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  • Tovin G.H.

Amazing Native Plants for Your Home Gardens

To beautify their gardens and woodlots, many New Englanders turn to modern cultivars. However, there are many beautiful, useful, and beneficial plants that have lived in New England for thousands of years. This makes them better adapted to the local climate, and thus easier to care for. Here is my list of amazing, easy-to-grow, native plants.

Our first species is Staghorn Sumac.

This is a hardy, spreading shrub for places that most plants wouldn't want to grow (as long as they receive full sun, that is). It has beautiful green sprays of flowers that mature into red, conical berry clusters. These berry clusters stay up throughout the winter where they feed all sorts of native mammals and birds, not to mention providing color in your yard through the harsh New England winters. In the fall, the foliage turns beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow adding to the splendor.

Staghorn Sumac is vigorous and self-propagates, so give it space to roam. It releases mild herbicides into the soil (allelopathy), which can help control nearby weeds.

Our next species is the Canada Goldenrod. Many people mistakenly blame this plant for hay fever because the Canada Goldenrod blooms at the same time as Ragweed. This plant is perfect for growing in sunny wildflower gardens or fields because it requires full sun. It has eye-catching, yellow flowers and vivid, green leaves. Scientific research suggests that this plant has allelopathic (chemicals that affect other plants) properties that are more effective against Eurasian plants. This possibly makes this plant useful in competing with invasives, many of which are from Eurasia.

Our next plant is White Snakeroot, an incredibly poisonous plant. Do not plant this plant where children, pets, or livestock will eat it. However, this is a very beautiful plant that can easily take care of itself in almost any location. Plant it in an out-of-the-way place and enjoy its fluffy, white flowers.

The next plant, while commonly considered a weed, is beautiful in its own right. This is Jewelweed. It has delicate, colorful flowers in the shape of a cornucopia. The flowers can be either yellow or orange, depending on the species of Jewelweed.

Its seed pods will “explode” when touched if they are ripe. This is very fun for adults and children alike. This plant also provides food for deer and countless pollinators. The stems are a luscious, translucent green. Jewelweed needs lots of moisture, so this is a good plant to grow by a river, water feature, or drainage ditch. It prefers partial sun. Jewelweed is an annual, but it rapidly self-sows: plant it and forget about it.

Our next plant also prefers moist soils. This is the Shrub Willow, a genetic hodgepodge of short Willow trees. It is fast growing and very easy to propagate. It is great for controlling erosion along riverbanks, or for using up that muddy spot in your yard. Shrub Willow needs some direct sun.

Looking for the centerpiece to your flower garden? Our next plant just might be for you. Despite its unfortunate name, Joe Pye Weed has large, pink, long-lasting flowers. Not only that, Joe Pye Weed has a beautiful scent that attracts visitors, both human and insect. When I worked as a gardener, I had multiple people come to admire the Joe Pye Weed as they walked by. This was in spite of all of the various modern cultivars in the same flower garden. Be prepared though, this plant is BIG. You can easily be looking up at the blooms if you give the plant optimal conditions (it can grow anywhere but deep shade as long as it is well fed). Joe Pye Weed also makes good dried flowers so you can preserve the beauty of this plant for the winter months.

Sourcing seeds:

You can obviously source these seeds from a seed company, either in-person or online. However, since these plants are native to New England, most of them can be sourced by finding the plants in the wild and harvesting their seeds. Sort of like a biological treasure hunt. INaturalist can help you find where these plants have been sighted in your area. Just search the plant in the “explore” bar and make sure it is set to local sightings. Make sure to do your research to make sure that the plant is setting seed when you are looking for it.

For more help on gathering wild seeds, see:


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