The Benefits of Native Plants

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The Benefits of Native Plants

As a plant lover and a gardener, I grow a wide range of plants.

And while I think there are many great native plants that are garden worthy, I’m glad I don’t have to limit myself to growing “native plants.”

It’s hard to imagine my garden without daffodils or hellebores. I take a more practical approach and try to select the right plant for the right place. I also do some research before I plant. Some plants may be weedy in one region of the country or under certain conditions and well behaved in other situations. That said, there are some plants that I do not recommend. These nonnative plants tend to be weedy, aggressive and potentially invasive. The good news is that there are viable alternatives for many of these exotics. I realize that in some cases, you may not have planted these assertive individuals, but moved into a home where they were already well established in the landscape. The more information we have about the plants in our gardens the better prepared we are to prevent problems.  

I spoke to a group of Master Gardeners last fall in Georgia and one of the other speakers on the program told a story about birds being poisoned (and dying) from eating too many Nandina domestica , also known as heavenly bamboo, berries. Along with southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, Nandina is a staple of the Southern landscape. I inherited a number of weedy plants in my current garden when we purchased our current home about seven years ago. I recently cut the berries off of my Nandina and plan to dig up and replace it with a group of deciduous hollies, Ilex verticillata, also known as winterberry. If you plant hollies, remember to plant one male pollinator of the same type so that the females will bear fruit. If you love Nandina I recommend growing one of the sterile forms.    

Below is a list of exotic plants with a native plant alternative listed for each one.


Native Plant Alternative

Norway maple, Acer platanoides, Large shade tree

Red Maple, Acer rubrum

Chinese Holly, Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii'

’foster holly, Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’ - Not as prickly and makes a great - hedge or evergreen screen

Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda

American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens - Less aggressive, one drawback, it is not very fragrant


Autumn Olive, Elaegnus umbellata -  very invasive

Smooth withered, Viburnum nudum- deciduous but handsome foliage in  winter, spring and fall, showy fruits

Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense

Florida leucothoe Agarista populifolia, Elegant evergreen, great screen


Japanese privet, Ligustrum japonicum

Small anise tree, Illicium parviflorum- Great for a hedge, tolerates sun or shade

Leyland cypress, x Cupressocyparis leylandii

Eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana

Hybrid evergreen azaleas, Rhododendron cvs.

Native azaleas, Rhododendron spp.  there are so many native azaleas  they are pest and disease resistant and
many have fragrant flowers many are deciduous but you can plant them against an evergreen back drop.


These are just a few native plants to consider next time you select an ornamental for your garden.  For more information contact your local native plant society.