Ellen has been gardening with and appreciating native plants for eleven years in north metro Atlanta. She is especially fond of native shrubs and trees but is willing to learn to love herbaceous plants as well. Helping others to see the beauty and versatility of Georgia's native plants, whether it be in the wild or in the garden, is both a passion and a compulsion -- just ask her kids! Ellen is an active member of the Georgia Native Plant Society and the Georgia Botanical Society. She uses her personal blog, usinggeorgianativeplants.blogspot.com, to share seasonal ideas and pictures about native plants in her area.

Recent Blog Posts

May 19
Plants for Soggy Places  

Mar 31
Signs of Spring   (1 comment)

Feb 28
Hooray for the Lilies of Spring  

Jan 21

Dec 12
A Southern Christmas Tree  

Nov 01
The Colors of Fall  

Sep 30
Goldenrod - Good for Gardens  

Aug 28
Clematis virginiana - the REAL one   (2 comments)




Native vs. Non-native Plants: Smackdown
by Ellen Honeycutt - posted 05/22/11

I originally wrote this blog in April when WWE came to Atlanta. Thinking about Wrestlemania reminded me of the native vs. non-native plants “battle” that some of us consider every day.  Of course the problem is mostly that there are many people that don’t consider this every day – in fact they don’t even have the resources to do so.  What native plants need is a really good PROMOTER like some of the characters in WWE.

GA-EPPC Invasive Plant Monster

Unless you go to a special nursery (or at least something better than a “home improvement” store), plants are not usually labeled as “native”.  Some stores don’t even provide scientific names on their plant labels - personally, I think that should be a crime (or at the very least some kind of “no-no”). 
I was in Lowes in April, and they had a big display of summer bulbs and dormant woody plants; one plant was simply labeled “Honeysuckle”.  The picture on the label shows pink flowers so I’m fairly certain that it was Lonicera x ‘Bella’ which is a hybrid of non-native (and invasive) shrub honeysuckles.  Lowes does a disservice to its customers in not only stocking this plant in Georgia but also in not giving people the information that they need to realize what they are purchasing.  In some areas of the Southeastern U.S., Georgia included, if you plant this shrub then it will eventually “smackdown” most native plants nearby.
I encourage everyone to research the plants that they want to buy.  Even research the plants you have already bought!  Perhaps you made an impulse buy and now you have the plant at home.  Get on the computer and look it up.  Figure out if it is native, if it’s not, if it’s invasive, if it will work in the conditions that you have available.  How many of you buy a shirt and then return it later because you reconsidered or it didn’t match what you have already?  If you research this plant and it is not right for you, take it back!  And if you’re bold enough, tell them the real reason you’re returning it:
- “I don’t have the right conditions after all.”
- “I looked it up and it gets bigger than I thought it would.”
- “I was looking for something native and I thought this was but now I know it’s not.”
- “I found out that it’s invasive and I don’t want to buy invasive plants.”
Perhaps you have something already planted in the yard and now your research tells you it is invasive or perhaps not necessarily invasive but you’d rather have something native.  How about if you sneak up on it like a WWE wrestler with a folding chair and take it out when it’s not looking?  Then you can have some fun researching a replacement!  I love being in the position of having to find something new - the research time makes the whole experience that much longer (and enjoyable).
Here are a few Georgia native alternatives for common non-native landscape plants:
- White blooming ornamental pears like ‘Bradford’, ‘Cleveland Select’ and ‘Aristocrat’ can be replaced with other spring blooming trees like Serviceberry (Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’ or ‘Princess Diana’) and Hawthorn (Crataegus ‘Winter King’)

Serviceberry, Amelanchier sp.

- Shrubs with red fall color like Burning Bush can be replaced with native Blueberries.  If you want fruit as well, be sure to plant at least two cultivars that have the same season and different names (like ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’).  UGA has a great publication for home blueberry growing:

Native blueberry, Vaccinium sp.

