Quick read: native flowers and vines


Browse photos and interesting facts adapted from our Facebook posts.

Allegheny Blackberry. (Dan Mullen / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Allegheny Blackberry. (Dan Mullen / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Allegheny Blackberry. (Dan Mullen / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

ALLEGHENY BLACKBERRY (Rubus allegheniensis) is a bush with high wildlife value: nectar for honeybees and the berries are loved by songbirds and animals large and small. You’ll enjoy the berries, too. A native of eastern N. America, the West Coast and some areas of the Midwest. Grows 3 to 6 feet tall and 6 to 12 feet wide. Its branches have thorns, so plant where that won’t be a problem. Can be grown from seed or cuttings, but seed may be the only way to find it (available on Amazon), or take a cutting from a wild plant (with property owner’s permission). Tolerates all light levels and soil types; dry to moist. Zones 2-8.


American bittersweet. (USFWS / Wiki; PD)

American bittersweet. (USFWS / Wiki; PD)

 AMERICAN BITTERSWEET (Celastrus scandens) is a perennial vine that blooms in mid-summer. It likes rich, well-drained soil and shade. Woody, thick stems grow about 30 feet long and can strangle saplings, so keep it away from young trees. Its fruit is poisonous to humans. So why bother to plant it? Because its small, orangish fruit is loved by birds. It’s also pretty. Zones 4a-8b. Take care not to buy the VERY invasive and destructive Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), introduced from Asia.



American Columbine. (Mike Ireland / EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

AMERICAN RED COLUMBINE, or Canadian Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), is a spring to early-summer bloomer sure to be visited by hummingbirds. A hardy native perennial with beautiful scarlet flowers, it prefers well-drained, loose, slightly acidic soil. Shade to part-shade, although some gardeners say they have it growing well in full sun. Easily grown, readily reseeds, blooms the second year. Medium water. Zones 3a-8b. Endangered in Florida.


Annual Phlox. (Neelix / EOL; PD)

Annual Phlox. (Neelix / EOL; PD)

ANNUAL PHLOX (Phlox drummondii) is a good plant for gardeners who like surprises and don’t mind a bit of disorder. Scatter the seeds in your garden this spring and enjoy the pretty flowers (butterflies love them). Rake seeds into loose soil. They germinate in early spring, grow to about 12 inches, bloom and die back in early summer. Seeds can also be planted in the fall. Prefers rich, acidic, well-drained soil. Sun to part shade. All zones.


Annual Phlox. (Tim Ross / Wiki; PD)

Annual Phlox. (Tim Ross / Wiki; PD)

ANNUAL PHLOX seed capsules “explode” open when they ripen, flinging their seeds to the wind. You can expect to find the next year’s seedlings coming up anywhere in your yard. This characteristic makes the plant a favorite for roadside beautification projects.
Aromatic Aster. (U.S. Government Work; PD)

Aromatic Aster. (U.S. Government Work; PD)

This is AROMATIC ASTER (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, formerly Aster oblongifolius). It grows 1 to 2 ft. tall, with flowers that bloom prolifically from Sept. into Nov. Every wildlife-friendly yard needs this or another of the many native aster species. Asters grow in all hardiness zones, so there’s no excuse! They’re good nectar plants, as well as hosts for butterflies, including the Black Swallowtail, Orange Sulphur, Question Mark, Painted Lady and Pearl Crescent.
Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa). (John Giez / EOL; CC BY-NC 2.0)

Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa). (John Giez / EOL; CC BY-NC 2.0)

BEE BALM (Monarda spp.) is loved by bees of all kinds, but don’t let that scare you off — it’s also loved by hummingbirds, other birds, butterflies. Also called Monarda or Wild Bergamot, it’s a native wildflower with many subspecies, and one or another is found across the U.S., and Canada.Photo of a bee balm blossom. In the mint family, easy to find at nurseries. Tolerates most soil types, but keep it moist and well-drained. Sun to part-shade.

