Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1301 Chelone lyonii

Common Names: pink turtlehead,Lyon’s turtlehead,turtlehead Family: Plantaginaceae (plantain Family)
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turtlehead flower
This pretty pink turtlehead is a selection named 'Hot Lips'.


Pink turtlehead is an erect herbaceous perennial “snapdragon” that gets 1-3 ft (30-90 cm) tall. The elliptical leaves are 3-6 in (8-15 cm) long, 1.5- 6 in (4-8 cm) wide, and arranged in opposing pairs along the reddish stem, which is square in cross section. The leaves have conspicuously long petioles (leaf stems), and are toothed on the margins. The rose-pink or purplish flowers are tightly clustered in a spikelike raceme atop the stem and sometimes located in leaf axils as well. Individual flowers look like turtle heads with their mouths open. They are about an inch (2.5 cm) long, with a 2-lobed upper lip and a 3-lobed lower lip. The upper lip overhangs the lower one which has a beard of yellow hairs on its inside surface.


Chelone lyonii is a rare wildflower of the southeastern United States, occurring naturally from Virginia to Alabama. Pink turtlehead has a very spotty distribution, known only from widely scattered localities throughout its range. It seems to be most common in spruce-fir forests, along streams and in rich, moist valleys in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Turtlehead has been found growing in Maine, Pennsylvania and New York where it has, no doubt, been intentionally released or escaped cultivation.


Light: Usually at its best in partial shade, turtlehead does well in full sun as long as the soil stays moist. Afternoon shade is important in hotter climates, but too much shade will cause the plant to become leggy and need staking. Moisture: Turtlehead needs a soil that retains moisture. If it gets plenty of sunlight, it can thrive in perpetually damp soil. It does not tolerate soils that dry out completely. Turtlehead responds well to rich, organic mulch. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8 . Turtlehead is an American native wildflower for cool climates. It thrives in cultivation well north of its natural range. Turtlehead will need afternoon shade in zone 8. Propagation: Divide root mass in spring or fall. Stem cuttings can be rooted in spring. For best germination, seeds should be stratified at 40-60 °F (4-16 °C) for 4-6 weeks before sowing. Alternatively, sow seeds as soon as ripe outdoors for germination in spring.

pink turtlehead
Pink turtlehead plants are in full bloom by autumn.


Turtlehead blooms in late summer and early autumn. This is a welcome addition to the garden when many other flowers have begun to fade to memory. Use turtlehead in borders, a bog garden, and alongside ponds or streams. Let it naturalize in the moist woodland garden. Tolerant of soggy soils, this is a great plant for a rain garden. Under good growing conditions, turtlehead will spread out by rhizomes, forming larger clumps, and it may self-seed, although it has never been accused of being invasive.

Pinch back the stems half way in early summer before flowering to make the plant more bushy and less likely to fall over.


There are around a half dozen species of Chelone, all native to eastern North America. The genus was formerly included in the family Scrophulariaceae.

Steve Christman1/26/18

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Chelone species profiled on Floridata:

Chelone lyonii

( pink turtlehead,Lyon’s turtlehead,turtlehead )

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