Photo Gallery of the Best Edible Plants

 From the Garden,Yard & Field

___ Hollyhock Mallow ___

Under Construction!

We are constantly asked about the suitability/edibility of various plants for feeding Uromastyx.  Conflicting information abounds in the literature and on the internet.  Some sources list specific plants as edible while others list them as toxic or otherwise undesirable as a dietary component.  Top this with concerns over the potential contamination of field-collected plant material with pesticides or parasites and most readers are left dubious about the virtues of feeding a more natural, "wild" diet.   However, foods obtained from the grocery store have similar shortcomings.  While (hopefully) less likely to be significantly contaminated with pesticides or out-right poisonous, most still have similar "anti-nutritional" compounds.  For example, foods containing large amounts of oxalic acid (ex. spinach) or mustard oils (ex. collard greens) can significantly impact the health of your herbivores if used as a major component of the diet.  Commercial production and storage practices can also easily degrade the nutritional value of store-bought produce.  Couple these facts with the propensity of some Uromastyx's to become "bored" with commonly available commercial food stuffs, and you're back to needing reliable information on feeding home grown/ field collect vegetation, blooms, and fruits.  All in all, with the proper precautions and a little guidance, a diet high in "wild" food plants is likely safer and healthier for your herbivorous friends and easier on your pocketbook. 

This section is designed to help you increase the diversity of food items you can safely feed your Uromastyx while hopefully increasing the quality of it's diet.  I hope to cover the pros and cons of using each food plant as well as it's nutrient content when the data is available.  Most of these plants grow wild across North America or are easily grown in the home flower bed or garden.  Please take care to verify the plants you collect truely are the same species we have listed here!  If in doubt, please contact your local county Agricultural Extension Agency to verify the plants for you.  They are usually listed in the Blue pages of your telephone book under "Government Agencies" or under "Dept. of Agriculture".   Most have Weed Scientists on staff who will gladly identify the plants for you.  It's a free service so avail yourself of their expertise.    We've taken as high a resolution photo as practical of each plant listed here to help aid in your ability to identify it on your own.  However, if you are in doubt about the identity of a potential food plant, please refrain from feeding it.  We are also going to offer seed for the best (nutritionally speaking) plants show here, so if you can't find them locally you can purchase them here at a very reasonable cost .  See "About Deer Fern Farms" for ordering information.

Please note edibility (non-poisonous) and suitability (nutritionally valuable, readily consumed) are not the same thing.  Many plants listed as edible on various web sites are of minimal nutritional quality or simply not deemed "tasty" by most Uromastyx and thus generally ignored when offered as food.  We've focused on only those plants which either are of superior nutritional quality (and when available we will list their nutrient contents) or are valuable for enticing fresh imports or individuals otherwise off-feed to begin eating again.  Please note Uromastyx are individuals and a food plant one might relish, another Uro might completely ignore.  Their tastes also tend to vary by season, some loving say dandelions in the spring but completely rejecting them during the summer. Uromastyx are least likely to go off-feed and most likely to eat new food items if they are offered a mixture of food items on a regular basis.  Avoid the habit of feeding one or two food items one month, then completely switching to something else.  You can gradually alter the various components of the food mix daily, weekly, or monthly, but try to change only a few items at a time.   Leave at least one or two items that you know they are still eating with vigor when adding several new items to the mix.  This practice is useful to wean Uros addicted to insects back to a vegetarian diet.   Add a few insects (superworms or crickets with most the legs removed) to a very shallow bowl containing torn up pieces of some of the plants listed below.  Usually within a few days or weeks, most Uros will be regularly eating the plants even without the insect appetizer.


