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About this Web Site

Gardening with Native Plants
Perennials, etc.
Many American gardeners have started to discover the benefits of gardening with natives. Native plants are by definition well-adapted to the climate, and they are generally low-maintenance. Connecticut has an abundance of beautiful native plants. Growing them helps preserve part of our natural heritage.

Listed here are some native plants that perform particularly well in the garden. Terms and symbols that describe garden conditions are explained below.

Don't take plants from the wild!
Nursery-propagated plants are available for every species listed on this page. There is no reason to despoil wild areas by removing plants. Statement on collecting plants.

Perennials

Wild red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

full sun part shade average to moist soil zones 3-9
It's hard to think of a more graceful plant than the wild columbine, with its spurred red-and-yellow flowers nodding on slender stems. These, like many red flowers, attract hummingbirds. The delicately scalloped leaves form a neat mound of foliage. Wild red columbine, like most columbines, tends to seed itself in the garden (though not such much as to be a nuisance). In the wild, this plant prefers growing in the alkaline soil of limestone rocks, but in the garden it will grow in anything except very strongly acidic soil. 1-2' tall.
 

Bearberry, kinnickinick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

full sun part shade dry to average soil zones 2-6
Bearberry is a useful ground cover that is handsome year-round. The leaves are glossy and evergreen. Small pink or white flowers in late spring are followed by bright red berries, popular with ground-dwelling birds. In winter, the stems become red and the leaves take on a dark red tint. Bearberry grows well in exposed, rocky or sandy sites; it also tolerates acid soil and the salt spray of seaside locations. 4" tall. More photos and information from UConn.
 

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

part shade full shade dry to moist soil zones 3-8
An easy, tolerant plant that makes a good ground cover. Its bold, heart-shaped leaves create a pleasing texture in the garden. The roots smell very much like ginger, though this plant is not related to culinary ginger. Wild ginger has interesting triangular flowers in spring, but finding them requires getting down on hands and knees -- they bloom just above the ground. (Click on the photo to the left to see an image of wild ginger in bloom.) 6" tall.
 

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

full sun dry to average soil zones 3-9
True to its name, butterfly weed is a marvelous for attracting butterflies. The "weed" label, however, is entirely undeserved; it's not weedy in its looks or habits. The handsome, dark green foliage is topped with bright orange flowers in July and August. Butterfly weed has a long tap root that makes the plant highly drought-resistant, but also makes mature plants tricky to transplant. Container-grown plants, however, transplant easily. Butterfly weed is considered a "Great Plant for American Gardens" by the American Horticultural Society. 2-3' tall.
 

White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata, syn. Aster divaricatus)

part shade full shade dry to average soil zones 4-8
A good ground cover for tough situations. White wood aster thrives in dry shade, so it can be planted beneath shallow-rooted trees such as maples and elms. The flowers are not especially showy, but they are long-lasting, and an individual plant may be in bloom for two months. Foliage grows 6" high; flower stalks 18-24".
 

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, syn. Aster novae-angliae)

full sunpart shade average to wet soil zones 3-9
There are hundreds of species of asters, but one of the best for gardens is our New England aster. (The American Horticultural Society lists it as a "Great Plant for American Gardens".) New England aster lights up the fall garden with its cheerful flowers, resembling purple daisies. This is a tall plant, good for the back of the garden. Frankly, its lower leaves can look tatty by fall, so keep it behind other plants. 3-5' tall.
 

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

full sun part shade moist to wet soil
or water up to four inches deep
zones 2-7
In the wild, marsh marigold grows in shallow water or marshy soil, but it doesn't need a marsh -- it will grow in moist garden soil. In mid-spring, its glossy, bright yellow flowers really grab one's attention. The plant goes dormant by mid-summer, so it makes a good companion for late-emerging plants, such as ferns. 1' tall.
 

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

part shade full shade moist soil, preferably acidic zones 3-9
This charming woodland plant has soft lavender flowers in spring. Even when wild geranium is not in bloom, the distinctive, deeply cut leaves provide a decorative effect. If it is planted in a moist woodland spot, wild geranium may spread slowly by seed. 1-2' tall.
 