-  Stiff and soldier-like privacy hedges like Leyland Cypress can be replaced with a mixed screen of native evergreen trees like Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), American holly (Ilex opaca and Ilex x attenuata) cultivars, Magnolias (Magnolia), and Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana).  A mixed screen is more interesting, looks more natural and reduces the chance that a single disease will affect your whole screen.

Wax myrtle with berries, Morella cerifera

-  Meatball foundation shrubs like Japanese holly can be replaced by softer yet structured shrubs like dwarf Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera ‘Don’s Dwarf), dwarf Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia ‘Minuet’) and dwarf Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’) – but leave it unpruned except for stray branches.  Consider mixing in a few deciduous shrubs for a more interesting mix of textures and blooms.
- Have too many early spring blooms (like forsythia and spirea) and want some late spring blooming shrubs to extend the season?  Consider Fothergilla, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and Viburnum - Viburnum cassinoides and Viburnum acerifolium are both good for me and also have great fall color. Here is a picture of Fothergilla major that I took April 3rd:

Fothergilla major

-   Fast growing trees are hard to come by but you don’t need to choose something non-native to see it grow in your lifetime.  Look for tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), or one of the red maple cultivars like Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’.

Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea

I hope these ideas help you think more like a champion of native plants.  In today’s world, they sure could use someone to promote them – someone to get on a microphone and extol all their good virtues as they go into the match of their lives: “With a mature height of 8 feet 2 inches and a mature width of 5 feet, this spring blooming shrub is a favorite among native pollinators and fairly drought tolerant as well; as a bonus it has fabulous fall color, is a host plant to 26 different types Lepidopteraand has berries that provide food for 5 different kinds of wildlife ….  And in the opposing corner is a boisterous shrub from the mountains of China ….”

If you can’t find them in your nursery, do ask for them.  Nurseries don’t know you’re looking for something if you don’t tell them - they think people are happy to buy whatever they’re stocking.  It’s up to us to tell them otherwise.

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Native Evergreens
by Ellen Honeycutt - posted 05/16/11

Evergreen plants are sometimes just what you need in your yard.  You may need a large evergreen to screen out an unpleasant view or a neighbor that is a little too close. You may have a small area, like near a utility box or a bad area of your home's foundation, that needs some year-round screening.  Perhaps you heard that evergreen trees and shrubs provide shelter for nesting birds.  Or you might just enjoy a bit of green in the winter time when deciduous plants drop their leaves.  Regardless of the reason, there are native evergreen shrubs and trees that could fit the bill.


The definition of “evergreen” is of course that the plant does not drop all of its leaves come winter.  Instead these plants shed a portion of their leaves during the year while retaining others.  In our area, evergreens can be “needled” or “broadleaf”.  Needled evergreens are those like Pines, Junipers, Hemlock and our single false cypress, Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic White Cedar).  Broadleaf evergreens include Hollies, Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel and others.
As with any plants, it is important to choose site-appropriate plants to ensure that your choices thrive and that you don’t have to prune them unnecessarily to make them fit the space.  If you’re considering a hedge of plants to screen off a large view, I’d like to recommend that you create a “mixed” hedge.  A mixed hedge has several benefits: you avoid destruction by a single disease if you stay away from a monoculture; it looks more natural to have different plants; and you don’t have to limit your choice to a single plant (because there are so many good ones to choose from!).
Here are some ideas simply based on light exposure: full sun and partial shade.  Be sure to research mature size – some dwarf cultivars are available for smaller spaces. 
Full Sun:
Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera or Myrica cerifera) – Shrub to tree sized evergreen with medium green leaves, fragrant foliage and small blue-grey berries that are popular with birds.  Dwarf cultivars like 'Don's Dwarf' and 'Suwanee Elf' can be found in nurseries.

Morella cerifera

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) – A soft needled tree that is technically a Juniper, it is often grown for Christmas trees. This plant is commonly found along fence lines in pastures.  The wood is very fragrant and coincidentally makes great fence posts.  Birds like to nest in these.

