Many common plants are toxic, and keepers must make sure that their herbivorous chelonians are kept away from them. A simple step to take to minimize the risks to your turtles and tortoises is to learn the names of all the plants in your home and yard so that you can prevent any untoward contact with poisonous plants.
If you are unable to identify specific plants, your local nursery may be able to identify them for you. Be sure to note the correct spellings of both the common and the botanical names, and keep a list of the names for future use. If you do take plants to your nursery for identification, be sure to take a sufficient sample that represents the plant as a whole (for example, take leaves, stem, flowers).
The following list is a work-in-progress, based on CTTC's poison plant list as published in the Tortuga Gazette 28(1): 8-10, January 1992 with periodic updates as more data becomes available. The list itself was based on the University of California Irvine, Regional Poison Center list of plants that are toxic or potentially toxic to humans. They recognize four levels of toxicity, indicated by a number following the plant name, and the four levels are explained in the right column.
Note that the treatments recommended are for humans. Use your own best judgment in applying them to your pets. Initially, be sure to remove any remaining parts of the plant from the mouth. If any symptoms of abnormal behavior or signs of irritation in the mouth occur, seek prompt medical attention.
Explanation of Toxicity Levels
These plants contain irritating substances known as oxalate salts. Contact with the sap may cause burning, swelling and pain. Treatment: Rinse mouth, and if contact with skin, wash with soap and water. Observe for problems in swallowing and breathing, and increased drooling. Also check for irritation and swelling of mouth, lips, and tongue.
2. Toxic or Potentially Toxic
These plants can be toxic and should be considered with caution. May contain a wide variety of substances which cause ill effects to various organs. Toxicity can range from mild irritation to severe organ damage, depending on the plant. Treatment: Rinse mouth and dilute with fluids. Call poison center for further recommendations.
Contact with sap may produce a skin rash, itching, or irritation.Treatment: Wash skin with soap and water. If irritation persists, call poison center or veterinarian. Be careful not to rub it into the eyes.
Information is incomplete, but some data indicates that these plants may cause ill effects. Treatment: Rinse mouth. Dilute with fluids. Callyour local poison center for further information.
In some plants, the toxin is present only in a certain plant part, such as the seeds or the leaves, or some other part. In other plants, every part of the plant contains the toxin. It is always wise to err on the side of caution and avoid exposure. NEVER assume that your tortoise (or any other pet) will "know the difference" between toxic and non-toxic plants in your garden.