Pollen from Wild Flowers in General

__ Harvestable Pollen from Hibiscus and Hollyhock Flowers __ 

Regardless of the general nutritive value (or lack thereof) of many plants, edible blooms in general supply pollen, a great nutritive additive and feeding response stimulator in it's own right.  For the die-hard field collector, pollen can be collected by harvesting the anthers from plants which are heavy bloomers and heavy pollen producers such as mallows and daylilies. These can then be frozen for future use as pollen sources.  For most flowers, however,  it's generally impractical for you to collect pollen on your own. Human food-grade, bee-collected pollen is available in bulk from many specialty and health food stores for a fairly reasonable price.  Bee-collected pollen is generally found to contain notable levels of provitamin A, B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-5, B-6 (pyridoxine), B-12 (cyanocobalamine), C, D, E, H, K, biotin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, choline, lecithin, inositol, and rutin. (Go-Symmatry 2002).  It also generally contains significant amounts of the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, iodine, zinc, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, boron, silica, and titanium*.   It also contains around 22 amino acids, 59 trace elements, 11 enzymes or co-enzymes, 14 fatty acids, 11 carbohydrates and approximately 25 % protein.(Envirobee-2002).  *(Values for minerals are believed to be in the order of their average relative abundance, thus for example, the calcium to phosphorous ratio is on average  > 1  )

Many Uromastyx have a taste for pollen and adding small amounts to the food dish often triggers a feeding response. Use pollen sparingly or it will lose it's ability to readily entice feeding.  Also a few flowers have mildly toxic pollen (ex. rhododendrons) and bee-collected pollen is from a mish-mash of plant species, some not particularly desirable as food items.  All in all however, commercially available pollen is a great way to help balance the diet of your Uromastyx and to entice poor feeders to more readily eat.


__ Chinese Hibiscus Flower and Foliage __ 

Lets start with the king of Uromastyx food plants, the Hibiscus family (Hibiscus, Mallows, Hollyhocks). This is a large family containing over 250 species, many of which have been used by mankind over the centuries for food (example okra) and their mild medicinal properties.  Various members of this family exist or have existed in recent history (archaeologically speaking) within the natural range of many Uromastyx species.  It's likely that during less arid epochs, before the Uromastyx tribe was fragmented into various isolated species by encroaching deserts, some form of hibiscus was a natural part of their collective diet.  Even today several hibiscus species are field cultivated within the Uromastyx home range (ex. H. sabdariffa in Egypt, India, and Sudan).

For most Uromastyx enthusiast, the common Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is probably the best known of the group.  The Chinese hibiscus is a composite (man-made) species, most likely created by migrating humans interbreeding various species of hibiscus from the various locales they traversed. The roots, leaves, blooms and seeds of it and many related hibiscus species are reputed to have medicinal and/or food value, and thus were propagated by various peoples throughout history of man.  Hibiscus blooms are one of the few "sure bets" for enticing finicky (but otherwise healthy) Uromastyx to eat.  Some Uromastyx keepers find the yellow blooms are best accepted by picky Uromastyx , but most Uros will readily accept any color hibiscus bloom.  The blooms possess a large pistol covered with  large anthers containing abundant pollen, and this structure is often the first portion of the flower consumed.  While the bloom is the most common part used for food, the foliage is also very nutritious and often readily eaten by Uromastyx.  Following is a listing of  the nutrient value of the various parts of the Chinese hibiscus: 

Leaves (100 grams dry weight)

Water: 0 g., Protein: 15.4 g.,  Fat: 3.5 g., Carbohydrates: 69.7 g., Fiber: 15.5 g., Ash: 11.4 g., Calcium: 1670 mg., Phosphorus: 520 mg., 

Fruit (seed pods, dry weight)

Water: 0g.,  Calories: 353,  Protein: 3.9 g., Fat: 3.9 g., Carbohydrate: 86.3 g.,  Fiber: 15.7 g.,  Ash: 5.9 g., Calcium: 39 mg.,  Phosphorus: 265 mg.,  Iron: 17 mg., Thiamine: 0.289 mg., Riboflavin: 0.49 mg., Niacin: 5.9 mg., Vitamin C: 39 mg., 

