Plants Native to Virginia for Landscaping [with Pictures]
Plants are an important part of every garden and yard, but many people struggle to find plants that will survive in their climate. Experimenting with different plants can be difficult because many don’t grow well in certain climates, or may require more upkeep than others. The best way to ensure a healthy and happy garden is to invest in native plants often found growing naturally in the state you live in.
Native plants typically have fewer pest issues and are usually easy for most gardeners to care for on a regular basis. A native plant (plant that is naturally established in a region and has adapted to its natural environment) can mean the difference between surviving and thriving.
Plants typically listed under ‘native plants’ also reflect local ecosystems, which allows caretakers to know what types of soil, water and nutrients are required. Although natives have adapted to many different regions, they work best in areas with similar growing conditions.
American Sycamore/Platanus Occidentalis
The American sycamore is a tree known for its large, graceful branches. The trunk of the tree has a notably reddish-brown color. The leaves are green tinged with red and are arranged in leaflets that resemble maple leaves. Its main use is for ornamental purposes in parks and landscape design areas, or as a street or garden tree. However, it is also used to make furniture such as cabinets or even pianos. Its bark is smooth and a range of dark brown to even black. The sycamore can grow up to 125 feet tall, though it usually grows to between 70 and 100 feet tall. It usually grows to be between 40-60 feet wide. The sycamore lives as long as 150 years and has a relatively slow growth rate.
The Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is one of the most famous greenery trees in the United States. It is hardy, long-lived, and adds an extraordinary sense of beauty to any garden or city space. Its delicate white flowers with purple markings look like snowflakes when they fall from the branches during the blunt winter months. As the spring arrives, however, the tree produces a large cluster of pink-red cherries which eventually swell into small magnolias. The tree becomes much harder to find as well as it starts to bloom with these tiny flowers. For those who are lucky enough to get a glimpse of this magnolia, it appears as if everything is suspended in a sea of white clouds. It has a distinctive sweet fragrance, the interesting bark, as well as its unique evergreen leaves that are silver underneath.
White oak (Quercus alba) can produce boards with a wide range of natural colors and grain patterns, making it an attractive option for tool makers since the wood can be shaved or pit-sawn to make handles or other items. This hardwood also has a fairly straight grain pattern which is easy to sand and polish. The hardness of the wood makes it well suited for most applications like floors, cabinetry and furniture. Posts, beams and shingles from white oak are also commonly used in construction.
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is a long-lived, slow-growing tree. It prefers moist but well-drained soil. In their native habitat, loblolly pines have been known to grow up to 120 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 10 feet and live over 100 years. Loblolly pine needs full sun to grow well and is an excellent shade tree because it tolerates partial shade. It is easily transplanted and grown from seed. Loblolly pine trees are named for the large seed cones, which resemble an inverted cup or pot. The seeds are dispersed through bird and animal droppings, and hence the common name of “loblolly” pine. Loblolly pines are among the hardiest trees withstanding insect pests and disease better than many other types of pine.
The Blackgum tree is a common weed in Virginia, typically spreading in groupings. The black gum produces small green flowers on its branches followed by three to five drupes or hard fruit which turns dark brown when mature. While it benefits from full sunlight or partial shade, well-drained soil and frequent water, it can be found in locations ranging from dry grasslands to moist forests. It can also adapt to soil with high levels of acidity, and trees can be found growing in dry soil and in wet soil. It grows best in deep, well-drained soils, but can also grow on thin rocky soils and poor sandy soils.
Southern Red Oak/Spanish Oak
Southern Red Oak is one of several species in America’s most common oak family. The leaves are long and broad, with pointed ends and a very sharp serrated edge. The acorns tend to be large and heavy with thin shells. This tree is found typically on rich soils in mixed forests or as an isolated individual in a field or forest understory. A medium-sized deciduous tree, it can grow from in height and from spread. It is used to make a durable lightweight charcoal (burnt carbon), useful as a heating fuel or to produce iron.
American holly is a beautiful evergreen tree native in Virginia. It is often planted as an understory tree in deciduous forests. The earliest American settlers used it to decorate their homes and churches at Christmas-time, while its berries were made into jellies and wine. In the 1980s, American holly became a popular Christmas tree. It is often planted by homeowners to create an evergreen cottage-like atmosphere in their yards.
