What is a native plant?

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) defines a native plant as one that occurred within Pennsylvania before European settlement. Native plants include ferns; grasses and sedges; annual, biennial and perennial wildflowers; trees, shrubs and vines that covered “Penn’s Woods” when English, Dutch, German and Swedish settlers brought their agricultural plants and associated weeds to the colony. More than 2,100 plant species make up the native botanical heritage of Pennsylvania.

Why should I care about native plants?

Native plants create beautiful landscapes that provide native wildlife with the diverse habitat and food they need to survive.  Plants are a foundation of local ecosystems.  As such they maintain the unique natural heritage of a region.  Pennsylvania’s native plants give a sense place that is recognized and enjoyed by citizens and visitors from all over the world.  Native plants form the basis of the food chains that support bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds inhabiting our backyards.  Supporting our favorite birds requires more than seed-feeders for the adults.  Bluebirds, chickadees, warblers – in fact over 90 percent of birds that share our suburban neighborhoods raise their babies on a diet of insects, especially caterpillars.  By providing plant food for the butterfly and moth caterpillars, we help adult birds feed the next generation of songsters.

Goldenrods, asters, sunflowers, bonesets and other plant support hundreds of species of butterflies and moths that have co-adapted to feed on their leaves, pollen and nectar here in the eastern United States.  These insects in turn support birds and other wildlife in the ecological network.

Because Pennsylvania’s native plants are adapted to grow here, they thrive with less maintenance thereby reducing the labor and expenses of watering and fertilizing.

As wildlands are developed, paved or planted to biologically impoverished grass lawns, our community and residential gardens become increasingly important to sustaining the natural beauty and wildlife that define the region.

Go native with these six basics:

1. Protect native plant communities and minimize habitat destruction
The easiest, least expensive, and best way to conserve Pennsylvania plant heritage is to protect existing native plant communities from further disturbance. If disturbance is necessary, strive for minimum impact on habitat.

2. Landscape with native plants
In many neighborhoods, wild native plant communities have been seriously impaired. The landscaping of parks, yards, streets and campuses then provides the foundation of the local ecosystem. Well-chosen native plants can perform beautifully in these landscapes. The DCNR-Bureau of Forestry recommends hardy and adaptable native plants which flourish in a wide variety of conditions and have a better chance of success in gardens. These plant species grow abundantly throughout the state. For a short list of recommended native plants easily purchased, see table below.

3. Learn more about native plants
Learn what plants are native in your area. Many field guides and online resources can help you get started. Days afield in Pennsylvania’s parks and wildlands getting to know the wildflowers are both delightful and educational.

4. Buy nursery-propagated native plants
Many retail nurseries and mail-order catalogs

Deciduous Shrubs and Trees

Botanical Name Common Name Botanical Name Common Name Botanical Name Common Name
Acer rubrum Red maple Fothergilla gardenii Dwarf fothergilla Physocarpus opulifolius Ninebark
Acer saccharum Sugar maple Fothergilla major Witch-alder Pinus strobus Eastern white pine
Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush buckeye Franklinia alatamaha Franklin tree Potentilla fruticosa Shrubby cinquefoil
Amelanchier canadensis Serviceberry Gaylussacia dumosa Dwarf huckleberry Prunus maritima Beach plum
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Bearberry Hamamelis vernalis Witch-hazel Quercus bicolor Swamp white oak
Aristolochia macrophylla Dutchman’s pipe Hamanelis virginiana Common Witch-hazel Quercus rubra Red oak
Aronia arbutifolia Chokeberry Hydrangea arborescens Smooth hydrangea Rhododendron maximum Rhododendron
Asimina triloba Pawpaw Hydrangea quercifolia Oakleaf hydrangea Rhus aromatica Fragrant sumac
Azalea periclymenoides Pinxterbloom azalea Hypericum kalmianum Kalm’s St. John’s wort Rosa palustris Swamp rose
Azalea viscosum Swamp azalea Ilex glabra Inkberry Rosa regosa Regosa rose
Betula nigra River birch Ilex verticillata Winterberry Rosa virginiana Virginia Rose
Calycanthus floridus Carolina allspice Itea virginica Virginia sweetspire Salix discolor Pussy willow
Campsis radicans Trumpet vine Juniperus horizontalis Creeping juniper Sambucus canadensis American black elderberry
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey tea Juniperus virginiana Red cedar Spiraea tomentosum Steeplebush
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush Kalmia angustifolia Sheep laurel Taxodium distichum Bald cypress
Cercis canadensis Eastern redbud Kalmia latifolia Mountain laurel Vaccinium angustifolium Lowbush blueberry
Chamaecyparis thyoides White cypress Leucothoe axillaris Leucothoe Vaccinium corymbosum Highbush blueberry
Chamaedaphne calyculata Leatherleaf Lindera benzoin Spice bush Vaccinium macrocarpon Cranberry
Chionanthus virginicus Fringe tree Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet honeysuckle Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood viburnum
Clethra alnifolia Sweet pepperbush Lonicera ‘Major Wheeler’ Honeysuckle Viburnum nudum Smooth witherod
Comptonia peregrina Sweet fern Magnolia virginiana Sweet bay magnolia Viburnum trilobum Cranberry bush
Cornus amomum Dogwood Mitchella repens Partridge berry Viburnum prunifolium Blackhaw viburnum
Cornus canadensis Bunchberry Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry Wisteria frutescens American wisteria
Cornus florida Flowering dogwood Nyssa sylvatica Black gum Wisteria macrostachya Wisteria
Cornus racemosa Gray dogwood Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood Yucca filamentosa Adam’s needle
Cornus serecia Red twig dogwood Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny spurge Zenobia ‘Woodlander Blue’ Dusty zenobia
Diervilla lonicera Bush honeysuckle Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper


Botanical Name Common Name Botanical Name Common Name Botanical Name Common Name
Anemone canadensis Windflower Fern – Osmundastrum cinnamomeum Cinnamon Fern Penstemon digitalis Beardtongue
Aquilegia canadensis Columbine Fern – Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern Phlox divaricata Wild sweet William
Aruncus dioicus Goat’s beard Gentiana clausa Bottle gentian Phlox paniculata Garden phlox
Asarum canadensis Wild ginger Geranium maculatum Wild geranium Phlox stolonifera Creeping phlox
Asclepias incarnata Swamp milkweed Grass – Carex appalachica Appalachian sedge Phlox subulata Moss phlox
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed Grass – Carex pennsylvania Sedge Physostegia virginianum Obedient plant
Aster divaricatus White wood aster Grass – Chasmanthium latifolium Indian woodoats Polemonium reptans Jacob’s ladder
Aster laevis Smooth aster Grass – Deschampsia flexuosa Crinkled hair grass Polygonatum biflorum Solomon’s seal
Aster novi-anglii New England Aster Grass – Panicum virgatum Switch grass Potentilla tridentata Solomon’s seal
Baptisia australis Blue false indigo Grass – Schizachyrium scoparium Little bluestem Rudbeckia fulgida & triloba Black eyed Susan & Brown eyed Susan
Caltha palustris Marsh marigold Grass – sporobolus heterolepis Prairie dropseed Scutellaria Skullcap
Chelone glabra White turtlehead Heliopsis helianthoides Oxeye sunflower Sedum nevii Southern Stonecrop
Chelone lyonii Pink turtlehead Helenium flexuosum ‘Tiny Dancer’ Purple-headed sneezeweed Sedum ternatum Three-leaved stonecrop
Chrysogonum virginianum Golden knee Heuchera villosa Hairy alum root Senecio aureus Golden ragwort
Cimicifuga ramosa Bugbane Hibiscus moscheutos Hardy hibiscus Sysirinchium angustifolium Blue-eyed grass
Coreopsis rosea Tickseed Iris cristata Dwarf crested iris Solidago rugosa Rough goldenrod
Coreopsis verticillata Threadleaf coreopsis Iris versicolor Blue flag Spigelia marilandica Indian pink
dicentra eximia Bleeding heart Liatris spicata Blazing star Stylophorum diphyllum Celandine poppy
Echinacea purpurea Purple coneflower Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal flower Thermopsis villosa Carolina lupine
Eupatorium dubium Joe Pye weed Lobelia ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ Cardinal flower Tiarella cordifolia Foam flower
Eupatorium rugosum Snakeroot Lobelia siphilitica blue cardinal flower Verbena stricta Hoary vervain
Fern – Athyrium filix-femina Lady fern Lupinus perennis Wild lupine Vernonia lettermannii Iron Weed
Fern – Blechnum spicant Deer fern Mertensia virginica Virginia bluebells Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s root
Fern – Dennstaedtia punctilobula Hay-scented fern Monarda didyma Bee balm Viola labradorica Labrador violet
Fern – Dryopteris Japanese shield fern Monarda fistulosa Wild bergamot Viola pedata Bird’s foot violet
Fern – Matteuccia struthiopteris Ostrich fern Myosotis sylvatica Woodland forget-me-not Waldsteinia fragarioides Barren strawberry