Bee Balm. (Takkk / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.0)

BEE BALM isn’t only for wildlife. We can enjoy it, too. Not only for its long-lasting blooms, but also its foliage can be used in salads, made into a tea, used in potpourri. Herbalists use it for various treatments, including for colds, gastric disorders, infections.

Black-eyed Susan. (Frank Mayfield / EOL; CC BY-SA 2.0)

BLACK-EYED SUSAN (Rudbeckia hirta) is found across N.A. A native annual that’s sometimes a short-lived perennial. Plant it in large masses to catch the attention of butterflies. Bees and other nectar-loving insects will visit, too, and birds eat the seeds. Larval host for the Bordered Patch Butterfly and others. Easily grown from seed. Drought tolerant, but occasional watering produces density, longer flowering. There are many Rudbeckia species; zones vary.

Blueflag Iris “Harlequin.” (Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org; CC BY-NC 3.0)

BLUEFLAG IRIS “HARLEQUIN” (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful deep-blue to purple perennial that blooms in late-spring to early-summer. Attractive to hummingbirds. It thrives in moist soil, but it’s easy to grow and tolerates drier soil, too. Full sun. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall, forms large clumps. Mildly toxic to humans and animals, if eaten. Zones 3-9. Native to Canada and northeastern U.S. wetlands. A similar iris, SOUTHERN BLUEFLAG (Iris virginica), grows farther south to Florida and west to Texas.


Butterfly Weed growing with Yellow Corydalis. (SB Johnny / EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

BUTTERFLY WEED (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native milkweed known by many names, including Canada Root, Orange Milkweed, Indian Paintbrush and Pleurisy Root. Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, other insects are drawn by its brilliant color and abundant nectar. Ladybugs visit for its inevitable aphids. Also a host for Monarch and Queen butterflies. Can be grown from seed; dry, sandy/gravelly soil; takes 2 to 3 years to begin flowering. Zones 4-10.

Cardinal Flower and female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Robert and Pat Rogers / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CARDINAL FLOWER (Lobelia cardinalis) is a showy native perennial that depends on hummingbirds for pollination. It needs fertile, moist to wet soil, a good plant for a water garden. Will naturalize. Can take full sun in northern climates; elsewhere part-shade. 1-3 ft. tall. Blooms: July-Sept. Zones 2-10. Its name comes from the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.

Crimson Clover. (© Jesse Raley, Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries)

CRIMSON CLOVER (Trifolium incarnatum) is a native annual. Farmers plant it as forage for livestock and as a cover crop. Bees love its nectar. Deer, rabbits, turkeys eat it. Many city folks like it, too — as a cover crop in veggie gardens, to fill bare spots or to grow among flowers. Easy to pull if it gets out of hand (add it to your compost pile for its nutritious nitrogen content.) Turn it under in spring and re-seed in fall. Or, don’t turn it under and enjoy its foliage through the season — it will reseed itself in the fall. (If you turn it under in spring, wait until after it has bloomed so you can enjoy it through its prettiest stage.)

Daisy Fleabane. (Nicholas A. Tonelli / Wiki; CC BY 2.0)

DAISY FLEABANE (Erigeron annuus) is a native annual or biennial. In the aster family, it grows wild across the U.S. — possibly even in your yard. Blooms late spring to mid-summer. 3 ft. tall and leggy, you might think it’s a weed, but don’t pull it. It’s visited by butterflies, bees, beetles. The Lynx Flower Moth eats its buds, rabbits eat its foliage and flowers. Tolerates clay soil, drought. The plant fades away after blooming.

Dense Blazing Star. (Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) / EOL; CC BY 3.0)

DENSE BLAZING STAR (Liatris spicata), also called Dense Gayfeather is a perennial native to moist prairies and sedge meadows in the eastern U.S. It has naturalized farther northeast and now grows in Canada, too. Four-foot spikes topped by close-set purple flower heads attract hummingbirds, other birds, butterflies, moths. There are several species of Liatris, some available commercially. Zones 3a-10b.

