Indiana Native Plants for Landscaping [with Pictures]
Indiana is home to over 1,700 species of native plants, but only a few of these species have been documented in scientific literature. These plants, which Indiana has in abundance, deserve to be showcased and celebrated for their beauty. The following is a list of native plants that are beautiful, stately, and make great additions for landscaping.
Indiana Native Trees
Tulip Tree (Liriodendron Tulipifera)
The tulip tree was designated as the Indiana state tree in 1931. The Tulip Tree is a member of the magnolia family found in various habitats, including fields and forests. Its leaves are three to seven inches long with light green lobes that can grow up to 8 inches wide. The Tulip Tree sheds its leaves during the winter months. Flowers typically appear in early spring and summer. The flowers are very showy, usually pink in color and 8 to 10 inches across. The Tulip tree is an evergreen that can grow over 80 feet tall and has a short lifespan of about 100 years.
Native Americans used the tulip tree for many different uses; these include providing food and medicine, sheltering animals from the cold, and making beautiful tools and baskets.
The Tulip Tree was a source of food for Native Americans, who picked the leaves in spring or during the fall when they dropped. They ate the green parts of the leaves and sucked them. They mashed this with cornmeal to make a sort of gruel. In some areas, they roasted the leaves on coals, making another form of gruel. The thick sap from these white stems was used to make syrup, as were other parts of these trees.
Red Maple (Acer Rubrum)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is a small tree native to Indiana and has been cultivated by humans for centuries because of its beautiful red-colored bark. Maple is one of the few species that can be grown from seed and cuttings. The trees are used to make syrup and sugar, furniture, cash crops such as maple sugar candy, maple syrup, and maple products such as beer.
Maple trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter and then typically regrow new leaves in the spring. They have a single trunk with a rounded profile and alternate compound leaves. At maturity, they grow just over 30-40 feet tall with a diameter of around six inches. The seeds are dispersed by wind, but most fall to the ground and do not germinate until well after the snow melts. The mature trees typically start flowering when they are between ten and thirteen years old.
Scarlet Oak (Quercus Coccinea)
A scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is a tree that grows in Indiana. It is mostly seen in the southern part of the state. The leaves are oval-shaped and turn red when they mature. Another characteristic of this tree is its acorns, which have a rough outer husk and a long tapering kernel. The scarlet oak was named after its reddish color, just like other species in the genus “Coccinea.”
There are only six other species in the “Quercus coccinea,” or scarlet oak group. The scarlet oak is very similar to the red oak, which has a more triangular leaf. The two acorns are also similar, but the scarlet oak has smaller cups surrounding it, and its acorn doesn’t have as much of a pointy cap on top. Some people confuse this tree with white oak because they look very similar.
American Elm (Ulmus Americana)
The American Elm (Ulmus americana) is one of the most iconic trees in Indiana. It is one of the most popular tree species planted in urban landscape settings due to its beautiful fall colors, among other characteristics. This tree has been around for a long time, with many species variations. There are white, yellow, and purple varieties known to occur in Indiana, as well as several hybrid varieties developed by plant breeders.
It is also an important tree because it can withstand cold winters without dying completely and sprouts back up later in springtime to continue its life cycle. It is a very hardy tree that can withstand strong winds and some flooding, but certain factors will not allow it to survive. The most important factor is water as if the soil it is planted in does not drain well enough, it will kill this tree in a matter of days.
The American Elm has been known to live for many years and can grow to be very tall, sometimes reaching heights of 150 feet or more. Its trunk has grayish brown bark that becomes flaky as the tree ages.
Red Oak (Quercus Rubra)
Red oak, Quercus rubra, is one of Indiana’s most common forest trees. It is a member of the beech family, Fagaceae, and has a straight trunk with rather stout branches. Red oaks grow at moderate rates to 60-80 ft and 3-4 ft dbh heights. The juvenile leaves are light greenish-yellow, while mature leaves are dark yellowish green above with glossy bluish red undersides. The fruit is a small acorn, 2-3 inches long. Red oak acorns can be found from August-November. They are eaten by white-tailed deer, turkey, Virginia opossum, and squirrels, and squirrels may eat the acorns if they are small or the fresh catkins are still on them. Adult oaks have no economic value except for their shade in the summer.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar Styraciflua)
Sweetgum is a large, deciduous tree that grows two to six feet in diameter. It has smooth bark with ascending scales and a gnarled root system.
