16 Native Year-Round Interest Plants for A Constantly Beautiful Garden

Rattlesnake Master Eryngium-Sea holly
Photo: Cynthia Haynes

Cultivate plantings that look lovely through every season. Incorporate ultra-hardy natives that keep interest running high from spring through winter to fashion perennially pleasing landscapes. Here is a look at 16 noteworthy natives worth considering for your yard and gardens.

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red chokeberry Aronia arbutifolia Brilliantissima
Denny Schrock

The deciduous shrub bears pinkish-white flowers in early spring and glossy green leaves, which turn bright red in autumn. Dense clusters of glossy, vivid red fruits ripen in late summer and persist well into winter. 'Brilliantissima' is a more-compact variety that produces lots of big, shiny fruit and high-gloss foliage that flames to flamboyant red in autumn.

Name: Aronia arbutifolia

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; average well-drained soil

Size: 6-10 feet high; 3-6 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Native Range: Eastern North America

02 of 16

River Birch

River Birch Betula nigra
Denny Schrock

The river birch is a tree for all seasons and a variety of moist planting sites. The medium-sized tree sports a rounded canopy of long diamond-shaped leaves (which turn yellow in fall) and catkinlike flowers. The trunks, which boast exfoliating reddish-brown bark atop lighter inner bark, offer fascinating texture every month of the year.

If you're short on growing space, try the cultivar 'Little King' (Fox Valley), a dwarf form that grows between 15 and 20 feet tall. 'Heritage' varieties sport cinnamon, salmon, and brown bark that peels off in expansive sheets. It's the peeling bark that makes this a standout tree for winter.

Name: Betula nigra

Growing Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist acidic soil, but tolerates other soils

Size: 40-70 feet tall; 40-60 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Native Range: Eastern United States

03 of 16

Eastern Redbud

Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis
Denny Schrock

Redbud tree branches produce bright pinkish-purple flowers in early spring, weeks before leaves appear. Reddish-purple seedpods follow, as do pretty heart-shaped leaves that shift to yellow in autumn; horizontal branches create a striking silhouette that pops against snowy vistas.

Try 'White Water' if you like trees with variegated green-and-white leaves. 'Covey' sports a weeping form with a surprising silhouette that takes center stage in the winter.

Name: Cercis canadensis

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; medium-moist, well-drained soil

Size: 20-30 feet tall; 25-35 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Native Range: North and Central America

04 of 16

Washington Hawthorn

Washington Hawthorn Crataegus phaenopyrum
Denny Schrock

The rapidly growing shade tree produces white flowers in spring and forms a compact rounded crown of dark green leaves that turn scarlet in autumn. Red berries persist through winter to feed overwintering birds and provide punches of color up high in the landscape.

Suitable for use as an ornamental tree in yards and curbsides, the Washington hawthorn also can be pruned as a hedge.

Name: Crataegus phaenopyrum

Growing Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Size: 25-30 feet high and wide

Zones: 3-8

Native Range: Southeastern United States

05 of 16

Pussy Willow

Pussy Willow
Kritsada Panichgul

This multistem shrub makes its big (and trademark) statement in late winter when it produces silky catkins. Male pussy willow shrubs generate showier silvery gray catkins; female shrubs bear smaller underwhelming greenish catkins. Blue-green leaves follow in spring and turn greenish-yellow in the fall. Plant pussy willows in moist sites where other plants might not grow.

Name: Salix discolor

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; average to wet soil

Size: 6-15 feet tall; 4-12 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Native Range: North America

06 of 16

Easy Ways to Add Native Interest Plants to Your Landscape

Learn how to incorporate natives into your existing landscape plans.

07 of 16

American Elderberry

American Elderberry Sambucus nigra
Denny Schrock

This good-looking deciduous shrub bears flat butterfly-attracting 4-inch clusters of fragrant white flowers for a month in early summer; large clusters of edible dark purple to black berries add appeal in fall and winter. Want to harvest the berries for pie- or jam-making? Plant 'Adams' and a pollinator variety, such as 'John's', for a bounteous fruit crop.

Name: Sambucus canadensis

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; medium to wet well-drained soil

Zones: 3-9

Size: 5-12 feet high and wide

Native Range: Eastern North America

08 of 16


American Beautyberry
Peter Krumhardt

Long weeping arched branches with coarse light-green leaves bear dense clusters of lavender flowers from June through August. Ornamental clusters of purple berries that circle the branches follow in fall and persist into winter. Consider massing the tall shrubs; it is thought plants produce more berries when grown in groups.

Name: Callicarpa americana

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; moist clay or sandy soil amended with organic matter

Size: 3-6 feet high and wide

Zones: 6-10

Native Range: Southeastern United States.