Flowers (fresh weight)

Water: 89.8 g.,  Protein: 0.059 g., Fat: 0.4 g., Fiber: 1.56 g., Calcium: 4 mg., Phosphorus: 27 mg., Iron: 1.7mg.,  Vit. B1 (thiamine): 0.029mg.,  Vit. B2 (riboflavin): 0.05 mg., Niacin: 0.6 mg., Vitamin C: 4.2 mg. (PFAF 2000, +218]

The Chinese hibiscus is tropical in origin and suitable for outside growing only in frost free areas of the country.  Some varieties do well as pot plants if kept in a sunny window and they are commonly sold by florists as house plants.  These are often available for more reasonable prices from larger grocery stores and "Home Base" type variety stores.  The flowers only last one day before wilting so you don't have much time to enjoy the flowers before having to pluck them for the Uros.  Almost all nursery grown specimens have been sprayed with pesticides so when you buy one, be sure to wash off any leaves before using any for food.  The blooms are shielded by the green calyx so are usually safe from sprayed-on pesticides but may still be exposed to soil-applied (systemic) ones.  Ideally you should wait a month or more after buying the plant before feeding any part of it to you Uros. 

The field cultivated hibiscus, commonly known as Rosella, (H. sabdariffa) is an annual species of hibiscus, commonly gown for it's fiber, dyes, and for use in medicinal  products.  It's reputedly one of them more medicinally active species, being cited as reducing fevers and high blood pressure, increasing urination, reducing coughs, and even reputedly has antibacterial activity (Kim 1995).  It's  nutritional data is as follows:

Leaves (100 grams fresh weight)

Water: 85.6% g., Calories: 43, Protein: 3.3 g.,  Fat: 0.3 g., Carbohydrates: 9.2 g., Fiber: 1.6 g., Ash: 1.6 g., Calcium: 213 mg., Phosphorus: 93 mg., Iron: 4.8 mg.,  Vit. A (as beta-carotene equivalent): 4135 ug.,  Vit. B1 (thiamine): 0.17 mg., Vit. B2 (riboflavin): 0.45 mg., Vit. C: 54 mg., Niacin: 1.2 mg (Duke, 1983)

Fruit (seed pods, dry weight) 

Protein: 10.9% [amino acids present: (g [16g N]-1): Aspartic acid = 39.0g. Threonine = 1.8g. Serine = 2.0g. Glutamic acid = 6.9g. Proline = 3.9g. Glycine = 2.4g. Alanine: 2.4g., Valine: 2.4g., Cysteine: 0.3g., Methionine: 0.7g., Isoleucine: 2.0g., Leucine: 3.0g., Tyrosine: 1.1g., Lysine: 2.6g., Phenylalanine: 1.7g., Lysine = 2.6g., Histidine: 1.5g., Arginine: 2.5g.], Fat: 1.1%, Fiber: 10.7%, Ash: 11.5%, Carbohydrates (Starch: 2.8%, D-glucose: 3.5%, D-fructose: 0.9%) mg.,  Aluminum: 66 mg/kg-1, Calcium: 1.29%, Copper: 5 mg/kg-1, Iron: 97 mg/kg-1, Phosphorous: 0.13%*, Potassium: 2.53%, Magnesium: 0.33%, Manganese: 416 mg/kg-1, Sodium: 0.01%,  Sulfer: 0.13%, Zinc: 41 mg/kg-1. Ref: Abdelmuti, * Note: the value for phosphorous was coded (presumably incorrectly) as a second entry for  potassium in the original document

Flowers (fresh weight)

Water: 86.2%,  Calories: 44, Protein: 1.6 g., Fat: 0.1 g., Carbohydrates: 11.1 g., Fiber: 2.5 g., Ash: 1.0 g., Calcium: 160 mg., Phosphorus: 60 mg., Iron: 3.8 mg.,  Vit. A (as beta-carotine equivalent): 285 ug., Vit. B1 (thiamine): 0.04 mg.,  Vit. B2 (riboflavin): 0.6 mg., Niacin: 0.5 mg., Vitamin C: 14 mg. Ref: (Duke and Atchley, 1984).