The leaves are alternate, 5 inches long and 4 inches wide. The leaves are leathery, with parallel veins notched on the back near the leaf tip or at the margin. The underside of the leaflet is green, with dark brown veins running from near each midvein to the edge of the leaflet. The top surface of the leaflet has a waxy coating. The buds are ovoid with four overlapping scales. The twigs are hairless and have small, hard, winged buds.
Sweetgum flowers in March and April. The male flowers resemble a catkin, three to five inches long with numerous small, yellow-green flower clusters one-eighth inch in diameter.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus Florida)
The Flowering Dogwood is a deciduous tree with small white flowers appearing in clusters that tend to be less dense in low, humid areas. The bark of this tree is coarse and dark brown. The leaves are alternate and do not have a stipule. They generally only grow for about three months.
Many people think this plant is part of the Cornus genus, but it isn’t, as its leaves are not divided into leaflets on each side like those of the Cornus genus plants. The Cornus genus has paired leaflets on each side of the leaf. The Flowering Dogwood is a neat plant because it grows over 20 feet tall in some areas, such as on the northern side of the Ohio River, and can grow up to 50 feet tall in southern Indiana.
Honeylocust (Gleditsia Triacanthos)
Honeylocust is a tree native to the Indiana States and also growing in eastern North American forests. One of its qualities as an ornamental plant is that it produces exceptionally large amounts of pollen and honeydew, which contributes to the growth and distribution of many other organisms such as insects, birds, and mammals. Honeylocust has a hard, dense wood resistant to insects and decay. The tree also produces a heavy, strong fiber which was used by several Native American tribes. This fiber is called the bast and was used in making cordage and cloth.
Pin Oak (Quercus Palustris)
Pin Oak, or Pin Oak, is a deciduous tree of the eastern United States that grows in wet areas. It is found primarily in the southern portions of Indiana and Illinois. The acorns are eaten by turkey, probably contributing to its widespread distribution throughout the area.
The tree’s leaves are alternately arranged on the twigs. They are in opposite pairs, each pair on a single stem. The species grows in wet areas like wetlands and bottomlands along streams and rivers. It thrives where other trees do not. Its roots in the wet soil rather than anchoring itself to a substrate. One of the reasons for this is that the roots are short, allowing them to find firm soil easily. The bark is a light brown to gray color. It has large cavities in the tree that serve as insulators, and these cavities are covered with mosses and other foliage.
Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)
Canadian Hemlock is a member of the Pine Family. It can grow up to 65 feet tall, with a space between the branches of about 1 foot. The needles are 2-6″ long and dark green, with lines of white on the underside. The bark is dark brown and deeply furrowed on older specimens. Canadian Hemlock grows at an average rate but is susceptible to windthrow damage during storms or ice storms with heavy snowfall.
Canadian Hemlock is usually found in moist, well-drained sites but can tolerate a variety of soils. In addition, the needles have a foul odor when crushed, and the tree is poisonous to grazing animals because of the presence of hydrogen cyanide. Native Americans used Canadian Hemlock wood as a source of fuel, construction material, and tools. It was also used medicinally.
Indiana Native Shrubs
American Cranberry (Viburnum Trilobum)
American cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is a native shrub in Indiana. This plant is often found in moist areas such as stream banks, river banks, and damp forested areas.
The leaves are heart-shaped, with three lobes that extend from the rounded base of the leaf. Flowers appear in midsummer with purple and pink flowers, changing to white berries with red streaks on their surfaces when they mature. It is a deciduous shrub that grows to 15 feet in height. The leaves die off in the winter, leaving the white fruit on the branches.
Black Chokeberry (Aronia Melanocarpa)
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a deciduous shrub with small, black edible berries that are pawpaw-berry hybrids. Native to North America, the plant can be found in the state of Indiana.
The black chokeberry shrub is characterized by its small, oval-shaped leaves that start out as silver when they emerge in the spring and eventually turn dark green as the weather warms. The plant gets its name because its stems are covered in small hairs, giving them a black appearance.
This plants flowers in late spring and summer, so it’s at the height of flowering during July and August.
