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