Groundcherry. (WW)

Do GROUNDCHERRIES (genus: Physalis) find their way to your yard? If you’ve been calling them weeds and plucking them out, then stop it! They’re native to the U.S. and a host plant for the Five-spotted Sphinx Moth (commonly called the tomato hornworm), but you can enjoy them, too. They can be found along roadsides, old fields and waste areas, but lots of people intentionally grow them for their sweet-tart taste. Not really cherries, they’re in the nightshade (tomato) family and toxic until ripe, so never eat them green. They ripen August to first frost.


Ripe Groundcherry fruit. (Pen Waggener / Wiki; CC BY-SA 2.0)

You’ll know when GROUNDCHERRIES are ready to eat, because they fall to the ground. (The reason for its name.) So, collect them there, remove the papery husk, rinse the fruit and pop them into your mouth. Plants grow from 1 – 3 ft. tall,depending on the species. If they don’t naturally populate your yard as “weeds,” you can easily find organic seeds online. Also called Cape Gooseberries, not to be confused with true gooseberries.

Goldenrod 1

Honey bee on goldenrod. (WW)

Many people call GOLDENRODS a weed. Others call them garden flowers. What are they to you? Either way, they’re a very important fall nectar source for pollinators, especially bees. Butterflies and moths use them, too, for nectar and host plants. They do take over, though. Control them by cutting off flower heads before the seeds ripen. Don’t worry about their reputation for causing hay fever, they don’t cause allergies. The culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Ragweed pollen is blown by the wind, while goldenrod pollen, large and sticky, is not.

Great Blue Lobelia. (John B. / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

GREAT BLUE LOBELIA (Lobelia siphilitica) is a counterpart of the Cardinal Flower and is often called Blue Cardinal Flower. A native perennial. Perfect for woodland gardens. Especially desirable because it blooms from July clear into Oct. It’s visited by hummingbirds, but depends on bees for pollination. 1-3 feet tall. Sun to partial shade. No drought tolerance, must have moist soil. Zones 2-9. Its species name, siphilitica, is based on an early belief that it cured syphilis.

Highbush Blueberry. (Javacrat / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

HIGHBUSH BLUEBERRY (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a good native alternative to blackberry. It provides cover for birds and delicious berries for wildlife and humans, too. About the same size as Allegheny Blackberry. Needs moist, acidic soil. Happily, no thorns!


Agastache sp. (WW)

There are about 12 species of HYSSOP (Agastache). All but one are native to N. America. Flowers come in white, pink, mauve or purple. They prefer full sun and moist, well-drained soil, but they’ll grow in clay soil, too. One or more of the species is sure to fit your particular habitat. All are perennials, but hardiness varies with the species. Anise Hyssop is very hardy, grows to Zone 1.

MAgastache sp. (WW)

Is HYSSOP (Agastache spp.) growing in your garden? If not, give it some thought — it’ll be busy with butterflies throughout the summer. In the garden pictured here it’s growing next to butterfly bushes and other butterfly favorites, but migrating Monarchs mostly ignore those in favor of hyssop. Honeybees love it, too, but don’t let that stop you from planting it — they need the nectar and, unless provoked, will ignore humans.

Indian Blanket. (Clarence A. Rechenthin, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database; PD)

Is INDIAN BLANKET (Gaillardia pulchella), also called Firewheel, in your butterfly garden? It’ll be visited by butterflies, including the American Painted Lady, and it’s especially important to native bees. Native to the U.S., easy to grow, these showy flowers have a wonderfully long blooming period. Also, they’re heat and drought tolerant. What’s not to like! Deadheading them increases bloom time, but if you want plants the next year, allow flowers to reseed (birds will appreciate the seeds, too.) 1-2 ft. tall, full sun to part-shade, all soil types, but prefers well-drained. Zones 3a-10b.

Hemp Dogbane. (Steven J. Baskauf / EOL; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

INDIAN HEMP (Apocynum cannabium), also called Dogbane, is loved by butterflies, skippers, moths and bees. The plant’s name suggests a link to cannabis, but that’s the only similarity to the drug. Like all dogbanes, its toxic. A native perennial, it grows throughout N. America and southern Canada. Native Americans used to make herbal medicines from its roots and strong string and rope from its fiber. A good plant for a naturalized butterfly garden. It spreads, so plant it where it won’t crowd out other perennials. 2 – 4 ft. high. Full sun. Dry to medium, sandy soil.