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus Aromatica)
Rhus aromatica, commonly known as fragrant sumac, is a shrub native to the northwestern United States and eastern Canada. The bush can reach two to three feet heights and has smooth or jagged-toothed leaves. It flowers from late April until the frost kills it. The plant’s flowers are greenish white with yellow honey-scented petals that give off a strong smell when crushed. The berries are ripe in July when they turn purple or reddish-purple. They resemble the berries of the staghorn sumac.
Fragrant sumac grows in woods and swamps. It does best in sandy, well-drained soil and requires a lot of water to grow. The shrub can survive flooding from heavy rains and droughts after a fire or logging. After a fire, it is a good plant for erosion control because it helps new plants grow by stabilizing the soil around it.
Grey Dogwood (Cornus Racemosa)
Cornus racemosa can be found in almost any state of the Union, but it is most often seen growing along septic, drainage, and irrigation ditches. It also grows in moist, shady places at the edge of woods and alongside small watercourses.
The gray dogwood provides essential food sources for several woodland species that are important for Indiana’s biodiversity.
There are two subspecies of gray dogwood found in Indiana. One is Cornus racemosa subsp. integrifolia, also known as the northern and southern Gray’s dogwood, grows along scattered roads and in open woods in southeastern Indiana. The other subspecies, Cornus racemosa subsp, is common to Indiana and has been found growing in open woods near small watercourses on the Indiana Dunes region of Lake Michigan.
Nannyberry (Viburnum Lentago)
Nannyberry is a native, deciduous shrub that grows in Indiana. The leaves change to an orange color in the fall, and there is a nice fruit for birds to eat during the cold winter months. Nannyberries are not just beautiful but provide a food source for critters and cover from predators.
The nannyberry also produces white or pink flowers, followed by fruit that ripens from July to September. The fruits of the nannyberry are blue-black when ripened and taste like an acidic blueberry. The flowers are white to pink in color but turn red before they fall off.
The nannyberry shrub grows up to 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It likes a lot of sunlight and can grow in poor, dry soil. Nannyberries need partial shade for the summer heat in southern Indiana.
Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)
These shrubs grow throughout Indiana, but there is a concentration along the Ohio River. It is an herbaceous perennial plant with an erect or decumbent growth habit up to 1.5 meters or 6 feet tall and 8 inches wide, with alternate, simple leaves arranged on opposite sides of each stem, usually without stipules. A common name for this plant is Sambucus, which means “resembles elderberry” in Latin.
This native shrub is best known as a decorative or food plant. Sambucus can be used as a rootstock for other plants like blooming dogwood and crab-apple trees. It is also a medicine. Sambucus can be used for sore throat, colds, fever, and other symptoms. It is also used to treat warts, eczema, and rheumatism. Sambucus also is used for cough medicine. The young leaves are also edible. They are good to eat fresh, but they can be dried and stored for later use. Sambucus fruits are white or pale yellow berries that ripen later in summer on the underside of the leaves.
Ninebark (Physocarpus Opulifolius)
Ninebark is a native shrub in Indiana. It has green, oval leaves, and berries that turn orange in the fall. The leaves are hairy and sticky to the touch, unlike most other native plants, which are smooth. Ninebark grows mostly on woodland edges or locations where the soil is moist with good drainage. Ninebark can be found in southwest Indiana near Martinsville, New Harmony, and Rockport State Park down to Bloomington and Columbus. It can also be found along the Wabash River in Indiana and Illinois.
Ninebark can grow from 3 to 15 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. It is generally found in areas of mostly limestone with plenty of moisture. Ninebark can tolerate dry or dry periods. In the summer and early fall, it is almost completely covered with green, oval leaves that are either smooth or hairy, depending on the variety.
Indiana Native Perennials
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Hirta)
Black-eyed Susan is a perennial flowering plant native to the United States. It grows between 2 and 3 feet tall, with leaves that are either needle-like or lance-shaped. The flowers are 5 to 8 inches, with 5 dark purple or black petals around a bright yellow center. It is usually found in open meadows and prairies near streams or along roadsides and hedgerows.
Black-eyed Susan has been used medicinally since the 1600s. Native Americans recognized that black-eyed Susans were a cure for snake bites, so they used them to treat rattlesnake bites. The leaves are applied externally to treat rashes and itchiness. The seeds of the plant have been used as an ingredient for syrup or ground into a powder and mixed with water into a drink (drink).
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis)
Cardinal Flower has showy flowers of large yellow, orange, or white petals with a ring of red surrounding the flower’s center. This plant is usually found in wet places but can also grow in dry areas.
