Earth Sangha Native Plant Compendium
For several years, we’ve maintained an up-to-date plant list and inventory of what species we have in stock at our Wild Plant Nursery. We hope that this has been a useful resource for both our colleagues working on ecological restoration projects and home gardeners looking to begin incorporating native plants into the landscape and everyone in-between. If you’re looking for that, you can click over there here: earthsangha.org/wpnlist.
To better refine plant selection, we're pleased to introduce our new Native Plant Compendium – an online resource that lists all the species we have in propagation at our Wild Plant and where best to plant them. For the purposes of this Compendium, that means connecting plants with their habitats in ways that mirror natural and successional plant communities. Gardeners should see this as an extension of “right plant, right place” thinking – that the sort of assemblages of plant species that arise together in nature likely yield the greatest ecological value and that, with some care, we can choose to replant and restore areas in ways that approximate these plant communities.
This is not to say that there is no room for design or aesthetics! Especially in highly visible areas, we believe that an attractive space will garner support (maybe your neighbors will want to use natives too) and stick around longer (maybe the next owner of your home keeps the garden intact). That said, we want to provide as much guidance on how our native flora arrange themselves in the wild, so when gardeners feel the need to deviate from these natural arrangements, they can do so with purpose and understanding.
Our guidance will begin in the broadest possible way as we look at some easy-to-grow, high-value generalist species that can be incorporated into nearly any landscape. From there we will look at four examples of natural plant communities (with more to come!) that represent a range of natural forests in our region, and finally we will wrap up with a full plant list that also includes our own brief notes on habitat and growing conditions.
The advice in this Compendium is based both on our first-hand experience and research from publicly available sources. Our experience is culled from over 20 years as Northern Virginia’s largest grower of local-ecotype native plants, distributing hundreds of thousands of plants across 300+ species to restoration projects across the region and working closely with ecologists across multiple agencies. We don’t just grow the plants; we also observe closely their habitats and what they grow with as we collect seed (sustainably and with permission) and monitor their habitats.
The data we have used is from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Natural Communities of Virginia program. You can find all the raw data online at (www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-communities/). We also strongly encourage you to consult other resources. Glenn Tobin, an Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, also has an excellent data-driven resource working from this data set (www.novanaturalcommunity.com). Descriptive habitat notes and the introduction on natural plant communities from the Flora of Virginia (Weakly, A.S., J.C. Ludwig, and J.F. Townsend. 2012. Bland Crowder ed.) are also excellent resources. For more information on individual species, we recommend using the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora (vaplantatlas.org). On a more regional level, the NatureServe Explorer (explorer.natureserve.org) and Wildflowers & Plant Communities of the southern Appalachian Mountains & Piedmont by Timothy P. Spira may also be useful to consult.
Of course, there’s no replacement for assessing a site in person! For restoration sites, we are always happy to do site visits, but our small staff and busy schedule make it difficult for us to meet the demand for visits to private property. Luckily, Audubon at Home (www.audubonva.org/audubon-at-home) operates a Wildlife Sanctuary certification program for homeowners, HOAs, schools, places of worship, commercial properties, and other garden spaces. You can request a visit by AAH Ambassadors – many of whom are experienced Master Naturalists or Master Gardeners – at the link above to give you recommendations about plant selection and how to manage your garden for native flora and fauna and how to achieve Wildlife Sanctuary certification. Once you have completed a site visit and have an initial plant list in hand, you can refine the list through our Compendium or a visit to our Wild Plant Nursery.
We hope that our Compendium will be a useful feature for anyone hoping to learn a bit more about our native plants. We realize that it is long and text-heavy, but we felt that it was important to include as much detail and nuance as possible. We are committed to keeping the Compendium online as a living document so we can update it to include new species, keep the taxonomy current, and include more plant communities and selection advice as we expand it.
Native Plants and Ecological Value
Native plants are the fundamental basis for ecosystem function. Outside of ecological arrangements you’re unlikely to have in and around your yard (open oceans, undersea thermal vents, isolated deep cave systems), pretty much everything depends on plants.
While many people understand the value of flowering plants to native pollinators (and indeed those are crucial relationships), the most important ecological relationship between plants and animals is herbivory. And the most critical of our herbivores are insects.
Plants, on terrestrial ecosystems, are pretty much the only game in town when it comes to turning energy from the sun into chemical energy (i.e. more plant matter) that’s useful for everything else. The primary way that all that energy moves around a food web is through insects eating the leaves and stems of plants – they are simply more efficient at turning plant biomass into animal biomass.
So critical are these insects, that many animals depend on eating insect herbivores. The vast majority of our native birds depend on insects as a food source at some point in their lifecycle. Even bird species that are specialist herbivores as adults (that eat primarily seed or berries, for example) depend on insects as efficient packages of protein and nutrition for their rapidly growing chicks. It’s of course not just birds. Amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and a whole host of other invertebrates also depend on insect herbivores for sustenance. Our gardens would become sad, sterile, and empty places without these little guys munching on our plants.
If the goal is to foster a wide range of wildlife that can successfully complete their lifecycles in our gardens, we must protect and create meaningful habitat and stop doing things that disrupt that habitat.
Getting a diverse selection of native plants back into a landscape is crucial to fostering wildlife. Native plants provide food for wildlife ranging from their leaves, dry seeds, fruits and berries, and nuts. Habitat needs are also met by native plants whether it’s nesting habitat for birds in native understory shrubs or leaf litter for wood frogs and salamanders, or anything in between. However, most of our ubiquitous non-natives we see over and over in gardens simply can’t host even generalist insects. Without these insects, nesting birds struggle to successfully raise young. Even the non-native plants that appear attractive to wildlife at first, like Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) or Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) generally function as ecological traps – luring wildlife in but providing little real support. In these examples, while adult butterflies can feed on Butterfly Bush, the eggs that they lay on will starve to death since the caterpillars can’t eat it. In the case of Heavenly Bamboo, the fruit is of low ecological value and some heavy feeders, like Waxwings, can even be injured or die from high levels of cyanide-metabolizing compounds in the seeds.
"If the goal is to foster a wide range of wildlife that can successfully complete their lifecycles in our gardens, we must protect and create meaningful habitat and stop doing things that disrupt that habitat."
The relationships between plants and the insects that feed on them are not fungible, at least not on timescales that matter to us. These relationships are examples are coevolution – a delicate dance between the plants’ defenses for herbivory and the insects ability to overcome them – that can take thousands of years to develop. For evidence you can see, go outside and try and find leaves that have evidence of being nibbled on, on both native and non-native species. The former almost always has something eating it – and thus providing for a functional food web – whereas most non-natives remain sterile.
As we begin to reintegrate native plants into our gardens, we should also reduce whatever disruptions to those natural relationships we are causing. This might mean forgoing mosquito spraying (most sprays are broad-spectrum and kill any insect unlucky enough to get hit), minimizing or doing away entirely with use of herbicides, rather than bagging leaves leaving them as natural mulch and fertilizer or composting on site. Luckily for the busy gardener, many of these changes that make for a more ecologically sound garden also reduce effort and expense.
"This logic, of wanting to reduce disruptions to natural systems, is why we grow only local-ecotype native plants from seed we collect locally (sustainably, and with permission)."
This logic, of wanting to reduce disruptions to natural systems, is why we grow only local-ecotype native plants from seed we collect locally (sustainably, and with permission). Research has shown that even generalist insect herbivores that feed on different species of common plants may, nonetheless, on a population level depend on a specific plant species in a given area. That is, a Luna Moth in one area may need Sweetgum while another population may require Black Cherry (see Tallamy et al. 2010). This specificity is likely the case with many herbivore/host-plant relationships. Similarly, research into plant genetic diversity has found that even dominant wind-pollinated species like warm-season meadow grass may have half a dozen or so ecotypes across a single site – and that which ecotype dominates may vary on a site-to-site basis (see Grey et al. 2014). So even species that were once thought of as broadly homogenous have large amounts of genetic diversity. And finally, research into cultivars of native plants has shown that, in general, cultivars aren’t fungible with their wild type counterparts: Most tested cultivars of native plants in one experiment attracted fewer native pollinators (see Annie White, PhD, “From Nursery to Nature”) and research into suitability of cultivars in restoration sites found, “…, nearly 25% of cultivars had floral or leaf traits that differed from wild plants in ways that may compromise their ability to support pollinators and other wildlife…” (see Kramer et al. 2019).
Now that we understand the basics of why native plants are a necessarily ingredient for an ecologically sound landscape, we just need to know which ones to grow.