Nijer. (Silvestres brasileiros / Wiki; PD)

This is a NIGER (NY-jer) plant. It produces the seed we use in our finch feeders. The seed was originally imported from Ethiopia, but it’s now grown in the U.S., where marketers called it “thistle” and sell it as finch food. In some tests finches prefer it to actual wild thistle. Labeled “Nyjer” thistle, this tiny seed is bursting with calories and oil.


Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) and Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly. (Peter Gorman / Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There are two plants called PURPLE MILKWEED. One is Asclepias cordifoliais, native to the western U.S. and the other is Asclepias purpurascens, native to the eastern U.S. Purple Milkweed is less common than Swamp Milkweed or Butterfly Weed, but equally appealing as a nectar plant and/or host plant to the Monarch and other butterflies, as well as many other insects. Non-invasive. Endangered in some areas — don’t remove from them from the wild. Seeds are available online. Water regularly, don’t overwater. Grows to 36 in. Zones 5a – 9b.

Red Clover. (Jeff McMillian / Almost Eden @ USDA-NRS Plants Database; PD)

RED CLOVER (Trifolium pratense) isn’t the same as Crimson Clover. Red is an introduced short-lived perennial or biennial with a round seed head that’s lighter in color. It matures later than the Crimson and doesn’t tolerate trampling as well. Its flowers attract butterflies, moths, bees, grouse, rabbits, deer and others. It’s pretty while flowering, but once blooms have faded, it loses its visual charm. Commonly grown for livestock feed.

Scarlet Milkweed with Monarch caterpillars. (Vicki’s Nature / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Plant SCARLET MILKWEED (Asclepias curassavica) or any other milkweed. Some experts believe we could lose the MONARCH BUTTERFLY in our lifetime. A World Wildlife Fund census says their number has dropped 59 percent since 2012. One cause: herbicides. Milkweed used to grow between rows of corn, soybeans, cotton. But those crops (perhaps others, too) are now genetically modified to resist herbicide, so rows can be sprayed to kill weeds without harming crops. Sadly, bye-bye milkweed = bye-bye Monarch.

Smartweed sp. (WW)

Do you let these plants grow in your yard or pull them as “weeds?” SMARTWEED is a group of herbs in the genus Polygonum that are loved by butterflies, birds and bees. One species, Pennsylvania Smartweed, is considered invasive in wetlands, but waterfowl love it. Smartweed is found across N. Amer., Europe. Look for lance-shaped leaves and a papery sheath that covers the nodes where the leaves attach to the stem. The nodes are usually big and slightly bent. The flowers are on spikes and, depending on the species, may be pink, red or white. Some species have upright spikes, while others have drooping ones. Safe for humans to eat when cooked, but don’t chew it raw. Some are rather mild, but others will really “smart” in your mouth — they’re sometimes called “nature’s pepper.”

Spotted Jewelweed. (Fritz Geller-Grimm / EOL; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Is SPOTTED JEWELWEED (Impatiens capensis) in your garden? People who have it, love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it as Touch-Me-Not — when a seed pod is touched, the seeds explode out of it. It’s an annual visited by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other nectar-loving critters. It self-seeds, so deadhead it if you don’t want it proliferating. Forms dense stands up to 4+ ft. high. Part-sun to full shade. Moist to wet soil. Most soil types. Plants may be available locally in the spring; also online. Seeds need four or more weeks of cold weather for germination, so sow them in the fall. Native to continental U.S., except Mont., Utah, Alaska, and most of Canada. USDA Zones 4-10.