The cardinal flower grows from creeping rhizomes that have long leaves close to the ground and large flowers that face upward from several inflorescences at flowering time. The plant has alternately arranged leaves that are long and narrow. The flowers are fragrant with the prominent fragrance of anise or basil.
The plants bloom from midsummer till early fall. It is abundant in moist woodlands, wet meadows, roadsides, and marshes in eastern North America and Europe. The cardinal flower grows in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, swamps, pond edges, and bottomland forests.
Hollyhock (Alcea Rosea)
The Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is a plant that can be found in the wild. It is a clump-forming perennial with delicate flowers on spikes, which appear in spring and summer. Its common name references its clusters of tiny white flowers, which look like they were made from pieces of holly berries. The species has been grown as ornamental plants for centuries and has been naturalized in many places around Indiana state.
The genus Alcea is a group of about 400 species of flowering plants in the family Malvaceae. The plants are found in most warm temperate regions around Indiana state. They are widespread, growing as perennials and being grown as ornamentals by some farmers who plant them around haystacks to protect them from frost damage.
Turtlehead (Chelone Glabra)
The turtlehead is a perennial native to Indiana, growing up to 3 feet tall. Turtleheads grow best in part shade and moist, rich soil with a pH between 7.0 and 8.5, making them ideal for grounds or bog gardens.
A fungus on the leaves will cause the plant to turn yellow and die back. As the turtlehead dies, it leaves small corms with many tiny red spores from which new plants will sprout in fall or winter. The corms are often found under rocks, logs, etc., where they will root themselves in and grow into new plants. The turtlehead can be used as a ground cover for part shade to full-sun areas. It is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Angustifolia)
The purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) is a perennial herb with erect stems that reach heights between 3 and 5 feet. Purple coneflower has flowers that can grow up to 12 inches wide and are usually bluish-purple in color. The plant prefers to live in well-drained soil, though it can also grow successfully in dry, poor soil. Leaves are lance-shaped and arranged in opposite pairs, and the stems branch off from the center of the plant. Purple coneflower is a late spring bloomer that enjoys full sun. The flowers are also very attractive to bees and butterflies.
The Native Americans used the purple coneflower to treat diseases such as arthritis and fever. These plants are commonly used in commercial landscaping and as ground cover in home gardens. In addition to their beauty, they also serve a variety of purposes. Purple coneflower provides a habitat for bees and other pollinators that help support plants with long life cycles like sunflowers and squash, which require seeds to be dispersed after blooming.
Blazing Star (Liatris Spicata)
A blazing star is a perennial that can be found in Indiana. Blooming throughout the summer months, it is native to Eastern North America and the Great Lakes Region. Growing up to 43 inches high, the dense blazing star has 5 inches wide flat leaves with an intense fragrance while blooming. The flowers are seven petals sticking out from a bright yellow cone-shaped calyx. Blooming from July to August, its small flowers mix beautifully with other native perennials or wildflowers in the garden.
Blazing star is a perennial that naturally occurs in Indiana. Found in rich, moist forests, it is a herbaceous plant with erect stems that are smooth and hairless and can grow up to 43 inches tall. It has five-lobed leaves that can be 5 inches wide and 1 inch long. The leaves are green with a thin texture and an intense fragrance when crushed. The flowers have seven white petals that rise up from a bright yellow cone-shaped calyx, which is shallowly divided into five teeth.
Columbine (Aquilegia Vulgaris)
Columbine is a genus of about 10-14 species of perennial climbing plants, which grow in the wild among other places in North America, Europe, and western Asia. The flowers are long-stalked, with two large upper petals leaning forward and two smaller lower petals pointing up. They bloom from late spring to mid-summer and grow best in moist soil in open locations with some shade. Columbines are popular with beekeepers, as the flowers attract bees and butterflies but not nectar-eating birds.
The common columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is a low-growing perennial that grows wild in moist meadows and along streams in much of Indiana. It is also cultivated as an ornamental plant. This species has many different subspecies, which may be native to different countries. The plant is characterized by flowers with a reddish-orange color and five petals. The flowers grow on leafless stalks that are usually longer than the plant’s leaves. It is an annual or biennial plant of the Buttercup family Primulaceae. The common columbine is also known by other names, such as the talisman flower, granny’s bonnet, red rocket, carpenter’s belt, crown flower, or dove of peace.