Showy flowers & more: Four native plants that look great in your garden

native perennial hibiscus
The native perennial hibiscus has showy flowers the size of a dinner plate that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Photo courtesy Prides Corner Farms

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Native plants are not only good for beneficial insects, they can be just what you need to make your garden look great.

Here are four native plants being offered by Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market, 428 Rhode Island St., Buffalo. These plants are true natives, not hybrids or cultivars, said Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager.

All four plants like sun.

See a list of Urban Roots’ native plants here. They offer about 100 different native plants throughout the season.

Showy, six-inch flowers

The native perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) adds drama to your garden with dinner-plate-sized flowers that are about six inches across. The blooms are pink and white with a red eye, Jablonski-Dopkin said. The nectar attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

New flowers open each day in rapid succession over a long July-to-September bloom period, according to Missouri Botanical Garden.

The plant gets about three feet tall. This is a good choice for wet areas and rain gardens.

Leave the stems up during the winter so beneficial insects can find homes, Jablonski-Dopkin suggested. The foliage stems are somewhat hollow, and the insects can hide in there during the winter.

New York ironweed courtesy-Prides-Corner-Farms
New York ironweed is tall but not wide with pretty purple flowers. Photo courtesy Prides Corner Farms

This is one of the last perennials to come up in spring, so you may want to mark the spot where you planted it so you don’t overlook it.

Tall–but not wide–with purple flowers

If you want to add some height to your garden, choose New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).

Jablonski-Dopkin has this plant in her own garden, and it gets about 8 feet tall. What’s interesting is that at the base it’s probably only two or three feet wide, she said. That’s nice for gardeners who want something tall, but don’t have space for a plant that is as wide as it is tall. New York ironweed doesn’t spread quickly or double in size like a lot of perennials do, so you don’t have to worry about it getting out of control.

The plant gets deep purple flowers. The leaves are deep green in summer and turn coppery yellow in autumn, which adds great color to your late-season garden, she noted.

New York ironweed is tolerant of both wet and dry conditions.

It’s a perennial and does comes back after winter, but if you planted it last year and don’t see it yet, don’t worry. It’s probably the last perennial to come up in spring, even later than the native hibiscus.

“It starts coming up around Memorial Day,” Jablonski-Dopkin said. “You think you lost it, but you haven’t.”

elderberry courtesy Prides Corner Farms
Both the flowers and berries of the elderberry shrub are edible. Photo courtesy Prides Corner Farms

While New York ironweed likes sun, hers does well in part sun.

Pretty shrub with edible flowers & berries

“The elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is wonderful because the flowers and fruit are edible– and lovely,” Jablonski-Dopkin said.

This shrub blooms in June with creamy white flowers. People use the blooms in many different culinary preparations, she said. (My grandmother dipped the flowers in a thin batter, fried them and sprinkled them with confectioners sugar.)

The berries are bluish black and can also be eaten, but you have to hurry to pick them or birds and small mammals may beat you to the harvest, she noted.

This shrub gets eight to 10 feet tall.

purple lovegrass courtesy North Creek Nurseries
Purple lovegrass starts out green, then gets this spectacular purple cloud floating above the grass. Photo courtesy North Creek Nurseries

Showy, purple grass

Purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) starts out with green leaves in a somewhat disorganized bunch, according to Missouri Botanical Garden. In summer, soft reddish-purple flowers appear in a loose inflorescence (a group of flowers and associated plant parts) forming an airy cloud that covers the grass clump.

“The flowers are crucial to many butterflies,” Jablonski-Dopkin said. “And they provide great late color. I always tell people to leave this up to add winter interest. Song birds love the seed pods.” The seed pods are a creamy yellow.

Purple lovegrass is deer resistant, though she added the reminder that if deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything.

The plant gets 18 to 24 inches high.

8 Comments on “Showy flowers & more: Four native plants that look great in your garden

  1. Hi Ken, thanks for that information. I know you are familiar with native plants in both the United States and Canada.

  2. While Hibiscus may be native to Canada, I cannot confirm if any hibiscus species is native Manitoba. However, Hibiscus moscheutos should be cold hardy to Winnipeg.

    There are numerous varieties. I tend to be more of a purist and prefer to utilize local natives,

  3. I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I absolutely love hibiscus flowers. Would these plants survive in our harsh winters?

  4. Place a pot of mint next to your hibiscus. (Don’t plant in ground as it’s invasive. J. Beetles will keep away,

  5. Hi Sue, there are lots of varieties of hibiscus and they aren’t all natives. If you don’t have the tag with the name of the variety, I’m not sure how to figure out whether what you have if a native or a hybrid.

  6. I didn’t know the hibiscus was a native – it’s very slow to show up in spring, but once the leaves emerge, it grows quickly. I usually have flowers by end of July – just in time for the Japanese beetles. In fall I cut it down to about 6-8″ so I can find it next spring and not dig it up accidentally,

  7. I love Hibiscus but so do Japanese beetles! They devour the flowers as they open and even attack the buds. I have 4 plants in different locations in my yard and the beetles find them all.

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