Food for desert dwelling type of Tortoises - Desert Tortoises, Marginated, Greeks, Russians, Sulcata

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Well-Known Member
10 Year Member!
Aug 21, 2007
Location (City and/or State)
Inland Empire, CA
(Updated 01/14/13)

This list is quite long. It covers the desert dwelling tortoises like the California DT, Greek, Hermanni and Russians. The Ratios are the same for desert dwelling Torts and of course some of the foods are harder to come by and some I leave out all together. It is just a nice list to pick from and change up their foods as I often am eating the same things I have gotten for them.
This list is compiled from several different sources which I have stated. If I have forgotten to list any source it was not intentional and if you PM me I will correct it. If you have plants you know can be added to this list please PM me and I will do so.

Here it is :
What to feed: Grazing on grasses and natural plants is the best nutrition for tortoises.

Feed 85% Please understand NO one food should be fed 85% of the time. This list is so that you can choose different items and these items should be fed most. (A variety of the listed Greens should be fed 85% of the time, not just one of the greens) Just like your plate should have 1/2 of it in veg. 1/4 in meat and 1/4 in carb (like potato) But no one would want to eat the same thing on that plate every day nor would it be healthy for them.

should be leafy greens listed from the highest nutritional level to least, based on calcium and vitamin levels. These are foods easily obtained from your grocery store and often have had chemicals used on them. Wash well before feeding. Or grow your own. Calcium supplements should be used 2-3 times weekly for female tortoises during egg season.
Opuntia (prickly pear cactus)
Mustard greens
**Swiss Chard
Timothy Hay
** spinach
Nappa cabbage
Grape leaves (NOT grape ivy)
Bok Choy
Collard greens
Turnip Greens
**Dandelion greens
Desert Mallow
Broccoli Rabe (leaves)

*Feed less frequently: potential goiter occurrences with excess.
**feed less frequently: contains calcium oxalates which inhibit absorption of calcium

Feed 10%

Fruit/Flowers-- All fruits must be seeded first to prevent intestinal problem and toxicity. Because they are flavorful, tortoises can become addicted to fruits and flowers.
Rose Petals
Berries of all kinds
Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
Hibiscus acetosella
Nasturtium-(leaves & flowers)
Rose mallow

Give occasionally-moderate nutritional value
Sweet Potato (not the leaves of any potato they are toxic)
Squash (includes Pumpkin- has worming effect)

Low Quality-should be avoided
Cabbage (red and green)
corn (high sugar content)
Iceberg lettuce (almost no nutritional value- contains high amount of water)

Less than 5% Protein

Too much protein has been linked to severe shell deformities and fatty liver disease. In the past animal protein sources such as dog food have been recommended but protein should be supplied as a plant based source. Any legume (bean) is a source of protein and should be limited to 5% or less of the total diet. Tortoises that are allowed to graze and get a varied diet of greens will get adequate amounts of plant protein without supplementing. Yes Alfalfa carries a large quantity of plant protein (about 15% or more per serving).

Comment; The advantage of commercial diets is that they are easier to use than preparing a balanced salad several times a week. The disadvantage is that in spite of the claims that the commercial diets are complete and balanced, they may not be so. The ingredients are items that a tortoise in the wild would never have access to. Symptoms from eating an unbalanced diet may take years to develop.

Natural Sunlight is an important factor in the process of metabolizing calcium, Vitamin A and Vitamin D. Reptiles including tortoises can not survive without it.

Reference: Bulletin of the ASSOCIATION OF REPTILLIAN AND AMPHIBIAN VETENERARIANS Volume 4, Number 1, 1994 pg. 8-11

Edible Landscaping for Tortoises: If a plant is marked as Native it is Native to CA
Abelia (Abilia grandiflora)
African daisy (Arctotis, Dimorphotheca, Osteospermum)
Agave (agave attenuate)
Aloe and Jade Plant (Aloe species and crassula argentea)
Aquatic plants (duckweed, cats tongue, etc)
Austin Griffiths manzanita (Arctostaphylos “Austin Griffiths’) Native plant

Baby Tears (soleirolia soleirolii)
Banana Yucca(Yucca baccata) native
Bindweeds (convolvulus & calystegia spp)
Bittercress (cadamine hisuta & flezuosa)
Buckwheat (Eriogonum spp) native plants Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii)