How to Choose Plants for your Garden
A lot of factors go in to determining what plants you want in your garden. In a traditional garden landscape, things like height, bloom period, color, texture, and other aesthetic concerns might make up the basis of those decisions. While those are still valid concerns to have – if we want to maximize the ecological value of our plantings, we need to begin thinking more along the lines of how ecologists approach a landscape and put these ecological concerns – that is, a consideration for how animal and plant life will interact and support one another in the garden – on equal footing with our own aesthetic enjoyment.
Before you even get started planting, you might want to consider two fundamental precepts that gardeners and ecologists alike refer to: “right plant, right place” and “first, do no harm.” At its most basic level, “right plant, right place” means putting a plant in a location where the conditions will allow it to thrive. Don’t put a plant of dry forest floors into a wet field and expect good results. While this is a simple idea, if you’re new to our native flora, it can be exhausting to figure out the right conditions for everything. We hope that our list of generalist species will help!
The other basic concept, “first, do no harm,” tells us to consider the state a garden or restoration site is in already. It’s a reminder to identify plants before we remove them – maybe that ubiquitous groundcover you are removing is actually a native violet species that’s critical for early season moths that go on to feed birds in the spring – or to not alter the native soils or slope beyond what is absolutely necessary. Oftentimes, if we follow this advice, not only do we leave regenerating plant communities more intact, we also reduce the work we have to do to create a productive and attractive landscape.
Careful observation of our natural or successional areas is another valuable tool when planning our gardens, and is largely free. We’re lucky that even in a region as urbanized as the DC area, we have a great deal of parks, many of which are in reasonably good condition and can serve as reference sites for our own gardens. When you have a chance, visiting nearby parks and looking at what plants are growing there, when they bloom, how the change of the seasons drives changes to the flora, can be illuminating in understanding how our plants arrange themselves in nature. Observe, for example, that the vast majority of our forested, shady groundlayer herbaceous plant communities feature lots of open space of leaf litter. Not only is it uncommon (and usually because of invasive species) to find forests with dense uninterrupted forest floors that are green year-round, but the leaf litter is critical habitat for all manner of beneficial insects and amphibians. Notice too that almost all full-sun meadow environments are densely growing with many different species packed together even on sites with thin and dry soils. Compare these to most gardens and we find that the prevailing aesthetic is actually generally the opposite: dense shade plantings and sparse, mulch-heavy full-sun plantings.
That isn’t to say that we can’t put our thumbs on the scale and make some changes that deviate from the natural structures, but we should be aware that the more we move away from natural arrangements of plants – whether that’s in terms of “right plant, right place,” or changing density of plantings, or introducing more exotic species – we run the risk of creating a landscape that’s less accessible to the wildlife we want to protect and may be less conducive to healthy, robust plants and thus require more maintenance and upkeep.
Good Habits for Good Habitats
We can all make a few cultural changes to how we treat our gardens and landscapes that helps them foster more wildlife. Think of these tips as ways to be good neighbors to the natural world:
Remove invasives. Some garden plants pose a direct threat to natural areas through their uncontrolled spread and inability to host wildlife. Globally these are a leading cause of biodiversity loss. If you have any in your garden, form a plan to replace them.
Mow less, mow higher. Lawns generally don’t support much in the way of wildlife so reducing lawns and replacing with native plants is a huge benefit. Where you must maintain a lawn, mowing higher (3”+) reduces harm to wildlife and limits drought stress on your grass.
Lights out. Limiting outdoor light at night reduces light pollution which kills thousands of moths that get confused and circle lights rather than pollinate and lay eggs.
Leaf it alone. Let your leaves naturally breakdown in your garden or compost them on site. Raking them off impervious surfaces like your driveway prevents excess nutrient runoff to streams, but if they’re on soil they will help create habitat and healthier soil.
Spray only water. Generally, if you choose the right plants, they won’t need a lot of extra watering. They also don’t need fertilizer, and spraying herbicides and insecticides in your garden will harm wildlife and native plants.
The easiest way to proceed then, especially for the beginner to native gardening, is to “think horses, not zebras” and go with common generalist native plants over rarer species. The advantages here are both horticultural and ecological. Many of these generalist species thrive on a wide range of habitats, making it easier to put the “right plant” in the “right place” and have good results. Most of these are also unfussy and robust and will establish quickly with little extra effort on the part of the gardener. Ecologically, common species tend to foster the most wildlife. While rare plants are definitely worthy of conservation, and may have specific specialist relationships with wildlife, our most common plants serve as the backbone of our wild areas supplying food and shelter to a wide range of species. Once this is taken care of and the generalists established, you can always go back and find some niches for the rarer plants that pique your interest!
High Value Generalist Plants for Every Garden
If your garden doesn’t already have many natives, virtually anything you put in there will improve the ecological value. Whether that’s a well-established but mostly exotic garden or an area that used to be lawn, it makes it a bit easier to get started. Choosing generalist species allows you to get started and gives you a foundation to later apply a more plant community-based approach by focusing on species that occur across a wide range of natural communities. Here we’ve highlighted some easy-to-grow natives that occur across a wide range of habitats that are known to be high value to wildlife.
These lists are meant to be short to highlight good starting points rather than exhaustive lists of everything that could do well. We’ve grouped these lists in ways to make them more approachable to the home gardener; maybe you’re looking to plant a canopy tree, or have a sunny garden bed in a wet spot.
First, Do No Harm
The above section of the Compendium, on the selection of generalist native plants for gardens, has been given in the spirit of planting out new areas. That is, our assumption is that the gardener is more or less starting fresh and looking to, roughly, recreate some kind of natural habitat where little currently exists. But what if you wanted to spruce up an area where you already have some kind of forest fragment?
For these places we should think, “first, do no harm.” This is a precept we should bring to ecologically-sound gardens and landscapes, and mirrors how we and various park managers and ecologists approach restoration on public lands and in natural areas. Our ecosystems are complex and delicate, the thinking goes, so when we must work in ways that have the potential to disrupt them to some degree, we should tread lightly. When working in sensitive or well-established areas we want to be sure we have a clear path towards “ecological uplift” and can do so in a way that minimizes risks to the site.
"When working in sensitive or well-established areas we want to be sure we have a clear path towards “ecological uplift” and can do so in a way that minimizes risks to the site."
To that end, when working in forested and woodland areas where there may already be some native plants, or some kind of “ecological memory,” our advice is to slow down, remove stressors from the landscape (see “Good Habits for Good Habitats”), wait and see what regenerates, and then plant more delicately. Perhaps instead of planting in new trees, you can begin by protecting existing seedlings from deer browse with some cages. By removing invasive species degrading the site, not only will the existing flora be better able to keep itself established, but, in most cases, the control of noxious invasive plants is a necessary prerequisite to beginning to establish a more diverse set of native plants on site.
If you do want to begin by planting, we recommend planting out a buffer area – that is, extend a area on the edge of the woods and put new natives there. Not only does that increase our native cover (especially important if the area converted was lawn), but it reduces the risk of any harm to the existing area. In order to select plants for these buffers, or targeted plantings within remnant stands of forest that require replanting, you may need to begin by identifying the kind of habitat and plant community you have (see below) – and then consulting our more targeted Plant Community lists below.
Beginning to Read the Natural Landscape
As obvious as it sounds, if we want to restore or attempt to recreate something that resembles a natural landscape, we need to understand what those areas look like. To better understand those areas we can breakdown a landscape in to biotic factors (that is, living components) and abiotic (non-living) factors. In each of those groups, we may or not be able to do anything about them and that will also help steer our planting goals.
Plant identification skills will be a critical component of this kind of assessment. It’s not in the scope of this guide to teach plant identification, but high-quality field guides like the Flora of Virginia, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and/or The Sibley Guide to Trees will be useful companions. The most critical components to identify are the canopy trees. In our section on Plant Community Plant Selection, we’ve highlighted the species that are representative and diagnostic of those communities so you may want to get acquainted with those species as you begin studying plant identification skills.
When assessing the dominant plants on a site, don’t just think about a simple presence or absence but observe how common a species is and whether it’s reaching its maturity or not. A canopy tree species that is only attaining understory tree sizes could tell us a few different things about a site: perhaps conditions are poor for that species, there could be a successional shift from one forest type to another happening, or there could be some disease or pest suppressing that species.
"Topography, soils, and water (along with climate) are the major drivers of plant communities. Think about these variables and their gradients and transitions across your site: is there a slope, a stream, a transition from deep forest to forest edge?"
