Anita Joggerst is a garden writer and the co-author of Best Garden Plants for Missouri. She gardens in the St. Louis area and enjoys sharing her gardening experiences and photographing gardens.

This article applies to:



Natives Can Be Neat
by Anita Joggerst    

Incorporating native plants into your garden doesn’t mean that the space will look wild and messy. Here are some neat natives to add for a sophisticated pop of color and texture.

Do you picture native plants as exotic wildflowers in distant fields, weeds along roadsides, or even garden pests? On the contrary, natives are the perfect plants for backyard garden spaces, large or small, providing attractive but low-maintenance gardens. Native plants are hardy and disease resistant, attract butterflies and hummingbirds, require little water and grow without fertilizers and synthetic chemicals.

What Is a Native Plant?

Although definitions of native plants abound, native plant organizations such as Wild Ones and Grow Native generally consider a plant “native” if it evolved naturally in North America or was growing naturally in the area before humans introduced plants from distant places. Plants that are native to Missouri are often also native to states in the eastern part of the country with the same climate.

Grow Native ( is a program of the Missouri Department of Conservation that encourages Missourians to use native plants. Never dig up native plants from the wild. Natives are available from local nurseries and Missouri Wildflowers Nursery (

Many native plants thrive in dry soil in sunny conditions and other natives grow in moist soil or shady spots. Natives are available in short or tall or dainty or tough types. Native plants provide pretty color through most of the summer and autumn easily combining with other perennials and annuals in a garden. In extremely hot and dry summers (such as 2012), natives fare well in traditional gardens while lesser plants die. Natives have few serious disease or insect problems.


Coneflowers offer pretty pale purple daisy-like flowers from summer until frost. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) thrive in full sun or partial shade. Both coneflowers grow to about 3 feet tall, and tolerate drought, heat, humidity and poor soil. These natives spread nicely every year by self-seeding, making them perfect for large spaces, and giving you plenty to share. The dried flower cones attract goldfinches in the late fall and winter.

Poppy Mallows

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) sports magenta flowers from June until frost.5

Plant natives fringed poppy mallow (Callirhoe digitata) and purple poppy mallow (C. involucrata) together for a spectacularly majestic magenta flower show from June until frost. Plant the shorter purple poppy mallow (about 1 foot tall) in front of the taller fringed poppy mallow (about 2 to 3 feet tall). Imagine how pretty the poppy mallows would look in front of a stand of purple coneflowers.

Sun or Shade Plants

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)3

Magenta berries of beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) attract birds.2

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) has pretty lobed leaves similar to the poppy mallows and blooms with pretty pink flowers in mid to late spring. This native grows 18 to 24 inches tall in full sun to partial shade. Butterflies love it.

Blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) sports pretty powder-blue flowers in late spring and grows in full sun or partial shade. Blue star prefers moist soil but tolerates some drought. The pretty willow-shaped leaves provide attractive yellow fall color. Several blue stars massed together look better than just one lone plant.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a 3-to-6-foot-tall shrub that does well in full sun to light shade. Its non-showy little white summer flowers turn into spectacularly beautiful magenta berries that attract birds into winter. Beautyberry is well suited as a shrub border.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) attracts Monarch butterflies. The nectar in its clusters of bright orange flowers draws adult butterflies and the leaves provide food for butterfly larvae. Versatile butterfly milkweed grows 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, blooms from late spring through late summer, tolerates drought, likes sunny locations and thrives in the poorest soil. The pretty flowers give way to seed pods that release many seeds, helping the butterfly milkweed to naturalize. The seed pods are also eye catching in dried flower arrangements.

Moisture Lovers

For moist areas in partial shade, consider cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a pretty native plant whose height of 2 to 4 feet and scarlet flower spikes attract attention. Although cardinal flower grows in sun, it really thrives in shade, especially afternoon shade. Hummingbirds and butterflies head toward the vivid tubular flowers from midsummer to autumn. Plant several to make a showy red statement in your shade garden.

At the feet of cardinal flower, plant wild ginger (Asarum canadense) another moisture-loving plant. Wild ginger is a short ground cover whose beautiful satiny leaves perk up any shade garden.

Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)5

Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) blooms with medium large yellow flowers in early to late spring. Its blue-green foliage with silvery undersides sparkles long after the blooms fade. This poppy naturalizes, likes partial to full shade, and makes a delightful ground cover at 12 to 18 inches tall.

The lovely columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), blooms pretty pink and yellow in April and May in full sun or partial shade. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall, sports delicate foliage, naturalizes, and has good resistance to leaf miner. Although the native columbine prefers moist soil, it tolerates some drought. Hummingbirds like the colorful tubular flowers.

Native Ferns

Native ferns add serenity and grace to a woodland garden, swaying gently in the lightest breeze. These ferns like moist spots in partial to full shade. Many of these ferns are also evergreen to add winter beauty to your gardens. Think snow on the fronds in January and February.

Evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) grows 2 feet tall into an attractive fountain shape. The young fronds start silvery in the spring and gradually mature to green. A mass of Christmas ferns on a slope checks soil erosion.

Wood ferns are taller ferns at 3 to 4 feet. Dryopteris carthusiana offers bright lime evergreen fronds; D. goldieana, commonly called giant wood fern, sports dark green or golden green fronds; and log fern (D. celsa) wears shiny dark semi-evergreen fronds.

The maidenhair ferns sport airy, delicate foliage. The northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) grows 2 feet tall with horseshoe shaped fronds; the southern maidenhair fern (A. capillus-veneris) grows 18 inches tall with wiry, drooping black stems.

Trees and Shrubs

Dogwood (Cornus florida)5

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) blooms welcome spring.1

Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis)5

Native trees and shrubs provide color and winter interest. Dogwood (Cornus florida) and redbud (Cercis canadensis) bloom in the spring and display vivid autumn foliage color. The river birch (Betula nigra) provides winter interest in the form of reddish-brown bark that exfoliates to reveal lighter tan inner bark.

The witchhazel’s (Hamamelis vernalis) bright red and yellow flowers are a pleasant surprise in the winter landscape before foliage appears. Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a deciduous shrub that sports vivid scarlet leaves in autumn and burgundy and bright green twigs through the winter. 

Whether a garden space, is wet, dry, shady, sunny, small or large, one or more native plants will thrive there.


1. Ron Capek
2. Morton Arboretum
3. Kylee Baumle
4. Todd Jackson
5. Anita Joggerst

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue II


Posted: 06/12/13   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading