High Value Generalist Plants for Every Garden: Full Sun, Moist to Wet

Meadows in Virginia are primarily successional communities. That is, some disturbance event removes or suppresses trees and forest cover, and various assemblages of dense herbaceous vegetation emerge. Absent any recurring disturbance, eventually early-successional pioneer trees and shrubs (species like Red Cedar, Virginia Pine, Black Locust, and Sweetgum are common examples) would close meadows back up into forests. Historically, meadows would have been managed by burning. Now, the primary means is mowing. In any case, limiting the ability of fast-growing trees to close a meadow back up into a thicket and eventually forest is a necessary part of meadow management.

 

There is little publicly available high-fidelity data for successional communities, so we are drawing primarily from our own experience working with and seed collecting in meadows with this list. We have listed species that are, in our experience, reasonably common and good choices for establishment into full-sun plantings that mimic wild meadows occurring in moist to permanently wet areas. Because this list applies to a diverse set of moisture conditions, keep in mind that some species here would prefer periodic or even permanent inundation while others can grade into mesic conditions.


Like drier meadows, expect moist to wet meadows to be dominated by graminoids, with a tendency towards sedges and rushes to be dominant in the wettest habitats. Compared to dry meadows, wet meadows are often taller with common forbs easily reaching 6’ or, in some cases, even up to 10’. Many of these taller forbs prefer edge habitat with adjacent floodplain or non-alluvial wetland forests.

 

While you will need to manage woody succession to maintain a meadow, including some trees and shrubs can be beneficial. Including understory trees and shrubs along a forested edge can help establish a diverse ecotone. And in areas where erosion is a concern, adding in some canopy tree species can help stabilize soil and increase canopy intercept of rainwater.

 

For more help with plant selection, you can return to our Compendium here.

 

Graminoids

  • Carex crinita (Fringed Sedge)

  • Carex frankii (Frank’s Sedge)

  • Carex intumescens (Spreading Sedge)

  • Carex lurida (Lurid Sedge)

  • Carex swanii (Swan’s Sedge)

  • Coleataenia anceps (Beaked Panic Grass) –very drought tolerant (and occasionally a major constituent in dry meadows too). C. anceps spread rapidly and produces short rhizomes.

  • Coleataenia stipitata (Redtop Panic Grass) – more generally confined to wet meadows.

  • Dichanthelium clandestinum (Deertongue Grass) – the biggest and most robust of our native Dichantheliums is a common site in wet meadows. An excellent choice for areas that flood and then dry out whether shady or sunny.

  • Dichanthelium scoparium (Velvet Panicgrass)

  • Elymus virginicus (Virginia Wildrye)

  • Juncus canadensis (Canada Rush)

  • Juncus effusus (Soft Rush) – less drought tolerant than the sedges, and generally not as dominant until you get into standing water. Great for shallow ponds.

  • Scirpus georgianus (Georgia Bulrush)

  • Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

 

Forbs

  • Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) – not as aggressive as common milkweed, but nonetheless just as critical to Monarch populations.

  • Chamaecrista fasiculata (Common Partridge Pea)

  • Doellingeria umbellata (Flat-topped White Aster) – a tall common, white-flowered aster of moist to wet meadows.

  • Erigeron philadelphicus (Robin’s Plantain)

  • Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)

  • Eupatorium pubescens (Hairy Thoroughwort)

  • Euthamia graminifolia (Grass-leaved Goldenrod) – this robust drought-tolerant goldenrod can be found occasionally in drier meadows but thrives in moist to wet meadows

  • Eutrochium fistulosum (Hollow-stem Joe Pye Weed) – more typical of moist to wet woodland edges but populations can certainly occur in full-sun areas. Attracts various large butterfly adults like tiger swallowtails and monarchs.

  • Helenium autumnale (Common Sneezeweed)

  • Helenium flexuosum (Southern Sneezeweed)

  • Helianthus angustifolius (Narrow-leaved Sunflower)

  • Helianthus giganteus (Giant Sunflower)

  • Hibiscus moschuetos (Swamp Rose Mallow) – tall and robust with white to pink flowers. Prefers standing water in marshes, swamps, and pond edges, but can adapt to wet rain gardens or ditches too.

  • Iris versicolor (Large Blue Flag)

  • Lespedeza capitata (Round-headed Bush-clover)

  • Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)

  • Lobelia siphilitca (Great Blue Lobelia)

  • Ludwigia alternifolia (Seedbox)

  • Mimulus ringens (Allegheny Monkeyflower)

  • Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

  • Oenothera fruticosa (Sundrops)

  • Penstemon digitalis (Foxglove beardtongue)

  • Potentilla simplex (Common Cinquefoil)

  • Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint) – as common as this forb is in dry meadows, it occurs commonly in wet meadows too

  • Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow Beauty)

  • Rudbeckia laciniata (Green-headed Coneflower) – far taller than our other native Rudbeckia spp. Can occur in dense stands and is shade-tolerant enough to grade into woodland edges.

  • Saururus cernuus (Lizard’s Tail)

  • Solidago rugosa (Rough-stemmed Goldenrod)

  • Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (Calico Aster)

  • Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster)

  • Symphyotrichum racemosum (Smooth White Oldfield Aster)

  • Verbena hastata (Blue Swamp Verbena)

  • Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem)

  • Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) – a common constituent throughout our moist to wet meadows and grades into forest edges. Flowers are particularly attractive to skipper butterflies.

  • Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander) – an early-blooming forb of riparian areas and edges of wet forests and into meadows.

Successional Trees and Shrubs

  • Baccharis halimifolia (High Tide Bush) – this species was likely once confined to the outer coastal plain, but has moved farther inland following patterns of disturbance. Now it’s common in roadside ditches and other wet disturbed areas that accumulate salt. A great option for rain gardens where road salt is a concern.

  • Sambuccus canadensis (Elderberry) – a relative of the edible European elderberry. This shrub can grow densely in moist-mesic down to areas with temporary standing water. The berries are excellent forage for birds

  • Cephelanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush) – An excellent butterfly-attractor in wet areas that are either saturated or, more commonly in the wild, wet and well drained (think rocky bars in rivers).

  • Rosa palustris (Swamp Rose) – a tall-growing rhizomatous shrub with large pink flowers.