In addition to ID skills, observing the characteristics of the site are crucial. Topography, soils, and water (along with climate) are the major drivers of plant communities. Think about these variables and their gradients and transitions across your site: is there a slope, a stream, a transition from deep forest to forest edge? Each of those could influence how species are distributed, and what plant communities are present across a site. For example, expect the top of a slope to be drier than the bottom of a slope where it levels off so you may find moisture-loving shrubs towards the base, and a transition towards more drought-tolerant species at the top.
Just as we look at the living components with nuance, we should approach the non-living factors on a site with a similar eye for detail. Think, for example, about where the water in a wet area is coming from. Is there a flowing stream or creek (signifying the presence, perhaps, of an alluvial wetland) or is it a seep or a bog (some kind of non-alluvial wetland), or is water collecting in hard compacted soils after rains? Almost all our soils are clay-heavy, but knowing if they dry out between rains, if it’s rocky and thin or heavy and mucky will tell you more about the site.
Being able to effectively read a site takes time and experience – the more you can compare it to other parks and natural areas you’ve been to and the flora you’ve seen on those sites the more complete a picture you’ll be able to see. Don’t fret if you can’t make sense of everything! People are willing to help – in fact, as time allows, we even do house calls and consultations, but good landscape designers with experience with native plants will have a good sense of this too.
The more comfortable you get identifying the plants and see and understanding the contours of a site, the better you will become at identifying what plant communities we have and where they might be found.
What is a Plant Community anyway?
A plant community is an association of plant species that arise out of specific environments and interactions with those populations, with animals, and other components of the environment that can be distinguished from other such assemblages. That is, they are recognizable patterns of how plants arrange themselves in the wild. Plant communities can be natural (late successional to old age forests, stable prairies, marshes and various wetlands), semi-natural or successional (for example, successional meadows, old fields, and early successional forests). Where patterns are observed and repeated in similar habitat, ecologists define and delineate out specific plant communities. This is done in a scientific manner where they identify representative areas, select test plots within those areas, and identify and quantify the plant species growing in those plots.
When sampling for plant communities, ecologists refer to two variables, “cover” which is the area that a given species takes up in a test plot if viewed from above, and “constancy” which is how frequently a species occurs in test plots across a given community. Both are represented as a percentage or grouped into classes encompassing specific percentages. Taken together these metrics give us a detailed understanding
of the landscape. High cover, high constancy species are common and ubiquitous across a landscape, whereas low cover, low constancy species are rare to find and may be solitary or in small colonies when found. High cover, low constancy species may be less commonly found, but create large stands when present, and low cover, high constancy species are frequently found but diffusely spread across a site.
Each plant community is also defined by indicator species and conditions. For example, a “Coastal Plain/Piedmont Small-Stream Floodplain Forest” is defined by the dominance of Tuliptree, Spicebush, Sweetgum, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on sites with low elevations with typically acidic soils, along small streams in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont in our region.
As detailed a picture as this creates for us, it also requires us to know a fair bit about the landscape and the plants therein to identify the specific plant community on site.
Natural plant communities may intergrade with each other or with successional and semi-natural adjacent to them. For that reason, especially in highly fragmented areas, these transitional areas, or ecotones, may make up a substantial part of the landscape.
Now that you have a brief introduction to what plant communities are and how ecologists identify them. Let’s jump in to how we are presenting our plant lists in this context.
"When sampling for plant communities, ecologists refer to two variables, “cover” which is the area that a given species takes up in a test plot if viewed from above, and “constancy” which is how frequently a species occurs in test plots across a given community. Both are represented as a percentage or grouped into classes encompassing specific percentages. Taken together these metrics give us a detailed understanding of the landscape."
Selected Plant Communities and Their Major Constituents
It’s beyond the scope of our humble Compendium to cover every natural plant community you bump into in Northern Virginia – indeed, ecologists at Fairfax County Park Authority identified some four dozen or so communities that can be found in their parks alone! Luckily, just as species are grouped into genera and families, communities have hierarchical groupings too.
So, for this Compendium we decided to choose one example plant community type across four ecological classes so we can give in-depth planting guidance using hard data for an upland dry to dry-mesic forest, a low-elevation mesic forest, an alluvial wetland forest, and a non-alluvial wetland forest.
For each list, we’ve described in general terms some of the traits of the landscape you might observe and the indicator species for the community (whether we grow those or not). For the plant lists, we grouped species by layer (canopy, understory shrub and tree, and herbaceous) and given their constancy and cover, to give you a sense for how frequently and how densely you may want to plant them. For the lists themselves, we’ve only included species we grow ourselves at our Wild Plant Nursery and excluded species that occur with very low constancy (less than 10% of the time). This is both for the sake of brevity (the raw data can include hundreds of species, native and non-native) and because we grow species we believe are good targets for restoration for various reasons (see inset “Why Do We Grow These Plants?”) Note too that our definition of “high cover” extends down to 2-5% cover. We have treated that as our demarcation between “high” and “low” because that allows for indicator species to be grouped in the high setting, and in playing with the data we began to see, across multiple community types, a good division of species occurring at that cover class (in DCR’s data, this is cover class “4”). We recognize that 2% coverage is not intuitively “high” cover, but looking at the raw data there are a large proportion of species in cover class 1 and 2 (representing <0.1% to 1% coverage) and a steep drop-off beginning with cover class 4. So we feel that this is a useful way to treat the data, but recommend to anyone following the guidance that “high cover” in an ecological sense does not translate to wall-to-wall coverage in the garden!
Selected Plant Communities & Their Constituents Lists:
Our wild meadows are, for the most part, what ecologists refer to as successional or modified plant communities. That is, they don’t exist in a stable state, but emerge in response to some kind of disturbance whether that is burning, agricultural clearing, or mowing. Because of this, we don’t have the same dataset from Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation surveys to draw from. Instead, we are have used our own experience and observations from years of seed collecting and exploring local meadows in and around Fairfax County to create the two lists under the Generalist Plants list to give our recommendations on medium-moisture to dry meadows, and on moist to wet meadows. If you’re looking to begin establishing a meadow, we suggest you reference those lists even though they don’t offer the same cover and constancy data.
Matt's Annotated Plant List
Polystichum acrostichoides – Christmas Fern: A common evergreen fern of mesic to dry forest, especially on slopes.
Onoclea sensibilis – Sensitive Fern: A common fern of various wet forests, swamps, and wet forested edges.
Forbs (herbaceous plants)
Actaea racemosa – Black Cohosh: Widely and diffusely distributed through many of our forests, but most common in rocky woodlands.
Ageratina altissima – White Snakeroot: Forms colonies in a variety of forested habitats but is especially prevalent in disturbed woodland edges.
Agrimonia parviflora – Small-flowered Agrimony: Wet to moist meadows and edges of floodplain forests and other wet woodlands.
Allium cernuum – Nodding Onion: Uncommon to rare in rocky forests and outcroppings with base-rich soils.
Allium tricoccum – Wild Leeks: Uncommon to rare in base-rich and rocky forests and woodlands.
Anemone virginiana – Thimbleweed: Somewhat uncommon in dry to mesic forests and forest openings.
Angelica venenosa – Hairy Angelica: Edges of dry forests and woodlands, especially on or near compacted soils with occasional water collection
Why Do We Grow These Plants?
With limited growing space and time to collect, we can only grow so many species. We choose the species we grow at our nursery based on these major criteria:
Ecologically significant: Native plants where we know from studies or see ourselves being used by wildlife repeatedly, we know will be important components of restoration and garden landscapes.
Not too common, not too rare: The most common species frequently pop up on sites through natural regeneration, and the rarest ones can be difficult to get back into the right habitat (we do grow rare species at the request of park managers and ecologists though). “Goldilocks” plants are needed for restoration but still broadly applicable that it’s easy to find them appropriate homes.
Establish well on site: restoration sites can be challenging for a plant with little in the way of care and attention once planted. We try and focus on plants that are robust enough to make it for the long haul.
Fun and Interesting: Sometimes a plant just catches your eye – maybe it’s the subtle beauty of Nodding Onions, or the sheer tenacity of High Tide Bush – and that’s where we exercise a bit of discretion bringing them into propagation.
Antennaria plantaginifolia – Plantain-leaved Pussy Toes: A dense colonial groundcover in dry forests, forest edges, and occasionally into meadows
Apios americana – Groundnut: An herbaceous vine of floodplain forests, riparian areas, wet forest edges, and into wet meadows.
Aquilegia canadensis – Wild Columbine: Early spring forb of dry forests, especially in rockier forests in the Triassic Basin, but is more flexible in garden use
Arisaema triphyllum – Jack-in-the-Pulpit: Common throughout various wet forests and into mesic forests.
Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger: Moist to mesic forests into upland forests with rich well-drained soils.
Asclepias incarnata – Swamp Milkweed: Common in wet to moist meadows and forest edges.
Asclepias purpurascens – Purple Milkweed: Rarely found in wet meadows, edges of floodplain forests, or openings and clearings in swamps.
Asclepias syriaca – Common Milkweed: Common in robust stands thorough most dry to mesic meadows, and forest edges. Our pick as the most prolific and frequent host to Monarch Butterflies locally.
Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Weed: Widely distributed but unfortunately locally uncommon in dry to dry-mesic meadows.
Asclepias viridiflora – Green Milkweed: Dry meadows and open slopes. Once common but now less so locally.
Baptisia australis – Blue Wild Indigo: Uncommon in gravel bars and rocky stream banks. In garden contexts, tolerates moist to wet conditions in part sun conditions.
Baptisia tinctoria – Yellow Wild Indigo: Dry meadows and forests, especially in loose well-drained soils. Our most common Baptisia species by far.
Chelone glabra – White Turtlehead: Common in various wet forests, swamps, bogs, and other shaded wet habitats. Occasionally in edges of wet meadows.
Chrysopsis mariana – Maryland Goldenaster: Common in dry meadows and in acidic, open woodlands under pine or oak canopy.
Cirsium discolor – Field Thistle: A large thistle common to a wide range of moist to dry meadows. Beloved by large butterflies and goldfinches.
Cirsium pumilum – Pasture Thistle: Uncommon locally, mostly found in dry meadows in the Piedmont.
Clematis ochroleuca – Curlyheads: Uncommon in dry rocky forests and openings.
Clinopodium vulgare – Wild Basil: Widespread in various meadows and successional habitats ranging from dry to wet, especially in
disturbed areas. Less frequently in mesic to dry forests.
Clitoria mariana – Butterfly Pea: Uncommon on very well-drained or rocky soils along edges of dry forests, slopes, and openings.
Conoclinium coelestinum – Blue Mistflower: Edges of floodplain forests, swamps, and ecotones between other wet to moist forests and meadows. Forms colonies with long rhizomes, has a tendency to “migrate” around a garden.
Coreopsis tripteris – Tall Coreopsis: Variety of habitats in both wet and dry conditions in woodland edges and meadows. Especially happy in areas that seasonally get wet and then dry out.
Coreopsis verticillata – Threadleaf Coreopsis: Dry, open, and acidic woodlands and into meadows and other openings.
Cunila origanoides – Common Dittany: Dry forests, openings, and edges especially in acidic substrates or where soils are thin. Cannot tolerate excess moisture for long.
Cynoglossum virginianum – Wild Comfrey: Mesic to dry forests and slopes.
Desmodium ciliare – Hairy Small-leaf Tick-trefoil
Desmodium marilandicum – Maryland Tick-trefoil
Desmodium paniculatum – Narrow-leaf Tick-trefoil
Desmodium perplexum – Perplexing Tick-trefoil
Desmodium spp. – The Tick-trefoils
Common through a range of forests but most common in dry to dry-mesic forests. Of the ones we grow, D. marilandicum and D. ciliare display the most preference for drier habitats and D. perplexum is the most flexible from wet to dry forests. All have characteristically sticky seed pods called “loments.”
Dioscorea villosa – Wild Yam: Various forests and edges in wet to dry habitats.
Doellingeria infirma – Cornel-leaved White Aster: Dry to dry-mesic forest and edges.
Doellingeria umbellata – Flat-topped White Aster: A fairly common constituent of wet to moist meadows.
Elephantopus carolinianus: Mesic to dry-mesic forests and well-drained portions of moist forests and along forest edges. Can form dense colonies.
Erigeron philadelphicus – Philadelphia Fleabane: An early blooming, short-lived perennial of various moist to mesic meadows.
Erigeron pulchellus – Robin’s Plantain: Forms small clonal colonies in dry to mesic forests and woodlands and into openings.
Eupatorium spp. – The Bonesets and Thoroughworts
It is rare to find a meadow without some species of Eupatorium. We recommend always including one of the below in new meadow plantings. The most common and aggressive species, E. serotinum, we do not grow since it pops up of its own accord and can be aggressive on disturbed sites. The ones we have below are better options for both gardens and restoration sites.
Eupatorium hyssopifolium – Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort: Dry meadows and forest edges.
Eupatorium perfoliatum – Common Boneset: Wet meadows, pond edges, ditches, and open areas and edges of various wet forests and riparian areas.
Eupatorium pilosum – Rough Boneset: Wet to moist meadows, clearings, bogs and other open habitats.
Eupatorium pubescens – Hairy Thoroughwort: Dry forests, forest edges, and into meadows.
Eupatorium rotundifolium – Roundleaf Thoroughwort: Wet to moist forest edges and meadows. Occasionally into mesic and dry-mesic meadows and clearings.
Eupatorium sessilifolium – Upland Boneset: Dry and dry-mesic forests, edges, and meadows.
Euphorbia corollata – Flowering Spurge: Dry to dry-mesic woodlands, edges, and openings or occasionally on hummocks in more moist forests.
Eurybia divaricata – White Wood Aster: Can form dense colonies in mesic to dry forests and occasionally in well-drained areas in more moist forests.
Euthamia graminifolia – Grass-leaved Goldenrod: Mesic to wet meadows, clearings, and disturbed areas.
Eutrochium fistulosum – Hollow Joe Pye Weed: Edges of moist to wet forests and into associated meadows.
Gentiana clausa – Bottle Gentian: Uncommon in floodplain forests and swamps but does well in shaded moist areas in garden contexts.
Geum virginianum – Cream Avens: Common in mesic to dry forests, especially in rocky areas or on slopes. Also found in floodplain forests.
Geranium maculatum – Wild Geranium: Variety of forests ranging from mesic to dry to well-drained portions of moist forests, and edges.
Helenium autumnale – Common Sneezeweed: Wet meadows and various other open wet habitats.
Helenium flexuosum – Southern Sneezeweed: Wet to moist meadows and riparian areas. Less common than H. autumnale.
Helianthus angustifolius – Narrow-leaved Sunflower: Persistently wet
meadows, ditches, and bogs. Non rhizomatous, unlike other common
native Helianthus species.
Helianthus divaricatus – Woodland Sunflower: Mesic to dry forest edges,
woodlands, and openings. Can form dense colonies. Occasionally will also
form stands in dry meadows.
Helianthus giganteus – Giant Sunflower: Wet meadows and disturbed
areas and edges of wet to moist forests.
Helianthus spp. – The Sunflowers
One of the “keystone genera” identified by Dr. Doug Tallamy as particularly productive, we’re lucky to have a wide diversity of native sunflowers across a wide range of habitats. Plant rhizomatous species loosely to allow them to full in.
Heuchera americana – Alumroot: Semievergreen. Most common in rocky dry to dry-mesic forests and occasionally into mesic forests especially along slopes or well-drained areas.
Hibiscus moscheutos – Swamp Rose Mallow: Wet meadows, ponds, marshes, swamps, open areas in floodplains, ditches, and other wet open habitat.
Houstonia caerulea – Azure Bluets: Various forested to open habitats ranging from dry to wet. May be unobtrusive in some habitats given its small size.
Houstonia purpurea – Summer Bluets: Dry to dry-mesic forests, openings, and woodlands particularly where soils are thin and acidic.
Iris versicolor – Northern Blue Flag: Ponds, marshes, and other open wet habitats.
Jeffersonia diphylla – Twinleaf: Uncommon outside of specific plant communities in mesic base-rich forests.
Lespedeza capitata – Round-headed Bush-clover: Wet meadows, successional old fields, and woodland edges.
Lespedeza hirta – Hairy Bush Clover
Lespedeza procumbens – Trailing Bush Clover
Lespedeza virginica – Slender Bush Clover
Lespedeza spp. – The Bushclovers
Except for L. capitata which prefers wet habitats, the other Lespedeza species we grow are all common in dry forests, woodlands, edges, and openings. Can be great nitrogen-fixing additions to acidic areas under pine or oak canopy.
Liatris pilosa – Grass-leaved Blazing Star: Dry forest edges and into dry meadows.
Liatris spicata – Dense Blazing Star: Moist to mesic meadows and clearings. Uncommon. Local populations have dramatically less dense inflorescences than cultivated varieties or examples from elsewhere in the US.
Liatris squarrosa – Scaly Blazing Star: Dry meadows and dry forest edges. Common in the Piedmont and Triassic Basin areas in our region but rare or potentially absent in the Coastal Plain.
Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal Flower: Occasionally found in swamps and bottomland forests, more frequent in wet sunny habitats like pond edges and edges of wet forests.
Lobelia puberula – Downy Lobelia: Various forested and forest-edge habitats ranging from moist to dry.
Lobelia siphilitica – Great Blue Lobelia: Found in floodplain forests, edges, and into wet meadows.
Ludwigia alternifolia –Seedbox: Open wet areas like marshes, ponds, ditches, and other sunny wet areas.
Mertensia virginica – Bluebells: Forms dense ephemeral colonies in floodplain forests and also, less commonly, on forested slopes with rich soils
Maianthemum racemosum – Solomon’s Plume/False Solomon’s Seal: Common, diffuse constituent of a wide range of mesic to dry forests and woodlands.
Maianthemum stellatum – Starry Solomon’s Plume: Rare in rich floodplain forests and rocky bars, but can do well in shady garden areas as a Liriope replacement.
Micranthes virginiensis – Early Saxifrage: Common in a variety of dry and dry-mesic forests especially in areas with rocky soils.
Mimulus ringens – Allegheny Monkeyflower: Wet meadows and into disturbed areas and edges of forests in alluvial wetlands.
Monarda spp. – The Beebalms
These vigorous mints are favorites in sunny pollinator gardens. In the wild, M. punctata prefers dry well-drained soils and is the least rhizomatous of the bunch. M. fistulosa can be found in dry to mesic forest edges and into meadows, and the hummingbird-pollinated M. didyma (though ubiquitous in the nursery trade) is an uncommon constituent of the edges of wet and moist forests and riparian edges.
Monarda didyma – Scarlet Beebalm
Monarda fistulosa – Wild Bergamot
Monarda punctata – Spotted Beebalm
Oenothera fruticosa – Sundrops: Common in mesic to dry meadows, clearings, disturbed areas, and into dry forest edges.
Opuntia humifusa – Eastern Prickly Pear: Dry, well-drained sunny meadows often on slopes
Packera anonyma – Small’s Ragwort: A colony-forming forb of dry woodlands, edges, and into meadows.
Packera aurea – Golden Ragwort: Forms dense, expansive colonies in floodplain forests, swamps, riparian areas, and, less frequently, in upland forest slopes.
Penstemon digitalis – Foxglove Beardtongue: A wide range of meadows, sunny disturbed areas, and other open habitat ranging from wet to dry.
Penstemon hirsutus – Hairy Beardtongue: Dry forest edges and into dry meadows.
Phlox divaricata – Woodland Phlox: Floodplain forests and into mesic forests in well-drained areas, typically with rich soils. Adjusts well to more generalized shady habitat in native gardens.
Phlox paniculata – Fall Phlox: Floodplain forests, riparian areas, and into wet forest edges. Increasingly uncommon in the wild because of invasives pressure in these habitats.
Polygonatum biflorum – Solomon’s Seal: Ubiquitous through mesic to dry forests and woodlands. We typically grow the smaller and common P. biflorum var. biflorum though we occasionally grow the less common and much larger P. biflorum var. commutatum too.
Potentilla canadensis – Dwarf Cinquefoil: Dry and dry-mesic forests, edges, clearings, and meadows.
Potentilla simplex – Common Cinquefoil: Floodplain forests swamps, riparian areas and into mesic forests. Common in wet to mesic meadows, clearings, and forest edges.
Pycnanthemum incanum – Hoary Mountain-mint
Pycnanthemum muticum – Short-toothed Mountain-mint
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium – Narrow-leaved Mountain-mint
Pycnanthemum torreyi – Torrey's Mountain-mint
Pycnanthemum virginianum – Virginia Mountain-mint
Pycnanthemum spp. – The Mountain Mints
Mountain mints are common constituents of most meadows and woodland edges in our region. P. tenuifolium is far and away the most common and can inhabit a wide range of wet to dry meadows and forest edges. The more erect P. muticum prefers moist to mesic areas. The shorter P. incanum specializes in dry habitats. The state-rare P. torreyi is known only from a couple sites in the County and we are currently allocating all our plants of this species to efforts to reestablish it in conjunction with FCPA ecologists.
Rhexia virginica – Virginia Meadow Beauty: Wet meadows, pond edges, and edges of wet forests and in wet disturbed areas.
Rudbeckia spp. – The “Coneflowers”
The ubiquitous and well-known R. hirta, the black-eyed susan, is well known to gardeners and a constant presence in meadows and clearings in our region. Somewhat confusingly, other members of this genus are sometimes referred to as coneflowers, but they are not Echinaceae – an introduction from the Midwest that is not locally native. R. fulgida is another common dry to mesic meadow constituent but is uncommon in the Coastal Plain. R. laciniata is common in wet meadows, forest edges, and into floodplain forests and swamps. R. triloba is another common species of open habitats.
Rudbeckia fulgida – Orange Coneflower
Rudbeckia hirta – Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia laciniata – Green-headed Coneflower
Rudbeckia triloba – Brown-eyed Susan
Ruellia caroliniensis – Carolina Wild Petunia: Primarily of edges of mesic to dry forests and forest openings.
Sabatia angularis – Rose-pink: Well-established upland meadows, dry forests, and successional areas. Biennial.
Sagittaria latifolia – Broad-leaved Arrowhead: Ponds, seeps, persistently wet, low areas in alluvial forests, and other open wet areas.
Salvia lyrata – Lyre-leaf Sage: Common throughout mesic to dry forests, forest edges, meadows and into various disturbed areas.
Saururus cernuus – Lizard’s Tail: Floodplain forests, swamps, ponds. Especially fond of creek beds that dry up seasonally.
Scutellaria elliptica – Hairy Skullcap: Mesic to dry forests, forest edges, openings, and into meadows.
Scutellaria integrifolia – Hyssop Skullcap: Similar habitat to S. elliptica but also present in floodplain forests and other moist to wet open areas.
Scutellaria serrata – Showy Skullcap: Less common than the other two Scutellaria spp. we grow. Found in mesic forests, well-drained areas in floodplain forests primarily in the Piedmont and Triassic Basin.
Sedum ternatum – Wild Stonecrop: Floodplain forests and into mesic forests on slopes, rocky outcroppings, and steep streambanks.
Senna hebecarpa – Northern Wild Senna: Wet meadows and edges of floodplain forests, riparian areas, and streambanks.
Senna marilandica – Southern Wild Senna: Dry to mesic forest edges and openings and occasionally into wetter habitats.
Sericocarpus asteroides – Toothed White-top Aster: Dry meadows, forest edges, and into dry to dry-mesic forest interiors.
Sericocarpus linifolius – Narrow-leaf White-top Aster: Similar to S. asteroides; dry forest edges and into meadows.
Silphium asteriscus – Rosin Weed: We grow primarily S. asteriscus var. trifoliatum, but local populations appear to intergrade between varieties so there is some variability here in leaf arrangement and form. Dry to dry-mesic meadows and forest edges, especially on rocky substrates, and down into disturbed habitat and occasionally in ditches.
Sisyrinchium angustifolium – Blue-eyed Grass: Floodplain forests and up into dry-mesic forests, openings, and into meadows.
Smallanthus uvedalia – Bear’s Foot: Most abundant in floodplain and riparian forests and clearings. Can tolerate more mesic and even drier conditions. Most vigorous on sites with some disturbance.
Solidago altissima – Tall Goldenrod; Previously treated as S. canadensis, we believe most local stands represent S. altissima rather than S. canadensis
Solidago bicolor -- Silverrod
Solidago caesia – Blue-stemmed Goldenrod
Solidago erecta – Erect Goldenrod
Solidago juncea – Early Goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis – Gray Goldenrod
Solidago odora – Sweet Goldenrod
Solidago rigida – Stiff Goldenrod
Solidago rugosa – Rough-stemmed Goldenrod
Solidago spp. – The Goldenrods
You would be hard-pressed to find a meadow in our region that doesn’t have a lot of goldenrod in it. In dry to mesic meadows, S. nemoralis and S. juncea may proliferate. In mesic to wet meadows, S. rugosa and Euthamia graminifolia (formerly S. graminifolia) may dominate. S. altissima is a common find in many meadows, but because it is so tall and so robust we recommend it primarily for problem areas or larger meadows. S. odora, with it’s strong anise scent, is rare and needs well-drained, often sandy or rocky soils to thrive.
Not all goldenrods need full sun. S. erecta and S. bicolor do well on dry woodland edges. S. rugosa is common along mesic to wet forest edges, and S. caesia is common in mesic to dry forest interiors. S. rigida, though common in the trade, is state rare and we are currently supplying all our plants to FCPA for restoration purposes.