If you're looking for a frost-hardy, perennial species of hibiscus, you have two choices, Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) and the  Rose or Swamp Mallow (H. moscheutos).  Rose of Sharon grows into a 4-6 foot woody shrub and is hardy to USDA zones 5 -10.   It's a heavy, late summer bloomer and may best be used as a bloom source.  We've yet to be able to thoroughly test it's acceptability by Uromastyx, but limited reports  from other breeders suggest it is less-well liked than other hibiscus species.   It's available as named cultivars from many nurseries and does well in well drained soil in full sun.  Commercially available Rose Mallow is actually a hybrid of several related species of hardy, weedy hibiscus native to the southern United States.  Rose Mallow dies to the ground each winter, resprouting from the roots late each spring.  Foliage production is likely to limited for all but minimal harvesting, but it produces huge, showy blooms (up to 12" across) in late summer.  Plants are rarely offered for sale but seed is available from mail order companies such as Parks Nursery, sold as the "DiscoBell" hibiscus (see contacts list at the end of this document).  It likes well drained but evenly moist soil in a hot, sunny location.  Unfortunately it does poorly in the Pacific Northwest (too cool) so we don't have any feeding data for it.  Odds are at least the blooms should be well liked.  Both these species of hibiscus make very ornamental yard or garden plants and only you need know they are really being raised for lizard food!


 Hollyhock Mallow

__Hollyhock  Mallow Bloom Bud Abundance Detail and Full Plant __

This is our favorite Uromastyx food plant to grow ourselves.  The Hollyhock Mallow (Malva sylvestris.) is a close relative of the tropical hibiscus (they were originally classified within the same genus) but is a cold hardy species that the majority of us can grow in our gardens.  Both the flowers and leaves are edible, nutritious and highly relished by most Uros.  It's flower production is unbelievable (see bloom-bud abundance photo above), often producing up to 25 bloom buds per leaf node (production is best if you harvest most the blooms before they can go to seed).  The plants branch readily near the base, plus reach a height of 4 to 6 feet in fertile soil.  So potential bloom production per plant is over 1,000 per summer.  The blooms last a little longer than it's sister species so you can enjoy the flowers for awhile before needing to pick them.   If you wait too long and the flower wilts, the immature seed pod is also eatable (it's essentially a miniature okra but be careful if you eat it yourself, it tends to have laxative properties if you eat very many).  If that's not enough, most Uro's readily eat the nutritious leaves.  It's truly a great food plant.  It's normally only available as seed but it blooms the first year from seed so this is not a significant problem. It's considered a short-lived perennial in USDA zones 4 to 8 but be sure to save back some seed each year incase you lose the parent plants.  We will be offer seed starting this fall for $2 shipped for 50 seeds selected from our best plants (stockiest stems, best bloom counts).  We'll add more data for mallows as this site nears completion.



__ Dandelion Leaves (Smooth-Edge Morph and Notch-Edge Morphs __

The ubiquitous dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is is the most common "wild" food plant offered to Uromastyx and other herbivorous reptiles.  It's common throughout North America and much of Europe and is one of the first wild flowers to bloom in the spring.  No nutritional data is currently available for the blooms, but they are exceptionally heavy pollen producers so are likely very nutritious.  Spring bloom production is tremendous and it's tempting to try to store the excess for later use.  Unfortunately, the blooms turn into inedible mush if frozen in bulk.  However if you lay them out singly (non-overlapping) on a pan in the freezer and essentially let them freeze-dry, they better retain their shape when thawed and are much better accepted by most Uros. While dandelion is usually common in most backyards, yields are often poor in mowed lawns.  Collecting along roadsides and parks can be risky as many Parks Departments spray herbicides periodically during the summer and many roadside soils are badly contaminated with lead and other toxic heavy metals.  It transplants well in late winter/early spring and if planted in fertile soil and treated like a vegetable (watered, etc.) it has excellent productivity.  Blooms normally only occur in spring but if pampered and not allowed to set seed, it can often be induced to sporadically re-bloom  throughout the summer and fall. Several other species have blooms which are outwardly identical to the dandelion (see Cat's Ear bloom inset photo below), but it appears all these are also edible.  If in doubt, use the foliage of the plant to properly identify species with dandelion-like blooms.

