15 Top Native Plants of the Northeast

Add these easy-growing native plants to your garden for lots of low-maintenance color through the seasons.

Kelly D. Norris


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Wild anemone, Anemone canadensis
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Wild Anemone

    This easy-to-grow, easy-to-love plant thrives in moist soils rich in organic matter. Its large white flowers are a highlight of the spring border. A vigorous groundcover, it can happily fill in a large space within a growing season.

    Name: Anemone canadensis

    Growing Conditions: Shade to part sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall

    Zones: 3-9

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Yellow Lady's-Slipper Orchid

    This orchid is the queen of the spring garden. The stunning, slipper-shaped, yellow flowers are sure to attract attention. Note: While long-lived, yellow lady's slipper can be very slow to get established. Be patient with it!

    Name: Cypripedium parviflorum

    Growing Conditions: Part shade and moist, acidic soil

    Size: To 16 inches tall

    Zones: 3-7

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Carolina Lupine

    Native all along the Eastern seaboard, Carolina lupine is a tough plant that offers showy pea-like flowers in spring and fuzzy foliage. It's a good-sized plant that has a nice presence in the middle of the border.

    Name: Thermopsis villosa

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 4 feet tall

    Zones: 3-10

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Merrybells

    Merrybells are charming, easy-to-grow plants that offer cute, dangling yellow flowers in spring. Like many native plants, merrybells look best in mass plantings.

    Name: Uvularia grandiflora

    Growing Conditions: Shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall

    Zones: 3-9

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Virgin's Bower

    This tough plant offers multiple seasons of interest: Deliciously scented, starry white flowers cover the vine in midsummer. Then in fall, enjoy the fuzzy, tufted seed heads that look magical when they catch the evening light.

    Name: Clematis virginiana

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 8 feet tall

    Zones: 4-8

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Foamflower

    Foamflower is a perfect groundcover to meander between clumps of established hostas or ferns. Related to coral bells, foamflower sports showy white flowers in late spring and early summer. Many fine selections are available including 'Jeepers Creepers', 'Spring Symphony', and 'Sea Foam'.

    Name: Tiarella cordifolia

    Growing Conditions: Part sun to shade and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall

    Zones: 3-8

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Maidenhair Fern

    A gorgeous, non-invasive fern, maidenhair fern offers a graceful texture for shady places. It can be slow to grow so be patient; once it gets established and forms a clump, it's worth the wait.

    Name: Adiantum pedatum

    Growing Conditions: Shade and moist, humus-rich soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall

    Zones: 3-8

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Jacob's Ladder

    Native Jacob's ladder is a first-rate groundcover. A standout selection is the variegated 'Stairway to Heaven', which features pink, white, and green leaves and little blue flowers. Pair it with Canadian wild ginger, anemone, and coral bells for woodland magic.

    Name: Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven'

    Growing Conditions: Part sun, well-drained soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall

    Zones: 3-8

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Trillium

    This early spring-blooming woodland wildflower sports brilliant white flowers atop glossy green leaves. The plant will slowly form beautiful clumps over time.

    Name: Trillium grandiflorum

    Growing Conditions: Shade and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 10 inches tall

    Zones: 4-8

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Woodland Iris

    This underused iris happily grows and blooms in partial shade. Its blue-violet flowers cover the grassy clumps of foliage in late spring and make an attractive accent to rock cress (Arabis) and creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). Several varieties are available and form fast-spreading (but non-aggressive) clumps within a few seasons.

    Name: Iris setosa

    Growing Conditions: Full sun, moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 14 inches tall

    Zones: 3-6

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American Coral Bells

    Native coral bells aren't as common as their hybrid cousins, but these tough plants are perfect for the garden. Newer selections add to the beauty with attractively variegated foliage.

    Name: Heuchera americana

    Growing Conditions: Part sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall

    Zones: 4-9

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Eastern Bluestar

    We love this stalwart perennial and hope to see it used more in gardens. The tall plants sport blue, star-shaped flowers in spring. They're loved by migrating butterflies. Added bonus: These pest-free plants also have attractive yellow fall color.

    Name: Amsonia tabernaemontana

    Growing Conditions: Full sun, moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 4 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

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Wild Ginger

    An almost perfect groundcover for shady spots, wild ginger features fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves. In late May, peek under the leaves for a glimpse of the hidden burgundy flowers.

    Name: Asarum canadense

    Growing Conditions: Shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 10 inches tall

    Zones: 4-6

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Swamp milkweed

    Milkweeds are butterfly favorites and this one is no exception. Despite its common name, swamp milkweed doesn't mind average garden conditions. Showy pink flowers appear in mid-summer and attract monarch butterflies.

    Name: Asclepias incarnata

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist soil

    Size: To 4 feet tall

    Zones: 3-6

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Culver's Root

    This is a perfect perennial for the back of the border. White, pink, or blue blooms adorn tall stems in summer. It pairs beautifully with cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

    Name: Veronicastrum virginicum

    Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: 4-7

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