Red Maple, Acer Rubrum
Red maple is a deciduous tree. The leaves are round to heart-shaped, dark green above and a silvery white below because of the pale underside. It is primarily found west of major rivers. This species produces flower clusters with pink flowers that mature into bright red fruit which resembles cherries. Red maple is planted as a shade tree, for its fall color and wildlife habitat. It is best grown in deep, well-drained soils containing loam, neutral pH and moisture-retentive with a rich organic matter. It requires full to partial sun in well drained soils. Red maple is used as an ornamental tree for its fall color. The red sap of the plant can pose a problem if it contacts skin or eyes.
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a common name for the shrubs in the genus Aronia that are native to North America, with small red berries growing on the top branches. They are often planted as ornamental plants in gardens and parks. It is a deciduous shrub that prefers moist, well-drained soil, but will tolerate acidic and clay soil types. It can grow to be anywhere between 6-10 ft. tall and has a rough bark that is finely toothed when it reaches maturity. Leaves are dark green with a serrated margin and have thin white hairs on the underside of the leaves. The leaves may become yellow in the autumn, but usually remain on the shrub all year. The flowers are small and purplish-red in color and bloom from spring to summer. The fruit is a red drupe that is covered in a papery husk until ripening. After this time, they will turn blackish-brown in color.
Button willow is a shrub with graceful, slender branches and small spheres of leaves. It grows as tall as 12 feet at maturity and thrives in moist areas with full sun exposure. The flowers are followed by a fine, round seed “button” that is shiny brown when mature. Because it is so toxic to animals, the seeds contain poisonous oil that discourages predators. Oral exposure to the oils can cause vomiting, diarrhea, heart problems and general body aches when consumed or inhaled. Although information on its toxicity to humans is limited, there have been little reported problems from consuming these plants.
The Silky Dogwood is a deciduous shrub native to North America. The flowers have a white corolla with a sweet-smelling fragrance, usually in the form of an urn or cup. This plant is also known as the Punky Dogwood because the flowers can be compact or protrude from an enlarging base if they are not pollinated, creating a “punky” appearance. Silky dogwood is associated with various early American Indian tribes and is common on reservations as well as in wooded areas and along watercourses throughout much of its range. The plant is propagated by pruning the stems and can easily be found growing in hedgerows and small clearings. The scientific name of the dogwood is “Cornus amomum”. The plant has alternate simple leaves with a serrated margin. It has small yellow flowers that bloom in early to mid-spring. When in bloom, it has white petals with darker veins.
The Fetterbush is an evergreen shrub and it can grow up to 10 ft. tall if left un-pruned. They are best suited for shrub borders, the corners of your garden, or simply as a standalone in your lawn. Fetterbushes need well drained soil that does not stay wet nor too dry for long periods of time. It prefers well-drained soil in full sun. They need 2-3 hours of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Fetterbushes thrive in sandy and loamy soil, but they can also grow in clay soils or even poor soils or heavy clay. The soil should be rich and well drained but acidic should be strictly avoided as it might harm growth. It likes to grow on wet ground and so should not be planted alongside a swimming pool area.
Witch Hazel has multiple trunks. It belongs to the Hamamelideae (witch-hazel) family, with opposite, simple leaves and yellow flowers appearing in early spring. Witch hazel is being used for various medical treatments since centuries back especially in treating skin conditions like rashes and inflammations caused due to allergies or infection. It is also used in cleaning wounds and the eyes. The bark of the witch hazel shrub is used to make a dye with bleaching properties. The leaves of this shrub are used in making dyes and medicines, while small twigs and twiggy branches are chewed as a flavoring agent.
Witch Hydrangea/Hydrangea Arborescens
Witch hydrangea is a plant that few people know. It is a very popular landscaping plant that is often used in naturalistic settings such as shady areas. Though it typically has an unpleasant odor, Witch Hydrangea can offer delightful color and texture to your home’s landscape. It is a striking shrub that can grow up to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The leaves are glossy and oval in shape, growing to about 2 inches long. They have a very distinctive look, arising from the stem sideways rather than straight up like most other plants. They feature different shades of green in the leaves with white undersides that can be spotted with purple veins. The Witch Hydrangea bears clusters of white blossoms on stems along the length of the branches.