The bloom is predominately offered but the foliage is also well accepted by most Uros and is highly nutritious. It's nutritional data is as follows:

Leaves (100 grams fresh weight)

Water: 85.6 g., Calories: 45 kcal (188 kj), Protein: 2.7 g., Carbohydrate: 9.2 g., Lipids: 0.7 g.,  Fiber: 3.5 g., Ash: 1.8 g., Calcium: 187 g., Copper: 0.17 g., Iron: 3.1 g., Phosphorus: 66 mg., Potassium: 397 g.,  Selenium: 0.5 mcg., Sodium: 76 mg., Magnesium: 36 g., Manganese: 0.34 g., Zinc: 0.41 mg., Vitamin A: 14000 IU, Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 0.19 mg., Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 0.26 mg., Vitamin B-6: 0.25 mg., Vitamin C: 35 mg., Vitamin E: 2.5 mg ATE, Folate: 27.2 mcg., Niacin: 0.8 mg., Pantothenic acid: 0.08 mg.. (Ref: 173 + USDA)

Dandelion foliage is considered diuretic, so feeding large amounts to Uro's suffering from dehydration may not be advisable.  Otherwise it is one of the best food plants available and should be considered as a staple in the diet.  Spring growth and young leaves are the most palatable (least bitter) with many Uros beginning to reject older leaves as the summer progresses.  They will also begin to reject the blooms if fed in heavy amounts.  It is grown as a vegetable crop in parts of Europe and is even sold in some U.S. grocery stores in "wild-greens" salad mixes. The named varieties 'Vert de Montmagny', 'Broad Leaved' 'Thick leaved', 'Cabbage Leaved' have been selected to be more productive, with large broad dark green leaves, more deeply lobed along the axis of the leaf than the wild form, with thicker and more tender leaves. These plants are semi-erect in habit, and the leaves are easily blanched. In rich soils they can be 60cm wide.  They have been selected to be slower to bloom however.  The variety 'Amélioré à Coeur Plein'  produces an exceptionally large number of more normal sized leaves which form a clump instead of a rosette [183 Facciola. S. Cornucopia].  All these varieties are reputedly less bitter so may prove better accepted by Uromastyx during the summer than the common wild forms. Obtaining  seed for these varieties is somewhat problematic, but if we find a source, we'll post the data here.


Cat's Ear

__ Cats-Ear Leaf Detail and Bloom __

The "summer blooming dandelion", Cat's Ear (Hypochoeris radicata)  is often confused with the true dandelion when in bloom.  The blooms are essentially identical (see inset photo) and even the leaves can be very similar.  The key methods of distinguishing between the two are 1) the pubescent leaves of Cat's Ear verses the smooth leaves of dandelions, and  2) the tall, thin, wiry, branched bloom stems of Cat's Ear verses the soft, relatively thick,  unbranched bloom stems of dandelion.   Both the leaves and blooms of Cat's Ear are edible so mistaking the two species isn't a critical error.  It prefers drier ground, and is common along road beds and fallow fields. No nutritional data is available and productivity is low with all but the youngest leaves tending to be bitter, so use the foliage sparingly.  The key value of Cat's Ear lies in their highly prized blooms and malleable bloom period.  By mowing or clipping the plant repeatedly in early summer, you can time it's blooming to coincide with the hatchling of your Uromastyx.  As dandelions are almost never in bloom at this time, Cat's Ear is a valuable source of readily accepted hatchling food. 