Stachys hispida – Bristly Hedgenettle: Wet meadows, riparian areas, into alluvial forest edges. Can form dense stands.
Strophostyles umbellata – Pink Wild Bean: Dry meadows, successional old fields, and edges of dry forests
Symphyotrichum spp. – The Asters
Many of these species were formerly treated as Aster spp. but the new world asters have since been moved to different genera, Symphyotrichum containing the bulk of them. These are important late-flowering species of forests, forest edges, and meadows and are especially critical to late-season bees and butterflies.
When considering asters for your restoration project or garden, also consider using some of the ecologically significant but lesser-known aster genera like Eurybia, Sericocarpus, and Doellingeria.
Symphyotrichum cordifolium – Blue Wood Aster: Mesic to dry forest interiors. Less common than Eurybia divaricata and Solidago caesia, in our experience.
Symphyotrichum dumosum – Bushy Aster: One of our small-flowered late-season white asters of meadows and old fields. Likes ditches, and areas that are seasonally wet and dry out.
Symphyotrichum ericoides – Heath Aster: Another small-flowered late-season white aster of dry meadows and forest edges.
Symphyotrichum laeve – Smooth Blue Aster: Dry forests, woodlands, forest edges, and into dry meadows. Primarily of the Piedmont (and farther west).
Symphyotrichum lanceolatum – Panicled Aster: Moist to wet meadows, and into floodplain forests, riparian areas, and other moist to wet open habitat.
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum – Calico Aster: Common throughout a wide variety of forests, forest edges, and clearings ranging from wet to dry.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – New England Aster: Wet meadows, also frequently naturalized from gardens.
Symphyotrichum patens – Late Purple Aster: Open dry woodlands, forest edges, and into dry meadows.
Symphyotrichum prenanthoides – Crooked-stem Aster: Floodplain forests, riparian areas, streambanks and into mesic forests and edges.
Symphyotrichum puniceum – Purple-stem Aster: Swamps, floodplain forests, and wet meadows.
Symphyotrichum undulatum – Wavy-leaf Aster: Dry to dry-mesic forests and forest edges.
Teucrium canadense – Canada Germander: Floodplain forests, swamps, and associated edges and into wet meadows.
Thalictrum pubescens – Tall Meadow Rue: Floodplain forests, riparian areas, wet forest edges and into wet to moist forest edges.
Tradescantia virginiana – Virginia Spiderwort: Primarily in hardpan forest communities but also occasionally in dry-mesic to mesic forests in rocky areas.
Verbena hastata – Blue Vervain: Floodplain forests, alluvial/riparian meadows, other well-drained moist forest edges.
Verbesina alternifolia – Wingstem: Floodplain forests, swamps, riparian areas, and edges of moist to wet forests and moist to wet meadows. Can form dense colonies.
Verbesina occidentalis – Yellow Crownbeard: Very similar habitat to V. alternifolia.
Vernonia glauca – Broadleaf Ironweed: Dry to dry-mesic forest and forest edges and into dry meadows. Very occasionally in mesic areas grading in with V. noveboracensis.
Vernonia noveboracensis – New York Ironweed: Edges of floodplain forests, swamps, riparian areas, and into moist to wet meadows. Often co-occuring with Eutrochium fistulosum.
Veronicastrum virginicum – Culver’s Root: Rocky areas in moist to mesic forests and forest edges.
Viola sagittata – Arrow-leaved Violet: Dry acidic forests, open woodlands, and edges.
Viola sororia – Common Blue Violet: Ubiquitous groundcover through dry-mesic to wet forests, clearings and frequently in disturbed areas.
Zizia aurea – Golden Alexander: Floodplain forests, swamps, moist to wet meadows and forest-edges. Occasionally into drier habitat or well-drained rocky areas.
Graminoids (Grasses, Rushes, Sedges)
Andropogon virginicus – Broomsedge: A common grass of dry disturbed areas, successional sites, and meadows.
Brachyelytrum erectum – Bearded Shorthusk: Mesic to dry forests especially with rocky soils, also in well-drained hummocks and slopes in floodplain forests. Can form large diffuse colonies.
Bromus pubescens: Similar habitat to Brachyelectrum erectum but less prone to forming large stands. Mesic to dry forests and well-drained areas in moist forests.
Carex blanda – Woodland Sedge: A wide variety of dry-mesic, mesic, and floodplain forests. Most common in moist forests. Can persist into meadows and forest edges.
Carex crinita – Fringed Sedge
Carex frankii – Frank’s Sedge
Carex glaucodea – Blue Sedge
Carex folliculata – Northern Long Sedge
Carex intumescens – Bladder Sedge
Carex laxiculmis – Spreading Sedge
Carex lupulina – Hop Sedge
Carex lurida – Lurid Sedge
Carex pensylvanica – Pennsylvania Sedge
Carex rosea – Rosy Sedge
Carex squarrosa – Squarrose Sedge
Carex swanii – Swan’s Sedge
Carex typhina – Cattail Sedge
Carex spp. – The Sedges
With such a wide variety of sedges, it can be hard to choose which to plant! Here when we’re talking about sedges, we’re referring sensu stricto to members of the genus Carex, though the family Cyperaceae is also referred to broadly as “sedges.”
For wet areas that require robust sedges we recommend C. crinita, C. frankii, C. intumescens, C. lupulina, C. lurida, C. squarrosa, C. typhina. All grow fairly large and can tolerate a range of moist to wet habitats including various floodplain forests, swamps, wet meadows, ditches, and wet disturbed areas.
Smaller sedges for wet areas like small streams, seeps, and into mesic forests include C. rosea and C. laxiculmis.
For dry to dry-mesic forests we recommend C. swanii and C. pensylvanica.
Chasmanthium laxum – Slender Spikegrass: Edges and interiors of floodplain forests, swamps, and into mesic forests. Can push into moist to wet meadows.
Cinna arundinacea – Sweet Wood Reed-grass: Common through floodplain forests, swamps and other moist to wet shady areas.
Coleataenia anceps – Beaked Panic Grass: A robust grass of moist to wet meadows and dry, rugged meadows and along forest edges. Forms short rhizomes.
Coleataenia stipitata – Redtop Panic Grass: A grass of wet meadows, edges of ponds, swamps, streambanks and other wet open habitats.
Danthonia spicata – Poverty Oatgrass: A specialist of dry, nutrient-poor soils. Often in acidic soils under oak or pine canopy. Also through various dry and dry-mesic forest and forest edges.
Dichanthelium clandestinum – Deertongue Grass: Various moist to wet forest and forest edges and associated meadows. Common in disturbed areas, ditches, and into upland meadows.
Dichanthelium scoparium – Velvet Panicgrass: Edges of ponds, wet disturbed habitat, edges of moist to wet forests. Does especially well in swales that are seasonally wet and dry.
Elymus glabriflorus – Southeastern Wildrye
Elymus hystrix – Bottlebrush Grass
Elymus riparius – Riverbank Wildrye
Elymus virginicus – Virginia Wildrye
Elymus spp. -- The Wildryes
Most of our native grasses are “warm season,” the Elymus spp. are “cool season” and emerge much earlier in the season. E. glabriflorus occurs in mesic to dry forest edges and into meadows. Elymus virginicus occurs on the edges of riparian and floodplain forests and into associated meadows, and occasionally into drier sites. E. hystrix prefers dry-mesic forest interiors. E. riparius is specialist of riparian areas as well as floodplain forests and occasionally into drier slopes in those areas.
Eragrostis spectabilis – Purple Lovegrass: A low-growing grass of dry-mesic to dry meadows, forest edges, and disturbed areas.
Juncus canadensis – Canada Rush: Wet open areas with periodic flooding, ditches, pond edges, etc.
Juncus effusus – Soft Rush: Common throughout a variety of wet forests, edges, ponds, ditches, etc.
Juncus tenuis – Path Rush: Various disturbed habitats, especially with soil compaction. Common in paths, gravel roads, trails, forest edges and openings and into fields and meadows.
Leersia virginica – White Cutgrass: Forms dense colonies in floodplain forests, riparian areas and more occasionally into mesic forests.
Luzula echinata – Spreading Woodrush: A variety of forested habitats ranging from dry-mesic to moist. Tends to occupy hummocks when found in wetter forests.
Luzula multiflora – Common Woodrush: Slopes and under open canopy in dry-mesic forests, woodlands, and edges.