Juniperus virginiana

Hollies (Ilex spp.) – The evergreen hollies (there are deciduous ones too) come in all sizes from the large American holly (Ilex opaca) to the shrub-like and wet-tolerant Inkberry (Ilex glabra) to the very variably formed Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) which can be a weeping tree form or a small foundation shrub.  You may be surprised to know that not all of them have spines.  If you want berries, remember to look into getting male and female forms.

Ilex vomitoria

Evergreen magnolias – Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is native to coastal Georgia primarily but is available in nurseries everywhere. While many cultivars are now available, be aware that in the Piedmont region of Georgia, this plant is a bit of a pest.  Birds have dispersed seeds into natural areas where it can outcompete some of the regionally native trees.  Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is another evergreen magnolia native to Georgia; it happens to tolerate wet conditions.  Here is a bloom on M. virginiana:

Magnolia virginiana

Pines – Pines are much maligned as desirable trees for a variety of reasons.  I think the two most common reasons are that ice storms bring out the worst in pines, and that they are very common trees. However, I think they should be considered for screening for 3 reasons: they can be very inexpensive, they grow fast and they are easy to remove when you don’t need the screen.  Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) seedlings can be reasonably priced as seedlings from the Georgia Forestry Commission’s seedling program.  A less common but very attractive pine for North Georgia is White Pine (Pinus strobus); hands down, white pine has the prettiest cone of all pines that I’ve seen in Georgia and the blue-green needles make very soft pine straw.
Check out the Georgia Forestry Commission’s seedling program.  You can get seedlings of Wax Myrtle, Eastern Redcedar and several different pines:  Georgia Forestry Commission
Partial Shade:
Hemlock – A stately tree of mountainsides and trout streams, the Hemlock is under active attack from an invasive insect pest, the wooly adelgid.  However, I think we should keep planting them, you never know if yours might be the one with resistant genes!  Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is the most commonly available one for purchase.  Beautiful foliage and shade tolerance make this a very desirable choice for partial shade areas.

Tsuga canadensis

Florida Anise – I love this tree (Illicium floridanum) for not only shade tolerance but also handsome foliage that is fragrant when you brush up against it.  Flower fragrance, however, can be a little “off” depending on your individual sense of smell so site it carefully.  Many people mistake this for evergreen Rhododendron when they first see it.

Illicium floridanum

Rhododendron – In the same family as Azaleas, the evergreen Rhododendron catawbiense is the one I find most often in stores.  If you can find it, Rhododendron maximum is very handsome but a much larger plant at maturity.  Both of these prefer to grow in North Georgia (for a similar look in the rest of Georgia, see the Florida anise description above).  This is R. maximum:

Rhododendron maximum

Mountain Laurel – few plants are more dazzling in full bloom than Kalmia latifolia.  Another mountainside plant, this one can still do quite well as a garden plant in North Georgia.  I have used it as a foundation plant, and you can fit a variety of cultivars in better nurseries.  ‘Elf’ and ‘Minuet’ are two dwarf forms.  Similar to Rhododendrons, plant them a little “high” to achieve the good drainage that they need.

Kalmia latifolia

Carolina Cherry Laurel - Prunus caroliniana is good for screening and the berries are enjoyed by wildlife.  The cultivar ‘Compacta’ offers a nice dense form.  Some people find this plant a bit “weedy” because of the seedlings, similar to the issues with Southern magnolia seedlings.   
If you need help finding these plants, check out the Native Nurseries page on the Georgia Native Plant Society's website: Sources for Native Plants

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Native Spring Perennials in Georgia
by Ellen Honeycutt - posted 05/09/11

Spring flowers occupy a special place in our hearts, delighting our winter-weary senses with their early blooms.  Mid-way through the season now, I thought I’d compile a list of the native spring perennials that bloom in North Georgia.  Plant enough of these and you’ll have a nice show every year.
The definition of perennial is that the plant returns year after year.  This post is about perennial flowers which are herbaceous.  Herbaceous means that their leaves and stems usually completely die back in the winter so that the only trace of them is a dead flower stalk or perhaps some dried foliage.  All new growth in spring comes from the ground. Flowering shrubs, which I am not discussing in this post, are woody which means that a stem is left in place and new growth sprouts from that stem.

