Native Plants

Plants that are native to our area provide homes for our native insects and food for our native birds and mammals; they are well adapted to our soil and climate, requiring less maintenance than plants imported from foreign countries. In cultivated areas, such as yards and parks, native plants absorb stormwater that would otherwise run off lawns and bare ground, carrying pollution into our waterways. Many native plants are available for the home garden; see below for suggestions.

In natural areas, non-native weeds can spread out of control. They outcompete the local plants and go uneaten by the local wildife. Invasive species of plants can overwhelm the ecosystem, covering acres of land and eliminating the native plants that wildlife depends on. Restoring the natural environment requires removing invasive plants and cultivating native plant gardens (

Recommended Native Plants

Native plants are sometimes sold at commercial nurseries and garden centers. However, they are not usually identified as being native. For advice as well as plants with a pedigree, local native plant nurseries are a better source. Sales are scheduled throughout the state. 

Check the websites of the Maryland Native Plant Society ( or the Virginia Native Plant Society.


Recommended Native Ground Covers

Evergreen: Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus) and Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) have showy yellow flowers in spring and grow in moist shade. Wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) has lacy white flowers; it grows in thin, rocky soil in light shade. Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata), the familiar landscape plant, has a looser form in the wild, and usually has white flowers; it tolerates very poor soil but needs good drainage.

Semi-Evergreen: Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is indigenous to the mountains but will grow here. It looks much like its Japanese cousin.

Deciduous: Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has kidney-shaped leaves that seem to sparkle in spring. Not a culinary plant, its roots do have a gingery scent. It needs moist shade.


Recommended Native Ornamental Vines

American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), which bears flowers and seed capsules only at the branch tips, has been almost completely displaced by the Asian species. To preserve it, give it preference, except where its exotic counterpart is present, because the two hybridize.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), a semi-evergreen twining shrub with tubular red flowers attractive to hummingbirds, is uncommon but indigenous to the piedmont.

Native Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), much less aggressive than the introduced ones, can be grown from Maryland south.

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) has dramatic flowers attractive to hummingbirds

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has spectacular red fall foliage, but be aware that both are aggressive growers.

Native Grapes (Vitis spp.) provide an enormous amount of food for birds but are aggressive and not ornamental.


Recommended Native Wetland Plants for Water Gardens

Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracencis), Blue Flag (Iris versicolor), Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Also use native Reeds, Rushes, and Sedges.


Recommended Native Grasses

Native grasses usually grow in small clumps, in a mix of several species. Tall ones include Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Purple Top (Triodia flava), and, on the coastal plain, Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum). Small to medium grasses include Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Bottlebrush (Hystrix patula), and Wild Oats (Uniola latifolia). Native grasses provide nest sites for meadow birds, as well as food, cover, and shelter for a wide variety of animals. In the garden they offer textural contrast, in addition to fall and winter interest.


Recommended Native Shrubs

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which is covered with tiny yellow flowers in March, is our most common native shrub. It needs rich soil, as does Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus).

Maple-Leaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is suited to dry shade and thinner soil, while the Arrowwoods (Viburnum dentatum, V. recognitum, V. nudum) grow in moist soil.

Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), parent of some cultivated varieties, is a somewhat vining shrub.

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum, the parent of cultivated blueberries) and Lowbush Blueberry (V. vacillans) need very acidic soil. They tolerate shade but fruit best in sun. Both turn red in fall.


Recommended Small Native Ornamental Trees

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), and red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) are beautiful flowering trees that also produce fruit for birds. Plant red mulberry (Morus rubra) if there are no white mulberries nearby that could transmit disease to them.


Recommended Native Trees for Hedges

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) makes an excellent hedge. In damp soils, slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a good substitute for Siberian elm. On sunny, dry sites, staghorn sumac or shining sumac (Rhus typhina, R. copallina) form thickets; keep suckers in check by mowing.


Recommended Native Shade Trees

White Oak (Quercus alba), Northern or Southern Red Oak (Q. rubra, Q. falcata), and Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa), are widely adapted shade trees. Other oaks and hickories are suited to very dry, wet, or steep sites.

Tupelo, also called Black or Sour Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) has brilliant red fall foliage and small fruits eaten by birds.