Melica mutica – Two-flowered Melic: Mesic to dry forest interiors often with rocky substrates, floodplain forests,
Paspalum floridanum – Florida Paspalum: Paspalum leave – Field Paspalum: Both Paspalum spp. are relatively common in mesic forest edges and disturbed open areas. Both are robust, large grasses that can establish rapidly.
Schizachyrium scoparium – Little Bluestem: Dry meadows and into dry forest edges and outcrops. Perhaps somewhat less shade tolerant and less disturbance tolerant than Andropogon virginicus. Warm season.
Scirpus georgianus – Georgia Bulrush: Various wet forests and wet meadows, ponds, ditches, and disturbed habitats. In the wild locally
more common than S. atrovirens.
Sorghastrum nutans – Indian Grass: A common tall grass of dry to mesic meadows and clearings.
Tridens flavus – Purpletop Grass: A very disturbance tolerant grass of fields, meadows, median strips, ditches and other open areas.
Tripsacum dactyloides – Eastern Gammagrass: Mesic to moist fields meadows, clearings. Can form dense rhizomatous stands.
Woodies (Trees, Shrubs)
Acer rubrum – Red Maple: One of our most common trees found in pretty much every local plant community in a wide variety of habitats.
Alnus serrulata – Smooth Alder: Various wetland forests. Somewhat more common in non-alluvial wetlands than alluvial floodplains.
Amelanchier canadensis – Serviceberry: A small tree of moist to wet forests and more occasionally into dry-mesic areas.
Amorpha fruticosa – Bastard Indigo: A very fast-growing shrub of marshes and tidal areas.
Aralia spinosa – Devil’s Walking Stick: A rhizmomatous shrub of disturbed or successional forest understories and edges.
Aronia spp. – The Chokeberries.
Some gardeners may know these by their former genus, Photinia. Both A. arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa are low-growing shrubs of various wet non-alluvial forests, and more occasionally in drier forests. They also form a stable hybrid now elevated to species status, A. prunifolia (Purple Chokeberry).
Aronia arbutifolia – Red Chokeberry
Aronia melanocarpa – Black Chokeberry
Asimina triloba – Pawpaw: A rhizomatous understory tree of wet to dry-mesic forests. Most common in riparian areas, but as deer dislike the strong-smelling foliage they can spread into other habitats. Healthy stands with sufficient genetic diversity can produce large edible fruit reminiscent of other Annonaceae (Cherimoya, Guanabana, etc.).
Baccharis halimifolia – High-tide Bush: Likely an interloper into Northern Virginia from farther afield in the outer coastal plain in tidal and dune areas with oligohaline or mesohaline soils. First noted in Fairfax County in the 1950s in roadside ditches where we have collected them. Now ubiquitous along highway corridors and other moist to wet areas subject to salt pollution.
Betula nigra – River Birch: Floodplain forests and edges, stream banks, and other riparian areas both as a short canopy tree or in the understory. Grows quickly.
Carpinus caroliniana – Ironwood: A common understory tree in habitats ranging from floodplain forests and riparian areas, swamps, and into mesic and dry-mesic forested slopes. Despite it’s reputation to the contrary, it grows rapidly while young.
Carya cordiformis – Bitternut Hickory: Our fastest growing hickory. Found in a variety of habitats from dry-mesic to mesic forests and down into floodplain forests and riparian areas. Easily identifiable from its yellow buds.
Carya glabra – Sweet Pignut Hickory
Carya ovalis – Pignut Hickory: Both C. ovalis and C. glabra can be difficult to distinguish from each other, indeed they were previously treated as one species. Both occur in mesic to dry forests – often together. For this reason, while we list both in our species list, there may be some overlap.
Carya tomentosa – Mockernut Hickory: Mesic to dry forests. Notable for its large, thickly hulled nuts.
Celtis occidentalis – Common Hackberry: Floodplain forests typically in edges or successional areas with mature examples in relatively young forests. With the loss of large Elms and Green Ash in the same habitat, these along with Carya cordiformis can be good options for riparian forests. Can also be found into mesic to dry-mesic habitats.
Celtis tenuifolia – Dwarf Hackberry: Dry to dry-mesic forest edges and successional openings and clearings.
Cephalanthus occidentalis – Buttonbush: Open wetlands, ponds, generally in areas that are flooded at least part of the year. Also, in rocky areas and slopes adjacent to or in the Potomac.
Cercis canadensis – Redbud: One of our most common trees of dry to mesic forest edges, understories, and successional areas.
Ceanothus americanus – New Jersery Tea: A low-growing shrub of dry forest edges and opening and under open canopy, especially where soils are loose and well-drained.
Cornus amomum – Silky Dogwood: Moist to wet forest edges, floodplain forests, riparian areas, and into moist to wet successional areas. Cornus amomum is not susceptible to dogwood anthracnose.
Cornus florida – Flowering Dogwood: Common thorough out various mesic to dry forests and edges. While we cannot guarantee Anthracnose-resistance in wild-type specimens, we believe most remaining stands represent genetics with some resistance and find that they do better in areas with at least some direct sunlight. Growing from seed from these wild stands is, we believe, the best option to ensuring we promote local genetic diversity and the potential for natural resistance to anthracnose.
Corylus americana – Hazelnut: Found in a wide variety of forest and forest edges ranging from dry to moist. May grow quite dense in sunny areas or more tree-shaped in shade.
Diospyros virginiana – Persimmon: A tree of mesic to wet successional areas, forest edges, and more established forests ranging from wet to fairly dry. Generally dioecious (separate male and female plants) but occasionally monoecious/polygamous plants form too. As we start from seed and the plants are young, we cannot vouch for their sex and recommend planting several if you want them to yield fruit.
Euonymus americanus – Strawberry Bush: A common shrub of dry to wet forest understories. Locally, large examples are becoming more uncommon because of heavy deer browse. An excellent choice for screening and for attracting birds with its showy fruits, but may require more-or-less permanent deer protection.
Fraxinus pennsylvanica – Green Ash: A once-ubiquitous canopy tree of floodplain forests and other wet forests. Now, because of the damage from Emerald Ash Borer, exists more frequently in the understory as old-age trees succumb to insect damage. We grow this species in part so we can foster resistance in the wild populations by choosing to collect from healthy stands. Currently all our stock are promised to Fairfax County for restoration work.
Hamamelis virginiana – Witch Hazel: A wide range of dry to mesic (and occasionally moist/wet) habitats though not particularly dominant on most sites. Notable for its late winter blooms.
Hydrangea arborescens – Wild Hydrangea: Mesic to dry forested slopes, often rocky areas or well-drained slopes near streams, and more occasionally in bottomland forests wear soils are more moist. Unlike most commercially-bred Hydrangeas, typically forms few sterile flowers.
Hypericum prolificum – Shrubby St. John’s Wort: In dry meadows and forest edges, and forests especially with thin and nutrient-poor soils. Also found, but less frequent, in floodplain forests.
Hypericum hypericoides (syn. H. stragulum)– Low St. Andrew’s Cross: Very low-growing shrub of dry forests, edges, and meadows especially on acidic and thin soils. We predominantly see H. hypericoides ssp. multicaule locally, but stands of H. hypericoides spp. hypericoides may be local too.
Ilex opaca – American Holly: A common tree of well-drained floodplain forests, mesic and dry-mesic forests, edges, and occasionally into meadows. Can occupy an understory or push into a low canopy. Dioecious and, in our experience, predominantly male. Because we grow from seed and our plants are young, we generally cannot guarantee a sex.
Ilex verticillata – Winterberry Holly: Floodplain forests, swamps, bogs, pond edges, and occasionally into mesic forested areas. Dioecious, and like I. opaca, predominantly male. We generally cannot guarantee a sex but encourage people to plant multiples in order to increase odds of getting a female.
Itea virginica – Virginia Sweetspire: Swamps, floodplain forests, and other various wet forests, pond edges, and stream banks. Generally, less common than Ilex verticillata in most habitats.
Juglans cinerea – Butternut: Locally rare on various mesic rocky forested slopes and stream edges. Perhaps most frequent locally along the Potomac. Most populations have been devastated by butternut canker. Like with the ashes and flowering dogwood, our goal is to propagate these to preserve local genetics and, hopefully, foster some local resistance to these introduced pests.
Juglans nigra – Black Walnut: Floodplains, mesic forests, especially with rich soil and more occasionally into drier habitats. Secretes juglone, an allelopathic chemical, but its effects on native species, especially herbaceous species, seems to be minimal to nonexistent.
Juniperus virginiana – Red Cedar: A tree of successional old fields on mesic to dry soils and in dry rocky forests and edges. Generally shade intolerant so generally understory examples get shaded out so we recommend planting these on successional sites but not for underplanting except for very open canopy structure.