A nearly identical species Hawksbeard, (Crepis trectorum), has very similar properties and looks like a cross between dandelion and Cat's Ear.  The leaves are usually deeply notched, more sparse, and much smaller than the other dandelion-like plants.  The flower spikes are stiffer and more heavily branched than Cat's Ear (and thus produces many more flowers per bloom spike), but the flowers are much smaller, often half the size of a dime. It's value as a food plant is identical to Cat's Ear - late summer blooms.  The bloom is outwardly identical to dandelion and it's one-bite size makes it perfect for hatchlings.  The foliage is edible but tends to be overly bitter and too unproductive to be a common food item.  It's equally reduced size and notched leaf-structure also makes it useful for feeding to hatchlings.  Both Cat's Ear and Hawksbeard are listed as noxious weeds in various states so the odds of obtaining commercial seed is essentially nil.  Both are very common weeds throughout North America and much of Europe and finding some locally shouldn't be too problematic. Cat's Eat is perennial and transplants reasonable well in early spring.  Hawksbeard isn't really amenable to transplanting and collecting seed for planting in your garden is your best bet. Save seed each year as it tends to be an annual.

Alfalfa & Birds Foot Trifoil


__ Alfalfa Blooms and Leaves / Birdsfoot Trifoil Blooms and Leaves __

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and Birdsfoot Trifoil (Lotus corniculatus) are both members of the legume family .  Both have highly nutritious foliage and  flowers highly attractive to hungry Uromastyx.   Per 100 grams, fresh (live) young alfalfa contains approximately  52 calories, 82.7%  moisture,  6 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 9.5 g total carbohydrates, 3.1 g fiber, 1.4 g ash, 12 mg calcium, 51 mg phosphorous, 5.4 mg iron, 3410 IU Vit A, 0.13 mg Vit B-1 (thiamine), 0.14 mg Vit B-12 (riboflavin), 162 mg Vit C and 0.5 mg niacin.  It reputedly also contains good levels of Vit K but no values were given. (ref:218).  On the negative side, it tends to be high in tannins (27,000 ppm, Highfield, 2000) which binds proteins, and contains various estrogenic-like compounds which, in theory, in high levels may have negative impacts on growth or reproduction.

 Most Uros readily eat the foliage and are especially fond of the fragrant blooms.  The blooms are a great means of enticing specimens off-feed or overly finicky to beginning eating again.   The foliage is a high protein food, good for supplying essential amino acids to the diet without having to use insects (and their inherent disadvantages).  Alfalfa is believed to have been native to some areas currently inhabited by Uromastyx and it may actually have been one of their natural food plants before human activity and changing climatic conditions denuded much of the natural plant cover.  It's a hardy perennial easy to grow over much of the U.S. in moderately fertile, well drained soil.  Growth habit is weakly erect if sown thickly.  While not particularly ornamental, you could sneak a patch into a flower bed without it looking like a weed.  It's attractive in bloom and mildly fragrant (fruity) when planted in-mass.  It's most productive and is most nutritious when grown on well-limed soil and actually improves soil fertility by fixing nitrogen.  Once established, it can be very productive, but if you wish blooms available when your eggs hatch, leave a portion of the patch unharvested.  This is a great base diet food plant being both highly nutritious and well accepted by most Uros.  Keep it less than 10% or so of the diet and acceptance by your Uro's will stay reasonably high and you should avoid any potential adverse effects from it's high tannin and other anti-nutrient compounds.


No fresh foliage data is available for birdsfoot trifoil, but based on data for dry hays, it's extremely similar nutritionally.  It's equally hardy and is much more tolerant of wet soils relative to alfalfa.  It also initiates growth earlier in the spring

Under Construction!



Copyright © 1992-2005 by  Douglas Dix. All rights reserved for all photos and text