Callandra (Calliandra califorinia)
California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia California –Mahogany Red & mixed colors) native plants
California oat grass (Danthonia californica var. californica) native plant
California Tree Mallo (Lavatern assurgentiflora)
Chaparral Yucca (Yucca whipplei ssp) native plant
Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Chicory (Cichorum intybus)
Common vetch (Vicia sativa)
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia Indica)
Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentate)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinate) native plant
Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids) (NOT Japanese day lily)
Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
Desert or Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigu)
Desert Dandelion (Malacothriz glabrata)
Desert Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis Burgandy)

Elephant food (Portulacaria afra) (Not Elephant Ear (Colocasia) which is toxic)
English daisy ( Bellisperennis)

Fuchsia (Epilobium spp) native plants

Gazania (Gazania spicies)
Geranium (Pelargonium species)
Giant Feather Grass (stipa gigantean)
Goldan Aster (Heterotheca sessiliflora ssp.bolanderi) native plant

Hollyhocky (leaves and flower)
Honeysuckle (lonicera subspicata) native

Indian Mallow (abutilon palmeri) Native plant

Leafy-stemmed coreopsis (Coreopsis calliopsidea)

Mesclun (Mixed edible greens)
Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)
Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeate)
Mojave aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)
Mulberry Tree (Morus alba; M. nigra)

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Native Moss Rose (Portulaca gradiflora)
Nettles (Lamium)
Night-blooming Cereus (Cereus peruvianus)
Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)

Owl Clover (Orthocarpus purpuracens)

Perennial Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Petunia (Petunia hybrida)
Pinks and carnations (Dianhus spiceies)
Plantains (Plantago major, media &lanceotata)
Pomegranate (Punica grnatum)
Prickly Pear (Opuntia species)

Rose (Rosa species)

Shaw agave (Agave shawii) native plant
Sea Dahlia (Coreopsis maritime) native plant
Sea Pink (Armeria maritima)
sedum (stonecrop)
Siskiyou Blue Fescue (Festuca Siskiyou Blue) Native plants
Spider plant (Chloraphytum)
Stream violet (Viola glabella) Native

Thistle Sage (Salvia carduacea)
Thyme (Thymus species)
Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa sinensis)

Wandering Jew (Tradescantia)
Western dog violet (Viola adunca) Native
Wild Rose (Rosa california)

Yucca (Hesperoyucca) Native Plant

Zucchini squash (Cucurbita species)

Edible Grasses;
Alfalfa (Lucerne - be careful, rather high in protein unless dry)

Barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli)
Beesgras (Urochloa pantcoides)
Buffalo grass (Stenotaphrum secondatum)
Bushman grass (Schmidtia kalahariensis)

Carrot grass (Tragus racemosus)
Couch grass (Cynodon dactylon)
Crab finger grass (Digitaria sanguinalis)

Dallas grass (Paspalum dilatatum)
Darnel rye grass (Lolium temulentum)
Dew grass (Eragrostis pseudo-obtusa)
Dropseed grass (Sporobolus africanus)

Eastern Province vlei grass (Eragrostis lehmanniana)


Kikiyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)

Mouse barley grass (Hordeum murinum)

St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
Swazi grass (Digitaria swazilandensis)

Veld grass (Ehrhartacalycina)

Wintergrass (Poa annua)

Non-Poisonous Plants:

African Daisy
African Violet
Asparagus Fern


Chinese Evergreen
Christmas Cactus
Corn Plant
Cholla Catus
Cape Myrtle


Geranium Hearts

Heavenly Bamboo
Hens and chicks

Ice Plant

Jade Plant

Mexican Flameleaf
Mother-in –Law Tongue

Natal Plum

Palo Verde
Pansy Peperomia
Paper Flower
Pricly Pear
Purple velvet Plant


Snake Plant
Spider Plant
Sword Fern/Boston Fern

Wandering Jew



More infor can be found here;
From Http:// has a great list of Nutritional Considerations for Grassland, Arid, and Mediterranean Tortoises

Added an information site for Malvaceae with pics



Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Dec 18, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Cadillac, Michigan
RE: Food for desert dwelling type of Torts