Lindera benzoin – Spicebush: A common understory component of mesic to dry-mesic forests ranging from floodplains and swamps to drier slopes. Perhaps somewhat overrepresented because deer typically don’t browse it heavily. Dioecious, but, unlike the hollies, much more even representation between male and female individuals.
Liriodendron tulipifera – Tuliptree: A dominant canopy component in mesic forests but also found into floodplain forests and swamps as well as dry-mesic forests. Grows rapidly.
Magnolia virginiana – Sweetbay Magnolia: A semi-evergreen understory tree of primarily non-alluvial wetlands, swamps, and bogs. Non-local ecotypes in the nursery trade generally represent a far southern ecotype that grows denser and retains more leaves in the winter. Our local examples tend to be more open structured and lose more leaves in the winter.
Nyssa sylvatica – Black Gum/Tupelo: A wide variety of forest types ranging from wet to dry including some of our driest forests down into bogs and riparian areas.
Ostrya virginiana – Hophornbeam: Not to be confused with “hornbeam” referring to Carpinus caroliniana. On steep slopes and various other well-drained areas in dry to dry-mesic forests.
Physocarpus opulifolius – Ninebark: Dry woodland edges and outcrops, rocky streamsides. Not particularly common in the wild but tolerates many general garden habitats well.
Pinus virginiana – Virginia Pine: Our most common pine locally of dry successional stands. Generally has limited ability to regenerate under their own shade, but can be important constituents of successional forest and edge habitat.
Platanus occidentalis – Sycamore: Floodplain forests, especially immediately along streams and rivers, alluvial forests, and occasionally into other moist to wet forests. Grows very fast and can tolerate a lot of disturbance. Drops a lot of large seed balls and sheets of bark so
generally a good option for restoration and problem areas, but other species may be better suited as specimen trees.
Prunus serotina – Black Cherry: Abundant across wet to dry forests especially in successional and disturbed habitats and along edges. Very ecologically productive between the fruit, flowers, and insect herbivores. An excellent choice for edge habitat.
Quercus alba – White Oak
Quercus bicolor – Swamp White Oak
Quercus coccinea – Scarlet Oak
Quercus falcata – Southern Red Oak
Quercus imbricaria – Shingle Oak
Quercus marilandicum – Blackjack Oak
Quercus michauxii – Swamp Chestnut Oak
Quercus montana – Chestnut Oak
Quercus palustris – Pin Oak
Quercus phellos – Willow Oak
Quercus rubra – Northern Red Oak
Quercus stellata – Post Oak
Quercus velutina – Black Oak
Quercus spp. – The Oaks
Broadly speaking, oaks are the dominant canopy trees across a wide range of late-successional to climax forested plant communities in our region. Given their extraordinary ecological value our standing recommendation is “if you can plant an oak, do it.”
Planting an oak seedling into full sun may require more after care than successional species so take the time to get the selection right, protect them from deer, and mulch appropriately and water if needed. In a restoration context, on very disturbed sites, you may want to focus on more successional species following serious disturbance in addition to oaks if post-planting care isn’t possible, as this may help protect the slower-growing oaks from excessive wind or hot droughts as faster growing early successional trees (like Juniperus virginiana or Diospyros virginiana) can help shelter the oak seedlings.
In most generalized habitat ranging from moist to dry-mesic Q. alba and Q. rubra are good candidates. In the driest forests, Q. montana tends to dominate, and into floodplain forests and swamps Q. phellos and Q. palustris are more common.
Some of our oaks we infrequently grow because they are slow growers, have constrained habitat, or are otherwise uncommon (e.g. Quercus marilandica, Q. stellata, Q. imbricaria) but we remain committed to oak conservation broadly speaking and include these niche species on our list and periodically grow them in order to restore them back to their habitats.
Oaks are in high demand for restoration work so our availability of seedlings for private property may be limited.
Rhus aromatica – Fragrant Sumac: A large shrub of dry rocky woodlands and clearings. Locally uncommon but a robust grower once established. Note that the foliage is easily confused for poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) but can be distinguished by its different growth habit, the more symmetrical shape of the leaflets, it’s red fruit, and its distinctive buds.
Rhus copallinum – Winged Sumac: Dry woodlands and various successional and disturbed habitats ranging from dry to mesic. Much less aggressive than R. glabra or R. typhina. Dioecious.
Rhus glabra – Smooth Sumac: Successional forest edges, old fields, meadows, roadsides, and other disturbed or successional areas. Spreads rapidly through rhizomes. Dioecious.
Rhus typhina – Staghorn Sumac: Similar habitat to R. glabra – various disturbed and successional forest edges. Again forms large clonal stands. Dioecious.
Rhododendron periclymenoides – Pinxterbloom Azalea: Mesic to dry acidic forested areas and down into hummocks in swamps and well-drained or rocky areas in alluvial forests. Sensitive to soil pH – in our experience a maximum of 6.5 is needed for healthy growth with more vigorous growth occurring around 6.0 and lower.
Rosa carolina – Pasture Rosa: Dry to mesic forest edges, successional clearings and openings, and roadsides.
Rosa palustris – Swamp Rose: Various swamps, marshes, pond edges, bogs. Can tolerate periodic standing water.
Salix nigra – Black Willow: A tree of streambanks, swamps, floodplains, pond edges, wet successional areas. Grows rapidly and has a tendency for twigs to breakoff – presumably an adaptation to create their own livestakes.
Sambucus canadensis – Elderberry: Moist to wet successional areas, pond edges, edges of moist to wet forests.
Sassafras albidum – Sassafras: Dry-mesic to dry forest edges and successional woodlands. Often spreading from suckers. While most often encountered as understory trees, these can and do reach canopy height given time.
Staphylea trifolia –Bladder Nut: Floodplain forests especially along sandy or rocky areas near larger streams. The largest stands locally may occur along the Potomac.
Ulmus americana – American Elm: Another imperiled species from an introduced pest (Dutch Elm Disease). Previously one of the most common species of floodplain forests, swamps, and into mesic forests and successional areas. Large old-age trees are now rare.
Viburnum spp. – The Viburnums
This genus of shrubs and small trees are a common site in local forest interiors and edges. In the wettest habitats in swamps, bogs, and other persistently wet environments you may find Viburnum nudum. In a wide range of wet to mesic habitat, Viburnum dentatum may be present. In mesic to dry forests, Viburnum acerifolium is frequent (when not extirpated from persistent deer overabundance). Viburnum prunifolium, with a more tree-like growth habitat, can be found in a wide range of forest interiors and edges ranging from wet to dry.
Viburnum acerifolium – Maple Leaf Viburnum
Viburnum dentatum – Arrowhead Viburnum
Viburnum nudum – Swamphaw Viburnum
Viburnum prunifolium – Blackhaw Viburnum
Lonicera sempervirens – Coral Honeysuckle: Also called Trumpet honeysuckle, but not to be confused with the more common and much more aggressive Campsis radicans, this vine is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds. It’s happy in most moisture regimens ranging from moist to dry but blooms most vigorously in sunny areas. This, along with Salix spp., is one of the few species we grow primarily from cuttings rather than from seed.
Menispermum canadense – Moonseed: A woody vine of riparian forests. While the flowers are not particularly showy, its dense foliage and reddish stems can create great cover for birds eating its dark berries. Becoming somewhat less common locally as invasive porcelain berry pushes it out.
Parthenocissus quinquefolia – Virginia Creeper: An extraordinarily adaptable and widely distributed vine that can be found in a wide range for forest interiors, edges, and successional areas ranging from wet to dry and shady to sunny. Can be useful in restoration contexts on challenging sites, in rocky areas, and in gardens where some kind of cover is required along building faces. The fruit attracts a wide range of birds.
Vitis aestivalis – Summer Grape
Vitis cinerea – Possum Grape
Vitis labrusca – Fox Grape
Vitis vulpine – Winter Grape
Vitis spp. – The Grapes
Our native grape vines can be difficult to identify, but all four of these species are ones we periodically grow and are common across forest edges in Northern Virginia. As grapes grow at a moderate pace and don’t aggressively twine, they’re easiest to get reestablished on forest edges rather than forest interiors even though mature grapes can be found in established forests. Distinguished from invasive Ampelopsis brevipedunculata by their exfoliating and peeling bark (porcelain berry bark splits instead) and fruit and flowers that hang downwards beneath their leaves rather than being held above it. Some species, like Vitius labrusca (the wild type of the Concord Grape) can be eaten out of hand, while others may be better left as forage for birds and other wildlife.