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

full sun part shade moist soil in part shade, or wet soil in full sun zones 3-9
In the wild, cardinal flower grows mostly in sunny swamps, but it will grow in moist garden soil if given part shade. Cardinal flower blooms in mid- to late summer; the brilliant red flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds. It is considered a "Great Plant for American Gardens" by the American Horticultural Society. 3' tall.
 

Solomon's plume (Maianthemum racemosum, syn. Smilacina racemosa)

part shade full shade dry to moist soil zones 4-8
This is a graceful plant for the woodland garden. In spring, clusters of starry white flowers are borne at the ends of arching stalks. Solomon's plume is easy to grow, and it spreads fast -- give it lots of room or be prepared to weed out excess. Its cousin starry Solomon's plume (Maianthemum stellatum) is another worthwhile garden plant, more restrained in its habits. Both plants have interesting berries; red-spotted in Solomon's plume, and striped like a beach ball in starry Solomon's plume. 1-2.5 feet tall.
 

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

part shade full shade average to moist soil;
prefers acidic soil
zones 3-9
Partridgeberry is a member of that essential garden category, the shade-loving evergreen ground covers. It is one of the best choices for dark shade. Partridgeberry spreads across the ground by vining stems, growing only two inches high. Its leaves are small and dark green, often with light-colored veins. Partridgeberry has white flowers in early summer; in fall and winter it is ornamented by bright red fruits. 2 inches tall.
 

Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)

part shade full shade average to moist soil zones 3-8
Lightly fragrant clusters of lilac-colored flowers grace this woodland plant in spring. The flowers reward close inspection -- each petal is shallowly notched at the tip, and appears to have been pinched where it joins the center of the flower. Wild blue phlox is considered a "Great Plant for American Gardens" by the American Horticultural Society. 1 foot tall.
 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

part shade full shade average to moist soil zones 3-8
Bloodroot is one of the earliest wildflowers of spring. In March, the delicate white flowers appear, each with a broad leaf wrapped protectively around its stalk. Bloodroot goes dormant around mid-summer. Ferns make good companions, as they tend to emerge late in spring. By the time bloodroot goes dormant, ferns can fill in the gap. 6 inches tall.
 

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

part shade full shade average to moist soil zones 3-8
Foamflower's charms have just recently begun to be appreciated by gardeners and plants breeders. Foamflower has spikes of fluffy white flowers that rise above a carpet of soft green leaves. It blooms strongly in late spring, and, if it has consistently moist soil, it will continue to produce the occasional flower spike until frost. Foamflower spreads by stolons, so it can be used as a ground cover. The leaves will stay green through mild winters. 8-12 inches tall.
 

Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragariodes)

full sun part shade full shade dry to moist soil zones 4-9
Barren strawberry looks similar to strawberry plants, but with showy yellow flowers (and no edible fruit). Like strawberries, barren strawberry will spread quickly by runners, making it a good ground cover. The leaves are evergreen, at least during Connecticut's milder winters. Yellow flowers in spring and summer. 4-8 inches tall.

Chart of Native Perennials

Find basic information on 130 native perennials in this chart. Organized by
scientific name or by common name.

Vines

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

full sun average soil zones 4-9
This is a showy vine with scarlet flowers in summer and autumn. Trumpet honeysuckle is a favorite with hummingbirds. The leaves are dark green on top, and pale blue-green beneath. The vine climbs by twining stems, so it needs a trellis, fence, or large shrub to climb on. Climbs 10-20'. More photos and information can be found at UConn's Plants Database.
 

Climbing bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

full sun dry to moist soil zones 3-8
This vine is rapidly becoming rare in New England, due to competition from an invasive alien, Asiatic bittersweet. Climbing bittersweet is grown for its showy fruit -- clusters of bright orange-red seeds with pumpkin-orange seed covers. The fruits dry well, and they are good for decoration. Both male and female vines are needed to get fruit, but unfortunately bittersweet is generally sold without labeling the sex. Planting four or more vines is generally enough to get both sexes. Be sure to buy this from a nursery that knows their plants well; we have seen nurseries that selling Asiatic bittersweet labelled as climbing bittersweet. (Asiatic bittersweet is too aggressive to be a good garden vine -- it can climb to the top of an 80 foot tree.) Climbing bittersweet grows 20-30' high.
 