It is a deciduous shrub. It has an average height of 3 feet, with a green stem and white flowers. It can be found in hilly and woody areas, with a preference for acidic soil. Virginia Sweetspire is hardy in zones 5-9. They need a contact period of 6 hours to bloom. Unlike other plants, Virginia Sweetspire has positively charged ions on its leaves and stems, which absorb negatively charged ions that are present in the soil around it. This is why it prefers acidic soil. It has a unique flower and leaf shape. The flowers have a distinct dark brown/purple color to them. The leaves are clearly distinct from the rest of the family, having a very smooth texture and striped pattern.
Winterberry plants can be grown as an indoor plant or outside. In the winter time they will have small white berry-like flowers that bloom on the branches of winterberry plants. This is likely to happen in late December through February for most parts. Depending on frost speeds. They also tend to be used in floral arrangements inside homes during this season for decoration purposes. They can grow as tall as 12 feet if given room and conditions.
Northern spicebush/Lindera Benzoin
Northern spicebush is a deciduous shrub. It is easily identified by its distinctive peeling bark, which is gray on young stems and orange on older ones. It can grow up to 12 ft. Northern spicebush provides a home for many types of wildlife, including birds such as bluebirds and cardinals. It also provides nectar for honeybees. Northern spicebush’s fruits provide food for mammals such as white-tailed deer or opossums. Their fruits are also an important food source for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. This butterfly uses the spicebush tree as a primary host for its caterpillar stage of life.
Mountain Laurel/Kalmia Latifolia
It is a thick forming evergreen shrub with typically six to eight inches thick and spreading sideways. It will grow up to 20 feet in height with the stems that are angled outward forming a wide fan shape. The leaves have a distinctive fragrance. Its composition is both an evergreen shrub, as well as a perennial shrub. The Mountain Laurel grows in poor soils and acidic soils. It is reported to have been used as an ornamental plant, but still has its benefits for both medicinal treatment and for anti-inflammatory purposes. The common use of its leaves in traditional medicine was to relieve pain, swelling and tumors.
Southern Bayberry is a flowering shrub that thrives in areas with sandy soil. The flowers bloom from June to August and are typically white but occasionally pink. The scientific name is “Morella cerifera”. The leaves of the bayberry are used as a spice in many cuisines, most notably French cuisine. They have a cool, peppermint-like taste and make an excellent addition to hot chocolate during wintertime. It also has medicinal properties which include curing coughs and sore throats. Bayberry can be found in small quantities in nurseries, but is best collected in large quantities from the wild.
Narrow-Leaved Sunflower/Helianthus Angustifolius
Narrow-leaved sunflower is a perennial plant. It has yellow to orange flowers which are often seen in the late summer and fall. Its leaves are narrow, but lanceolate in shape and its stem is usually hairy. The Narrow-leaved sunflower, like other types of sunflowers, can grow up to eight feet tall at full growth. They can also be found on cliffs or even on roadsides. It can be found at elevations of up to 3000 feet. There are various varieties of this plant, some of them being larger than others.
Salt Marsh Mallow/Kosteletzykya Pentacarpos
It is a perennial plant that grows in salt marshes. Salt marshes are land which lies close to the water and can be covered by water for long periods of time. When the tide goes out, the remaining seawater will typically form saline mudflats. These plants typically grow in places where fresh and salt water meet. The plant features both leaves and flowers that are small in height and width, with four to five petals. The plant generally blooms from the spring time through summer. It is typically pink, white, yellow and or red in color. Salt marsh mallow can help humans by providing them with food and medicine. For it to be fully matured it can take up to five years.
Scaly Blazing Star
Scaly Blazing Star (Liatris squarrosa) is a common wildflower. This herbaceous plant is 1 – 2 ft. tall and usually grows on dry, open hillsides. Parts of this plant are sometimes used by herbalists for medicinal purposes as a diaphoretic, or to help break fevers if given together with black cohosh. Scaly Blazing Star is a biennial plant. It has several flower heads and each flower head has many yellow flowers. Each individual flower of Scaly Blazing Star produces 8 seeds. This plant will grow in any type of soil, but it needs full sun to grow properly. It can be found from June through October. The pollen from the flowers is very fine and is carried by the wind to fertilize other Scaly Blazing Star plants nearby.