Spreading Dogbane. (Stan Shebs / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.0)

SPREADING DOGBANE (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is loved by butterflies. People appreciate it, too, for its pretty pink flowers and lilac-like scent. It requires special consideration, though: Like all dogbanes, it’s toxic to humans and pets. Its sap is bitter and sticky and animals usually leave it alone. However, it probably shouldn’t be planted around pets and small children. Also, flies and other small insects with short mouthparts get hopelessly trapped in the flowers’ barbed and sappy interior, and die — some gardeners may not want to feed butterflies at the expense of other insects.

Spreading Dogbane. (Stan Shebs / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.0)

SPREADING DOGBANE grows across the U.S. and Canada. It spreads rapidly from underground stems, so plant it in a large area or plan to spend time controlling it. 2 – 4 ft. high, bushy, blooms June – August. Full – part shade. Dry to medium soil.

Swamp Rose Mallow. (Robert H. Mohlenbrock / USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database; PD)

SWAMP ROSE MALLOW (Hibiscus Moscheutos) is loved by hummingbirds and insects for its nectarous flowers. Ducks eat the seeds. Others use it for cover. It’s said to be adaptable to drought, but it prefers lots of water. A native perennial of the Southeast, they thrive in large colonies, alongside freshwater rivers and streams in moist or swampy soil. Numerous stems grow about 8 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide. Full to partial sun. Zones 5a-10b.

Virginia Strawberry. (Jason Hollinger / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

VIRGINIA STRAWBERRY (Fragaria virginiana) plants deliver fine, sweet berries that birds love — and people, too. You might not want to share it with wildlife! All the cultivated strawberries of today are hybrids from this native species and a S. American species. The seeds don’t germinate well, so space plantlets a few inches apart in sun to part-shade. Tolerates dry soil. All zones.

Virginia Creeper. (so-meow / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

VIRGINIA CREEPER (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is an invasive native vine. Like ivy, its tendrils will find a hold on just about anything — and it grows and grows. In summer, it’s a host plant for Pandorus and Achemon sphinx moth caterpillars and others, and it benefits other wildlife by providing cover within its thick foliage. It’s beautiful covering fences and walls.

Virginia Creeper in fall. (WW)

VIRGINIA CREEPER (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is pretty in summer, but in fall it’s brilliant. A feast for the eyes. Useful, too: brilliant shades of red foliage are a feast for the eyes and its purplish-black berries provide a feast for birds.

Virginia Snakeroot. (Jeff McMillian @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database; PD)

VIRGINIA SNAKEROOT (Aristolochia serpentaria) belongs to the Aristolochiaceae, or pipevine, family. It’s named for its use in folk medicine as a reptile repellent and treatment for snakebite. A native low-growing vine, it’s found throughout the eastern half of the U.S. Prefers light-shade and dry-medium soil; tolerates most soil types. Blooms April-June. Used as a host by the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. Threatened in CT, IL, IA, MI, NY.

Wild Grape. (Takkk / EOL; CC BY-SA 2.0)

If a WILD GRAPE (Vitis labrusca) plant invites itself into your yard, you might want to let it stay. It’s highly beneficial for wildlife, not only for its nectarous spring flowers and fruit, but birds nest in it and even use its shreddy bark for their nests. It will form tangles and grow 30 feet or more, and its tendrils will cling to fences, trees. If you don’t want that habit, you can trim it annually, or even train it for an arbor. You can enjoy some of the grapes, too, for your table, wine and jellies — that is, if you can beat the birds to them! Full sun, water regularly, but don’t overwater. Native to eastern half of U.S., Canada. Zones 1-8.

Yellow Honeysuckle. (Danny Barron / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

YELLOW HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera flava) is native to eastern parts of the U.S., but will grow almost anywhere. Showy, bright yellow flowers in spring to mid summer are visited by hummers and butterflies. Clusters of red fruits in late summer aren’t edible by humans, but birds love them. It’s noninvasive and should not to be confused with weedy, invasive Japanese Honeysuckle. Best in sun, but tolerates partial shade. Most soil types, medium water. Zones 4-9. May be hard to find locally, but available online at gardensinthewood.com and Bluffviewnursery.org. Other vining and noninvasive, native honeysuckles include Twining Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica) and Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).