Sunday, April 7, 2013

Try Something New

Using native plants in the home garden is a wonderful way to add a “sense of place” to your landscape, especially when you are using regional natives. People that want to use more native plants can be frustrated with locating them, but I think that local native plants sales are on the rise in many areas. Nature centers, plant societies and botanical gardens are sponsoring more plant sales than they were just a few years ago.

Even big box stores and some of the better nurseries are carrying more native plants, although they are not always well labeled as a US native plant (so do your own research). Perennials like coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), beard tongue (Penstemon), coreopsis (Coreopsis), phlox (Phlox), alumroot (Heuchera) and foamflower (Tiarella) are tried and true nursery staples when it comes to native perennials.

So many wonderful plants have yet to be explored for the nursery trade; luckily a few of them do find their way into small native plant sales. Native ferns, shrubs that produce fruit for birds, unusual trees and tiny spring ephemerals like Trillium and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) can be found there.

Still many other native plants wait to be appreciated. Here are a few of my favorites that I hope will get more attention in the future.


Stenanthium gramineum
Featherbells (Stenanthium gramineum) is a member of the lily family that has the look of a grass or a Carex. The foliage is just coming up now at my house. In late summer, when you are wishing something would bloom, a tall spike of white flowers shoots up.

I grow it in full sun with no extra watering and it's been very happy.

Amianthium muscitoxicum
Fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) is also in the lily family but it appreciates more shade, a bit moister conditions and blooms in late spring. The foliage is thick and wide and looks similar to daylily leaves. One of the best advantages of this plant (in addition to looking good) is that deer don’t eat it.

I've been surprised at how well it does in dry shade despite it's natural preference for moist conditions. The more deer leave it alone, the more I plant it!



Antennaria plantaginifolia
Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) is a soft grey-green colored groundcover that stays evergreen in north Georgia (although often dead tree leaves cover it up). The bloom appears in late spring and has a resemblance to a cat’s paw. It thrives in poor soil – I see it growing on a scruffy dirt embankment on my regular walk – and grows lushly in better soil. It is a host plant for the American painted lady butterfly and one year I had caterpillars on it.

Chrysogonum virginianum
 Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) is actually somewhat available, but it is so under-appreciated for what it can do for you! This plant grows in sun and part shade, increases to a thick patch when happy and blooms like crazy in late spring. It’s also evergreen and sometimes the leaves are tinged a bit red around the edges in winter (I’m calling that a bonus).

Shrubs and Trees:

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) doesn't get nearly as much attention as some of the other native viburnums and I never see it for sale except at the native plant society's annual sale. This viburnum is happy to bloom and fruit in partial shade, even dry shade. The spectacular fall color is not to be ignored.
Aralia spinosa

Devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) is such a wonderful specimen shrub/tree. It has a bad rap for sending out suckers but I think that can be managed by putting it where it can be allowed to do so or digging up extras for friends. I’ve had mine for 4 years and no suckers so far. But what a wonderful late summer feast for insects (flowers) and birds (fruit) alike - it truly is a wildlife plant. Plus you can tell your visitors that it has the largest leaf of any native plant. It is a bipinnately compound leaf. Many people mistake the leaflets for leaves; the whole leaf can be 3-5 feet long! In the winter, it stands straight and bare as a stick, a walking stick … with dozens of sharp prickles.

This picture was taken this week - the single terminal bud is opening up to reveal the new growth. It's a fast grower: every year it has exactly doubled its height.

Sassafras albidum

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a gorgeous tree come fall, with oranges and reds you won’t find on many plants. During the year, however, the usually slender tree barely gets a notice in the forest understory in which it lives. The modest flowers usually come and go without much attention and then only the female trees bear fruit. The fruit doesn't last long as it is a favorite with birds. Its foliage is one of the host plants for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, the tiger swallowtail butterfly, and the spicebush silk moth. Sassafras is the 2013 Plant of the Year as voted by the members of the Georgia Native Plant Society.

Want to know more about the unique native plants of your area? Be sure to visit your local State Parks or local National Parks and explore some of the natural trails. Take pictures of what you find and then come home to identify them. Those plants might be a good fit for your garden - something "new" for you and yet something right at home. And if you need a place to find any of these, be sure to come by the annual native plant sale on Saturday, April 20, 2013.


  1. Ellen, what great recommendations! The plant world is such a vast one, and it would be wonderful, for many reasons, to see a greater variety of them being used in home landscapes. Thanks for this excellent round up of new things to try - just in time for the native plant sales that are popping up right now.

  2. Love this list! Devil's Walking stick grows naturally on our property and it is a great plant. I just purchased pussy toes and a Sassafras tree at our Master Gardener plant sale. Put them in the ground today!

  3. I agree on your thoughts about native plants. They certainly deserve more attention. Btw Aralia spinosa is new to me. I am only familiar with polyscias and schefflera within the genus Aralia. Cheers.

  4. I second the endorsements for Green & Gold and Maple Leaf Viburnum. Had to special order the viburnum through my favorite nursery, but this year it's proving it was worth the wait!

  5. Thanks so much for the information and for putting forth Aralia spinosa! I love mine! the look of it, the blossoms, the fruit, the large leaf and how it gives so much to the wildlife at my place. Outstanding native plant!

  6. If you have a small space you may use your roof as a place for your plants....if you have a flat roof that would be an advantage for you to create a small garden, this might not be something new...but it is something nice.

    Sarasota plant nursery