To round out my recent posts showcasing some very showy flowers native to the Northeast (and far beyond), I’m presenting 6 more here. All but one are loved by bees and butterflies … the outlier is a friend of lizards and toads, who are important and adorable, too! Read on to learn more about North America’s native beauties.
Joe Pye Weed
A fifth native flower that benefits the North American ecosystem is lesser-known: Joe Pye Weed. Native to eastern and central North America, this wildflower has a vanilla scent and attracts pollinators and butterflies. Also known as gravel root, kidney root, and trumpet weed, Joe Pye Weed is commercially available, grows up to 7 feet tall and each plant is 2-4 feet wide; it has lance shaped dark green leaves that grow up to a foot long – this is an impressive plat! An herbaceous perennial, it blooms in late summer and likes moist soil and full or partial sun.
Garden Phlox has been a summer garden mainstay since colonial times. Native to the eastern and central United States, it’s popularity isn’t mysterious – it has big blooms, long blooming times, and easy care. It attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Garden Phlox blooms from July to September, carrying flower gardens through the hottest period of the year. It comes in many colors and cultivars, can be between 1 and 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar chosen, and is also called summer phlox, tall phlox, and border phlox.
Phlox is easy to grow– the plants in my garden appear every year even though I ignore them! Plant in full to partial sun and loamy soil, mulch and water to keep it moist, and you’re done!
New England Aster
Native to the northeast, The New England Aster typically has bright purple flowers with yellow centers, but the flower color can vary, appearing in lavender, pink, and a variety of shades of purple. New England Aster are unique: they have a hairy stem and leaves that clasp the stem in a unique way, making them easy to identify.
Blooming from August to October’s first frost, asters attract butterflies and have special value to native and bumble bees. They are a nectar source and are often seen with goldenrods in native fields. Asters are between 3 and 6 feet tall, likes full sun to part shade and do well when they are divided every few years. They are drought resistant though they prefer moist soil, can be self-seeding and can grow to 5 feet.
Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Coral Bells (Heuchera) are perennials native to the United States and come in a wide variety of varieties, colors, and variegations. They send up clusters tiny bell-shaped flowers, called inflorescences, in pink, white, red, or coral from their foliage; they are a source of nectar for native bees and hummingbirds love their delicate flowers.
While these plants do make flowers they are treasured by gardeners for their foliage, which comes in a spectacular array of vivid colors. Heuchera form a leaf mound, and the flower stalks can be very tall compared to the height of the leaf mound, which range from 12-36 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide when they are mature. Heuchera are semi-evergreen in the northeast and evergreen in warmer places, versatile and easy to care for; they can be grown in the sun, shade, or partial shade, preferring some shade, and they like well-drained, rich soil. Mine did perfectly well in full sun with mulch around them, retaining their gorgeous eggplant color right up until they disappeared under the snow. To care for them: water regularly during the first year of growth, mulch them to avoid root exposure during seasonal soil shifts and cut back flower stalks in the fall.
A cousin to Coral Bells, Foam Flower is native to the United States and Canada. Also called the Heartleaf Foamflower, and Tiarella Cordifolia, these wildflowers are shade-loving. The origin of its name is fun: Tiarella from the Greek tiara, and Cordifolia from the Latin cordi, meaning heart, and folia, meaning leaf.
Foam Flower has long, flowering stems with frothy-looking, cream-colored inflorescences (flowers) that grow up to 12 inches. The frothy appearance of the flowers comes from its long, slender stamens. Mature foamflower send out runners or rhizomes, and can grow into colonies over time, but they are not invasive.
Small bees and butterflies pollinate foamflower, and in its native setting it compliments a matrix of streambank plant systems.
Our final native plant is not a bee-friendly, butterfly friendly, hummingbird friendly plant. Instead, this plant, the Maidenhair fern, which is native to the eastern United States and Canada, provides shelter for toads, lizards, and small mammals. Not everyone gets excited about toads and lizards, but I do. I think they are sweet. One time we found a little newt trapped in our basement – somehow it had gotten into the pan that our hot water heater sits in and tripped the alarm that alerts us to water in the pan. Poor little guy. I found a nice fern and dropped him off.
Which brings us back to the Maidenhair fern. Commercially available, maidenhair ferns have delicate, light green foliage and don’t like to dry out, they need to be kept moist and will thrive in shard or part shade locations. They grow between 12 and 24 inches tall, are deer resistant, and reproduce by spores, which are reproductive cells. An interesting fact about maidenhair ferns: native americans made tea from the leaves to treat cough and other respiratory conditions.