09 of 16


Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Denny Schrock

This distinctive upright shrub has it all: lushly colored leaves darken from bright chartreuse to burgundy; pinkish-white, nectar-rich flowers in late spring feed insects; late-season seed heads draw in birds; and noteworthy exfoliating bark easily seen on winter-bare branches and trunks. 'Center Glow' is valued for its varying colored leaves that shift in hue during the growing season.

Name: Physocarpus opulifolius

Growing Conditions: Full sun to light shade; moist to well-drained soil; tolerates sandy or clay soils

Size: 5-8 feet tall; 4-8 wide

Zones: 2-7

Native Range: Central and Eastern North America

10 of 16

Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac
Denny Schrock

This drought-tolerant shrub bears small yellow flowers in spring, followed by shiny leaves that turn fiery in late fall. Vibrant orange and red fruits persist into winter, bringing color to wintry scenes. Use the 'Gro-low' cultivar as a groundcover; it maxes out at 3 feet in height but stretches to 8 feet wide.

Name: Rhus aromatica

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; dry to medium- moist well-drained soil

Size: 2-6 feet tall; 6-10 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

Native Range: Southeastern Canada to Southern and Eastern United States

11 of 16

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Ralph Anderson

As its name implies, this easy-going shrub sports large leaves resembling an oak tree. Bushy plants produce very showy white panicle flowers that shade pink as summer ends. Leaves shift to bronze, crimson, and purple in autumn. Browning flower heads and cinnamon-hue exfoliating bark draw attention in winter.

Try 'Pee Wee', which grows only to 3-4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, in small planting sites. Fond of fetching flowers? Opt for 'Alice' or 'Snow Queen' that bear blooms up to 14 inches long.

Name: Hydrangea quercifolia

Growing Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average to medium-moist well-drained, organically rich soil

Size: 4-6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5-9

Native Range: Southeastern United States

12 of 16

Little Bluestem

standing ovation little bluestem in garden
Denny Schrock

This finely textured drought-tolerant grass has big ornamental appeal. It forms dense clumps of blue-green leaves that flame to reddish-orange in autumn and colorfully energize winter's dreariest days. Feathery silver seed heads appearing in late summer and early fall double the plant's wintertime appeal. 'Blaze' makes a pyrotechnic statement as it turns blazing red in autumn. 'The Blues' cultivar boasts especially deep-blue foliage.

Name: Schizachyrium scoparium

Growing Conditions: Full sun; average, dry to medium-moist well-drained soil

Size: 2-4 feet tall; 1-2 feet high

Zones: 3-9

Native Range: Eastern North America

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Indian Grass

Indian Grass
Dan Piassick

This upright, clumping blue-green grass is remarkable for its 6-foot stems crowned with feathery brown seed heads that persist through winter. The grass shade changes to orange-yellow in fall. 'Sioux Blue' cultivars sport metallic-blue foliage that shines in natural gardens and prairie plantings.

Name: Sorghastrum nutans

Growing Conditions: Full sun; average, dry to medium-moist well-drained soil

Size: 3-5 feet tall; 1-2 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Native Range: Eastern and Central United States

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Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern
Peter Krumhardt

Silvery fiddleheads rising from woodland floors in spring unfurl into leathery evergreen fronds forming fountain-like clumps. The plant, which remains green through winter in most areas, was named "Christmas Fern" because early settlers brought the fronds inside as holiday decorations. Plant in woodlands, shady foundations, or on steep slopes to control erosion.

Name: Polystichum acrostichoides

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade; organically rich dry to medium-moist well-drained soils

Size: 1-2 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3-9

Native Range: Eastern North America

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Eastern Purple Coneflower

Eastern Purple Coneflower
Kindra Clineff

This herbaceous drought-tolerant perennial bears rosy-pink flowers with spiky orange centers in July and August. The plant's sturdy stems with drying seed heads can be left standing to feed overwintering birds and add structure and texture to winter gardens.

'Magnus' produces blooms with petals that are held flat (rather than drooping like the species), which makes this a fine variety for bouquets. If you like your purple coneflowers white, plant white-flowering 'Cygnet White' or 'PowWow White' varieties.

Name: Echinacea purpurea

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; average, dry to medium well-drained soil

Size: 2-5 feet tall; 18-24 inches wide

Zones: 3-8

Native Range: Eastern North America

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Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master Eryngium-Sea holly
Cynthia Haynes

This architectural plant has a rosette of spiky leaves that resembles a yucca plant and produces bristly silvery blue thistle-type flowers on tall stems. The flower heads turn bronze in fall and can be left standing for winter interest and as a food source for birds. Use this cool-looking plant to add vertical structure and coarse textures to both riotous cottage gardens and formal perennial borders.

Name: Eryngium yuccifolium

Growing Conditions: Full sun; average, dry to medium well-drained soil

Size: 4-5 feet tall; 2-3 inches wide

Zones: 3-8

Native Range: United States

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