stuck on a decorative piece of wood or in a fancy holder then they are cheaper).

Indian Stars are absolutely beautiful, and such interesting torts, and I think you are right in trying to construct a habitat for them that has humid areas, as well as drier parts, so that they can always choose which areas to go to. I really don't know much about keeping Stars, so I had a little search around and found a care sheet from the Norfolk Tortoise Group website. They are known to be a very good group with a lot of expertise, so I'd be interested to hear what you think of the sheet, as we could recommend it in future to other people with Indian Stars: ... tailed.pdf

It's been so interesting having this conversation with you, and please don't hesitate to contact us again if you have any more questions, or just want to let us know more about your Star and its habitat.