This post focuses on plants that bloom in the spring (February through May for the most part) and which have foliage that remains until frost.

Thalictrum thalictroides

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is an early blooming plant found in woodlands through Atlanta.  Many years ago I transplanted some into my garden and found out what a gorgeous plant it can be there.  Not only does it form a robust clump, but the flowers are larger and the plant is very floriferous.  In very warm areas, the foliage may disappear come summer, but cool and moist areas usually allow it to keep going.  Try shearing it after the initial flowers have faded to get a second flush.

Aquilegia canadensis

According to the USDA Plants Database, columbine (Aquilegia) is found in every state in the U.S. except Hawaii and Louisiana.  The only one is Georgia is Aquilegia canadensis, which has a gorgeous red and yellow flower that rises airily above the blue-green foliage.  My original clump has slowly spread.  New babies have popped up in other places, and I have easily transplanted them to other places and given them to friends and the GNPS annual plant sale.
A couple of weeks ago I posted about my favorite spring blue perennials. Some of the persistent blues are dwarf iris (Iris cristata and Iris verna), Phacelia (which is technically a biennial and will fade the second year after flowering, but you’ll get new ones from seeds), and the violets (Viola). 


Here are three perennials that are very similar looking (and they are all in the Liliaceae family), especially when they are emerging in the spring.  Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) is the first to bloom.  The delicate, pale yellow bloom is deceiving – this is one of the toughest plants I know!  It’s a fun plant to show kids how stems can pierce though the leaves.  I also like Uvularia sessilifolia which blooms later in the season.  Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is better known and is a tough perennial as well.  The arching blue-green stems with dangling bells are very attractive.  The flowers develop into dark blue balls (the fruit) later in the year.  The root structure is very distinctive – small annual growth scars create a rhizome that can look like a string of pearls over time. If you look closely, you can see the tiny pollinator at work on the first bloom of the Solomon's seal.

Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata)

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Maianthemum racemosum


False solomon’s seal, which is now classified as Maianthemum racemosum, produces flowers on the end of the stem so it is distinctly different from “true” Solomon’s seal in bloom. The pink-reddish berries produced after the flowers are very attractive and persist long into the season.






Cynoglossum virginianum


A perennial that I have recently acquired is the blue flowered “wild” Comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum).  Note that this is not the same as “common Comfrey” (Symphytum officinale) which is non-native and has pink/purple flowers.  Both are in the Boraginaceae family.  Cynoglossum officinale, another non-native, is a European relative that has reddish/purple flowers that has become a bit weedy in certain areas.  As always, ask for the botanical name when purchasing flowers to ensure you are getting the native version.


Geranium maculatum

Geranium is one that might confuse people.  Native plants in the genus Geranium are not the same as the Pelargonium plants sold as “Geranium” in the stores.  Geranium maculatum is a modest, pink-flowering perennial of woodlands in North Georgia.  In a garden setting with good morning sun, it becomes a handsome clump.



We do have some “evergreen” herbaceous perennials.  Some leaves remain green throughout the winter until new growth appears.  The old leaves then fade away.  These plants include:



Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), Coral bells (Heuchera americana), Green n Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), Pussytoes (Antennaria sp.), Hepatica sp., and the evergreen gingers (Hexastylis sp).  Gingers have fascinating flowers; I enjoy showing them to kids and explaining that ants pollinate them because they are usually hidden under leaf litter.

Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia

Group of Foamflower, a good spreader

Phlox subulata, a good groundcover

Hexastylis shuttleworthii, good textured plant


Heuchera americana 'Dale's Strain' (cultivar)

Antennaria plantaginifolia

And if you thought those were good, just wait until you see the Summer Perennials!



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