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is a perennial flower known to grow on cemetery walls and graves, but more often than that, you are likely to find them growing in shady places. Their color changes from red to yellow as they age. It’s a very common plant where it can be seen growing next to roadsides or around old stones or walls.
The flowers of the cardinal flower have a rough texture to it, due to its peculiar seed. The stem is big and fleshy, which wraps around branches. The stem base has three leaves, which act as support for the plant as it grows. Its petals are beautiful, with ambiguous colors ranging from crimson red to yellow and orange hues.
Eastern Prickly-pear/Opuntia Humifusa
This prickly cactus is better known for its fruit, but is also a great addition to any orchard. Though they are easy to grow, they are not necessarily easy to maintain. They can be found in desert areas so long as there is rock or gravel nearby for them to grow into. They also do not like shade, so stay out of the woods if you want to cultivate them. These cacti like to get full sun, but not too much heat, because it burns their skin.
Summer Phlox/Phlox Paniculata
Summer Phlox is used as a companion plant to attract pollinators such as honeybees, Monarch butterflies and other bees which are needed for food crops. It can be planted in containers, borders and flowerbeds with other plants that like full sun or partial shade. Its’ flowers are usually lavender, pink and white. The plant can grow up to two six feet high and up to eight feet wide so it needs space in a garden or flowerbed. It has narrow, green leaves that are used as an ornamental plant during the summer months so it can be an attractive addition to a full garden layout during this time of year.
The common name for this flower is the coneflower. Coneflowers are usually white or yellow flowers with a single trumpet-shaped blue-green to purple flower. The scientific name for the flower is “Rudbeckia fulgida”. Early forms of this plant were used by Native Americans for food and medicine. The plant is usually found in fields or along the side of roads. It is one of the first flowers to appear in springtime. Early coneflower is a simple plant, with few leaves and numerous small clusters of flowers. The leaves are roundish and either grows opposite each other on the stem or in groups at the end of it. The flower generally grows between 2-3 ft. high.
Virginia bluebell, known scientifically as Mertensia virginica. These plants have flowers that are a bluish-lavender color. They grow best in sand or loam soil and require partial sun to full sun. This plant reproduces by seed and can spread upwards of 20 feet over time. The seeds are carried by birds and spread as well about seven miles away from the original patch of plants.
Black-eyed Susan/Rudbeckia Hirta
It is a perennial plant and it is still cultivated as an ornamental plant elsewhere. It prefers dry, sandy soil and full sun but is tolerant of a variety of soil types and conditions. It can become an invasive weed, particularly in areas with sandy soil, and is often found on roadsides and in waste areas. The root of “Rudbeckia” has been used as a medicinal plant. It was used as an herbal remedy for upset stomach or diarrhea and for muscle aches, as well as a treatment for chest pains, headaches, fevers and colds. It grows up to 4 feet in height.
Spiderworts are a type of plant that, on sunny days, produce bright spots around the edges of their leaves. They are also known as spreading plants and searchlights and they can be found in most temperate regions. The phenomenon is caused by a defense mechanism called phototropism where the plant moves its leaves or stems to try and follow the path of light. Virginia Spiderwort also uses nastic movements (instinctive reactions) to help it survive and spread. The flowers move as a reaction to light or touch and the leaves also move in response to wind.
New York Ironweed
New York ironweed mostly grows in disturbed habitats such as roadsides and urban areas. The flowers are purple-pink, blooming from July to September. Ironweed is an herbaceous perennial that typically reaches a height of 3–6 feet tall. Leaves are shiny, dark green above and paler below (glaucous). It is easily identified by the wooly white hairs on the underside of the leaves, giving them a frosted appearance. The flowers bloom in July and August, but may occasionally bloom into September. The most common color is purple-pink.
Native plants are not only beautiful, but they also bring a sense of pride, appreciation and value to the community. By choosing native plants, you will be supporting our local ecosystems and the conservation of the area.