Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Use of Ornamental Plants in Herp Enclosures and as Food

Glenn Gardner


Glenn works in the ornamental nursery business, is a state certified pesticide applicator, and is certified as a county agricultural inspector/biologist in the area of pesticide use enforcement. His primary job, however, is as a grower.


Should You Feed that Ornamental From the Nursery or Plant Store?
Many people ask about feeding African Violets to their tortoises. This brings up the greater question of the safety of even non-toxic ornamental plants due to the extensive use of pesticides and fungicides by the growers. This is a complex an controversial issue on which I hope I can shed some light.

I personally would not feed any ornamental plants which came from a retail nursery to any of my animals. Ornamental growers generally use a lot of chemicals on their plants. They can range from the relatively non-toxic and short-lived to the very toxic and long-lasting. One of the problems you can run into is if you ask your local retailer if they use any pesticides; if they tell you no, they are probably telling you the truth. THEY didn't use any pesticides. The guy they bought the plants from, however, is another story. He has probably used any number of pesticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, and chemical fertilizers...possibly within days of delivering to the retailer.

One of the other problems with ornamental plants is that many of the chemicals used are not registered for, and are prohibited from use on, plants that will be used for human or animal feed. There are little if any regulations on acceptable levels of residue. With vegetables, this is regulated (although most if not all of the produce you get at your local market has some pesticide residues) . Then there is the question of systemics (chemicals designed to be taken up through the root system and the leaves into the plant). They are not used that much in food agriculture but are used extensively in ornamental horticulture. Especially fungicides. Some can persist for a long time and move a good distance in the plant. Systemic fungicides are used much more than pesticides and can be quite toxic. There are some newer chemicals on the market which claim to have residual action for as long as 6 months. Most growers also add a spreader/sticker when applying pesticides/fungicides to increase their effectiveness. These do just what they say: help the chemical spread out over the leaves and also stick better to the leaves. This makes it harder to wash the chemicals off.

In other words, these plants are not grown with consumption in mind.


Can Non-Toxic Ornamental Plants Be Rendered Safe for Eating?
Your real concern should be with any plants that you just brought home. If you leach the potting mix, rinse the leaves thoroughly and grow them on for a while in their own containers (or, better yet, in new containers) before planting in your yard, you probably won't have any problems. Just try to err on the conservative side when landscaping. If you are going to buy ornamentals to plant in the ground, a series of heavy waterings should rid the soil itself of pesticide residues without much effect on the surrounding soil and plant. You should watch out for and try to avoid potting soil that has perlite in it (little white Styrofoam like pellets), though. (My tortoises love to eat these pellets and, although non-toxic, they can cause impaction if they eat enough.)

You can wash residues off the leaves of plants; they doesn't stay on them forever. A strong spray, especially on the undersides of leaves, will work. If you do this 2-3 times, letting the plant dry in between, you probably won't have problems with landscape plants. I wouldn't worry about plants that have been in your pen/yard for a while.

If anyone has a question about a specific chemical I can send them information about its toxicity, residual action, proper use, etc. My advice, however, is to grow the plants you want yourself, from seeds or cuttings.

Glenn is currently owned by koi, turtles and tortoises, including a 100 pound Sulcata. If you have questions on specific pesticides or fungicides, please email Glenn.

Related Articles and Sites

Natural Pest Control


Gardens Alive!

Biocontrol Network

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site