I can add to the list :D

Hibiscus (leaves & Flowers)*
Morus (Mulberry, leaves)
Gazania krebsiana*
Barleria obtusa* (flowers)
Tradescantia (wandering Jew)*
Aloe Vera (African)
Abutilon hybridium (Cinese Lantern, flowers)
Mimula luteus & cupreus
Cotyledon orbiculata (green variety)
Painted Lady*
Echeveria fimbriata*
Echeveria coccinea*
Echeveria elegans*
Echeveria agavoides
Graptoveria debbi
Graptoveria bellum
Kalanchoe beharensis**
Kalanchoe tomentosa
Kalanchoe rhombopilosa
Kalanchoe tubiflora
Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
Lampranthus spectabilis (vygie, daisy like flower)
Lampranthus haworthi
Malvaviscus arboreum (Fire-dart bush - flowers)*
Papaya or Pawpaw leaves
Testudinaria elephantipes
Testudinaria macrostachya (also called tortoise plant)
Gerbera jamesoni - Barbeton daisy
Dimorphotheca pluvialis (Cape Daisy)
D.sinuata (Namaqualand daisy)
Arctotis (African daisy)
Lederbouria spp*
Violets (not African - English)
Lobularia maritama (Alyssum or sweet Alice)
Watercress (not from marshy areas - contaminated)
Russelia Juncea (coral plant - flowers)*
Mesembryanthemum (Lampranthus spp - ice plant)
Aeonium arboreum
Aeonium haworthii
Agave parryi
Aloe kedongensis
Cotyledon (most types - red tipped leaf variety)
Chlorophytum comosum (Indigenous hen & chicken)*
Schlumbergera spp
Calisia repens (golliwog)*
Dichondra repens (wonderlawn - also quite high in protein so limit)*
Berula erecta
Callisia elegans
Bulbine natalensis
Bulbine latifolia
Albucalilly* (flowers)
Eriocephalus africanus
Colocasia spp(not to be confused with elephants foot Alocasia macrorrhiza)
Mackaya bella (flowers)*
White and blue Mazus
Nylandtia spinosa (tortoise berry)
Portulacca* (A. rufescens, Portulacaria afra)
Bauhinia Natalensis
Ifafa lilly
Odontonemia strictum (cardinals cloak)
Indigenous hibiscus (red leaf)
Erica (Heath - most types)

As many different grasses as you can supply from the following list (At least 70% of diet - almost all
of these are eaten in the wild):

Couch grass (Cynodon dactylon)
Eastern Province vlei grass (Eragrostis lehmanniana)
Dew grass (Eragrostis pseudo-obtusa)
Bushman grass (Schmidtia kalahariensis)
Carrot grass (Tragus racemosus)
Beesgras (Urochloa pantcoides)
Veld grass (Ehrhartacalycina)
Darnel rye grass (Lolium temulentum)
Barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli)
Mouse barley grass (Hordeum murinum)
Crab finger grass (Digitaria sanguinalis)
Dallas grass (Paspalum dilatatum)
Wintergrass (Poa annua)
Dropseed grass (Sporobolus africanus)
Kikiyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)
Buffalo grass (Stenotaphrum secondatum)
Swazi grass (Digitaria swazilandensis)
Alfalfa (Lucerne - be careful, rather high in protein unless dry)
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)

Weeds (* indicates vital to diet):

Plantago major (Broad leafed plantain)*
Plantago lanceolata ( Buckhorn, narrow leafed plantain)*
Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion most important)*
Cnicus benedictus (Thistle)
Galinsoga parviflora (Small flowered quickweed)
Opuntia (most types)*
Rubus cuneifolius (Sand bramble)
Tribulis terrestris (common dubbeltjie)*
Arctotheca calebdula (Cape marigold)
Trifolium repens (white clover) Note: becomes toxic when dry.
Cerastium capensi (Cape chickweed)*
Silybum marianum (Blessed milk thistle)
Commelina benghalensis (indigenous wandering jew)*

Nutritional information -

Plant Identification


Well-Known Member
10 Year Member!
Aug 21, 2007
Location (City and/or State)
Inland Empire, CA
RE: Food for desert dwelling type of Torts

I should have distinguished between desert species that don't eat grasses and those that do. I will be adding more to the master list and in time my hopes are to set up food lists for torts that include as many foods as possible so that people have many choices. Some foods like grasses the Mediterranean species really don't eat. DT and Sullys tend to eat lots of grasses, etc.
This is a work in progress and Josh was nice enough to allow me to initially sticky this to the food thread to get it started, and as time goes on my hope is to combine lists, and have master food lists set up for our torts so it is easy for a new and not so new owner to find a good variety.
If at all possible please check and make sure you are not duplicating what is already on the list that is why I asked all to PM me with additions. It will cause less confusion in the long run. And if you can provide common as well as Latin names all the better though not necessary.

I am also working on a Poison or toxic list which I will be posting a little later.

Keep those suggestions coming hopefully though a PM and please state which type of tort you are feeding your list too and/or where you acquired your list so that we can give them credit and reference the site.

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
In the UK you can use Florette Crispy Salad and Exotic Leaf Eater Pellets
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