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana)

full sun part shade average to moist soil zones 3-9
Virgin's bower is grown for its late-summer flowers. After the flowers are gone, it has attractive, feathery seed heads. This vine spreads rapidly, so it's best to give it lots of space. Climbs 5-20'.
 

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

full sun part shade full shade dry to average soil zones 3-9
A vigorous and adaptable vine with showy fall foliage. Virginia creeper will climb up walls or trees, clinging to the surface with adhesive disks. If it doesn't have anything to climb, it serves as a fast-spreading ground cover. In fall, the leaves turn brilliant red. Tolerates salt, strong wind, and urban conditions. Not recommended for climbing up shingled or painted surfaces. Climbs 50'. More photos and information can be found at UConn's Plants Database.

Ferns

Marginal woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis). Marginal woodfern has dark green, leathery fronds. The fronds stay green all winter, adding interest to the winter landscape. 2' tall. More information from University of Vermont.
( / average to moist soil / zones 3-8)

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This is a large fern that forms lovely vase-shaped clumps. In good conditions it tends to spread aggressively by the roots, so exercise caution in planting it near delicate plants. Grows 2'-5' tall -- more sun and moisture means taller.
( / average to wet soil / zones 3-8)

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). Simply a magnificent fern. Given constantly wet soil and full sun, cinnamon fern will grow in dense, 5' clumps. Less tall, but still handsome, in drier or shadier conditions. The cinnamon-colored fertile fronds make a nice accent. 3-5' tall.
( / moist soil in part shade, or wet soil in full sun / zones 4-8)

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). The evergreen fronds of this fern have been used for Christmas decorations, hence the name. This fern is very useful in plantings beneath trees, as it tolerates root competition. Christmas fern is also more tolerant of dry soil than are most ferns. 1.5' tall. More information from the University of Vermont.
( / average to damp soil / zones 3-8)

Ornamental Grasses

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). This is the dominant grass of tall-grass prairie. The blue-green leaves turn shades of red and purple in fall. 4-6' tall. Photo of big bluestem inflorescence from the University of Houston.
( / dry to average soil; needs good drainage; good in sandy soil / zones 2-8)

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Another denizen of tall-grass prairie, switchgrass forms tall, stately clumps. In early fall, it has airy purplish flower-heads. The seeds provide food for birds. The grass is yellow in fall, and tan in the winter. 3-5' tall. More information from University of Vermont. Photo from the University of Texas.
( / dry to average soil / zones 4-9)

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, syn. Andropogon scoparius) is a highly ornamental grass that deserves to be used more. Little bluestem is a dominant grass of mixed-grass prairie; in the east, it tends to grow in abandoned fields and rocky ridges. Little bluestem thrives in poor or rocky soil, where it grows into a neat column. In rich soil, however, it grows tall and floppy. In fall, the grass turns reddish-gold, with fluffy white seed clusters. Its gold color and columnar form persist all winter. It's still looking good after winter wind has damaged most other grasses. 3' tall. Photo from the University of Texas.
( / dry to average soil / zones 4-9)


Notes on garden conditions

Light:
full sun Full sun -- more than five hours of direct sun per day.
part shade Part shade -- two to five hours of direct sun, or all-day dappled sun, as from sunlight shining through open trees.
full shade Full shade -- less than two hours of direct sun per day.

Soil moisture: "Average" soil moisture describes typical conditions for Connecticut. "Dry," here, means soil that dries fairly quickly after a rain, or soil dried out by shallow tree roots -- not desert conditions.

Hardiness zones: These describe the plant's tolerance of winter cold. Here is one site where you can look up your hardiness zone. All plants listed here are hardy throughout Connecticut, which is in zones 5 and 6.


Sources of information on this page.


Text ©2001 by Janet Novak. Images ©1999-2002 by Eleanor S. Saulys, Janet Novak, Arieh Tal. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 21, 2011.