Past generations thought of native plants as weeds — probably because they grow without human intervention. Nowadays, that’s a selling point. Natives thrive on the temperatures and amount of rainfall you get where you live, reducing your need to water, fertilize, and deal with pests and diseases. You probably won’t find them at the hardware store, but these native beauties are worth searching for.
Also known as Downy Serviceberry, this small tree is native to most of the United States east of the Rockies. Its stunning spring flowers give way to colorful summer berries beloved by birds and humans alike. In the fall, the leaves turn vivid red and gold. Its growth habit and tolerance for varied climates make it as practical in the landscape as it is beautiful.
Anemone comes in two variants, one native and the other an invader. Almost every experienced gardener has been taken in by the friendly white flowers of Japanese anemone, only to have the invasive species quickly take over the whole garden. It’s a mystery how this evil twin of the native windflower came to dominate the nursery trade. But now that you know there is an ecological alternative, you can help shift demand for exquisite white-flowered groundcovers towards the beautiful native anemone, Anemone canadensis.
Asclepias, despite its common name, milkweed, is a very pretty flowering perennial critical to the survival of monarch butterflies. To benefit monarchs, you must plant one of the species that is native to your region. But with more than 140 species of milkweed to choose from, you are almost certain to find a native that is as ornamental as the rarest plant in your garden.
If you are bored with rhododendrons, consider Kalmia, the mountain laurel. Kalmia latifolia is native to the Eastern U.S.; Kalmia microphylla is its West Coast cousin. Both are shade-tolerant evergreen shrubs that prefer soils rich in organic matter. They offer clusters of bell-shaped white to reddish-pink flowers in mid to late spring. Over time they become structurally interesting with gnarly, twisted trunks.
Even more than other species, native grasses are despised as weeds. Little Bluestem, or Schizachyrium scoparium, may help fix that image problem. This beautiful three-foot tall grass with blue stems and tan seedheads is even prettier in winter. The stems turn purple, red, and orange while the seedheads age into a silvery color. Little Bluestem is critical to tallgrass prairie habitats but work in formal plantings with full sun and almost any type of soil.
These are just a few of the more widespread species native to the U.S. available to beautify your garden. If you’re looking for more native plants to adorn your garden, use the PlantNative database to find species from your neck of the woods and check for an American Beauties nursery in your area.
Feature image: Anemone Canadensis, Adobe Stock