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Pink turtlehead facts for kids

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Pink turtlehead
Lamiales - Chelone obliqua - 1.jpg
Scientific classification
C obliqua USDA.png
Distribution of Chelone obliqua

Chelone obliqua, the pink turtlehead, red turtlehead, or rose turtlehead, is a perennial flowering plant belonging to the family Plantaginaceae. This uncommon wildflower is endemic to the United States, where it is found in the Midwest and southeastern states.

The three common names come from the bloom colors, yet they may even appear in other colors such as purple or white. When blooming, the flower is said to resemble the head of a turtle.


Chelone obliqua is an herbaceous perennial plant, that grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet and can spread out in 1 to 2 feet.

The central stem is light green, smooth and hairless, and cylindrical; there are pairs of opposite leaves along the sides that tend to droop. Its leaf blades are lanceolate to broadly lanceolate, hairless, and serrated along their margins. The upper blade exhibits a dark green surface, while the lower blade surface is a paler green. A petiole is arising from the base of each leaf blade.

It blooms later than some herbaceous perennials, in mid to late summer. The flowers are tubular 2-lipped blooms, with a small yellow beard inside each lower lip. There is no floral scent and are cross pollinated by bees and attracted to butterflies.

An ovoid seed capsules evolves subsequent to the corollas of the flowers turning brown and falling off. The seeds capsules are initially light green and uncovered (no coating), and later turns brown and splits open to release the seeds. It is rhizomatous with occasional vegetative colony growth.


Varieties include:

  • Chelone obliqua var. erwiniae — Erwin's red turtlehead, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina.
  • Chelone obliqua var. obliqua — red turtlehead, the Southeast.
  • Chelone obliqua var. speciosa — red turtlehead, the Midwest.


Chelone obliqua is native to various states in the eastern and central parts of the country, including: Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

It is found as tetraploid in the Blue Ridge Mountains; or as hexaploid in areas such as Tennessee to Arkansas and Michigan, and on the Atlantic coastal plain from South Carolina to Maryland. It has arisen several times from diploid ancestors of the other three species of the genus Chelone (Chelone glabra, Chelone lyonii and Chelone cuthbertii).


The plant has become a rare wildflower and is threatened and endangered in some states, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The Rose turtlehead is endangered in the state of Arkansas and is a special concern in Kentucky. The Red turtlehead is endangered in Kentucky and threatened in Maryland. Lastly, the Purple turtlehead is endangered in Michigan.


Chelone obliqua is cultivated as an ornamental plant. Optimal bloom period is within the months of July and August.

Dispersal of seeds can occur in the early spring, then divide in mid-spring and produce root soft-tip cuttings in the early summer. It is best grown in moist to wet, rich, humusy soils in full sun to partly shaded regions. With an immense amount of sunlight during the summer time, it's wet and moist, or clay soil is essential for growth. It can also grow in any pH conditions (neutral, alkaline, or acidic). Hence, mainly grown in moist woods, swampy areas and along streams.

Some problems that may arise would be these turtleheads have a disposition to powdery mildew, rust, fungal leaf spots, and damage from slugs and snails.


Chelone is derived from Greek meaning ‘turtle-like’, in reference to its turtle head-shaped corollas.

Obliqua means ‘slanting’, ‘having unequal sides’, or ‘oblique’.

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