North Carolina’s List of the Ten Top Choices for Native Plants


The value of native plants comes as much from what they do (ecological value) as how they look.  Some native plants can be too rambunctious for a residential garden.  And, some are so finicky that they’re very difficult to grow outside their natural environment. So, the following list of natives were selected because of their adaptability to residential gardens, benefit to wildlife and ornamental value.  To learn more about the native plants of North Carolina (which we share with a good portion of the Eastern Seaboard and beyond), take a look at our website or NC Cooperative Extension’s interactive website Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants

The Top Ten

Coneflower and Butterflyweed, Lisa Tompkins
Coneflower and Butterflyweed (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


Orange Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa – Host plant for the Monarch Butterfly and nectar source for many native bees and butterflies.  Bright orange flowers on a compact plant.  Long bloom period.  Dry-moist native soil.  Full sun to part-shade.  It even makes a good cut flower but who would want to do that?  Looks great with Purple Coneflower. (don’t confuse this with the more readily available A. curassavica – a tropical, tender perennial).


Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea – Good food source for butterflies, bees and birds, especially Goldfinch, who love to eat the seeds.  Long bloom period.  Good cut flower. Widely used as a medicinal herb and, therefore, increasingly rare in the wild.  I find the species to be hardier and preferred by its wildlife friends.  But, it will reseed.  More Coneflower!




Chrysogonum virginianum
Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum – This is one of my favorite little natives for shady areas. I use it for added color and texture in front of foundation shrubs in part shade or morning sun. The cheerful, bright gold flowers appear in mid-spring and continue for a good six weeks, often occurring with another favorite described below.  The foliage is often evergreen for me.






Iris cristata, Lisa Tompkins
Iris cristata (photo Lisa Tompkins)


Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata This cheerful little spreading, groundcover produces proportionally, large blue-violet flowers in spring.  The blossoms are said to attract hummingbirds and bees. Although the bloom period is relatively short, the foliage remains attractive throughout the growing season.





Little bluestem 'Blaze.' Reiman Gardens, Ames. 23 Sept 2003. Photo: Anna Gardner
Little Bluestem grass (photo courtesy Iowa State Extension)


Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium – A short, erect bunch grass that is blue-green when it emerges in spring and turns a rich reddish-gold in fall. It maintains both its form and color through winter.  Little Bluestem is a host plant for a number of small butterflies, provides food and cover for birds and nesting material for native bees.  Its small stature and bunching habit make it a good companion for native wildflowers like coneflower, goldenrod and aster.  Use it to create a pocket prairie or for erosion control on a sunny embankment.  The birds, bees and butterflies will thank you for it and it looks great in winter.  But, it does reseed so Neat-o-philes might want to choose Pink Muhleygrass, instead.



Bignonia capreaolata, Lisa Tompkins
Bignonia capreaolata (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata – A cousin to the more rambunctious Trumpetvine (Campsis radicans – great for hummingbirds but needs careful placement), Crossvine produces a profusion of orange/red/gold tubular flowers in spring, reblooms intermittently in summer and into fall.  The dark green foliage takes on a dark reddish hue in winter.  Provides early nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.









Lonicera sempervirens, Lisa Tompkins
Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens – Sadly, we are much less familiar with our native honeysuckle than its invading Asian cousin (Lonicera japonica).  Trumpet Honeysuckle’s bright red, non-fragrant tubular flowers occur in spring, providing nectar in time for the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from their southern overwintering sites.  It climbs by twining so plant one in a sunny spot where you can enjoy the color and visiting hummingbirds.  Choose the species for spring color and hummingbird nectar or a selection like ‘Major Wheeler’  for  longer, recurring bloom.








Oakleaf hydrangea, Sikes Dwarf , Lisa Timpkins)
Oakleaf hydrangea, Sikes Dwarf (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia – One of two hydrangeas native to the Southeast, Oakleaf Hydrangea’s heat tolerance and long ornamental period make it a favorite of mine.  Its creamy white, panicle blooms open in late spring, fading to pink as they fade.  The blooms’ showy outer bracts conceal masses of tiny, fertile flowers which leave them buzzing with visiting pollinators.  Its large, lobed leaves remain green throughout the summer and then turn burgundy/red in fall.  I like to use groupings of a dwarf selection like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Sikes Dwarf’ as a much needed break from the usual sea of evergreen in foundation plantings.  Deer, who unfortunately like them as much as I do, are less likely to find them there.



American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana
American Beautyberry, Callicarpa Americana (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana – Most beautyberries being sold are the smaller leaved, smaller berried Asian varieties.  The (much) larger leaves of American Beautyberry turn a golden yellow in fall contrasting with its tightly clustered, brilliant purple berries.  This is one showy plant in fall before the birds find the berries.  And, it’s very adaptable to a range of sun and moisture conditions.  The deer don’t seem to bother it so use it at the edge of a woods or natural area or in a mixed border.  The berries are said to make a delicious jelly while its leaves contain compounds that repel mosquitos.




American Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus
American Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus (photo courtesy Lisa Tompkins)


American Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus (aka Grancy Graybeard) –  A true Southern Belle of a tree that balances toughness with delicate beauty.  This small, multi-trunked tree rarely exceeds 20’ x 20’ making it suitable for smaller properties or mixed borders.  Its green, elongated leaves are slow to emerge in spring.  But, when it blooms, watch out!  The creamy white, strap-like petals appear as an ethereal haze.  The blooms last for a several weeks and are lightly fragrant.  Although the male trees are showier in bloom, the females produce fruit, attractive dark blue drupes, in summer.  Plant in part-sun to part shade and enjoy.



So many wonderful native plants to choose from! Thanks go to Lisa Tompkins from the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society for putting this list together!

Submitted by Lisa Tompkins, Chair, Southern Piedmont Chapter, North Carolina Native Plant Society

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