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When we think of plants associated with Ohio, we might think of the grand Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) or beloved (and edible!) American Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba); but these are just two of hundreds of native Ohio plants. In this post, I'll walk us through just a handful of Ohio native plants to give you a sense of the beauty, power, and accessibility of these most important natural resources. But first, what are native plants?
Put simply, plants native to Ohio are those species that have grown in the area we now call Ohio for many thousands of years. This means that the native plants we interact with today are the descendants of ancestral species that were growing in and supporting our ecosystems long before the arrival of European colonists and even Native Americans. In that huge amount of time, these species have become uniquely well-adapted to thrive in the conditions of their locations and to feed Ohio's local wildlife.
By now, most of you know that there has been an ongoing and incredible loss of animal life worldwide over the past 150 years. This is a tragedy that has affected almost every major group of wildlife, including the many bees, butterflies, birds, and other beneficial pollinators that actually allow our natural world to function. A leading driver of this crash is land mismanagement: as humans, we've spent far too long removing the plants our ecosystems need to function well and replacing them with other plants that do little or nothing to help.
By contrast, native plants are specifically adapted to provide food and shelter for many beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife, while simultaneously sequestering more carbon and cycling more nutrients back into the soil. They are also generally easy to maintain: many species of native plants can survive in poor soil and are drought tolerant and deer resistant once established. Simply by adding native plants to our perennial borders, rain gardens, cottage gardens, and other flower beds, we can directly help to repair soils and reestablish healthy habitat.
Below, I share just a handful of Ohio native perennials, and split them into three major categories: Full Sun, Partial Sun/Shade, and Full Shade. Each one of these native species will support many beneficial insects and can be found, along with other Ohio native plants, in My Home Park's pre-designed gardens for Ohio.
You may already be familiar with Bee Balm (also called Bergamot), which is an herbaceous perennial native to Ohio and many other parts of North America. Its lovely lavender flowers will attract butterflies, bees, and even hummingbirds during its mid summer bloom. Bee Balm is extremely adaptable and will thrive in most soils so long as it gets enough sun.
All goldenrods (genusSolidago)are amazing pollinator powerhouse plants and Ohio Goldenrod is no exception. Erupting in August and September in a plum of bright yellow flowers, Ohio Goldenrod joins the Asters in supporting many pollinators during late summer and early fall.
Native to almost every state east of the Rockies, Butterfly Weed is a ubiquitous and amazing native species. Butterfly Weed is happiest in yards with very low soil moisture and tons of sun. Also called Orange Milkweed, this early summer bloomer is a critical host plant for both the monarch and queen butterflies.
Happy in partial sun and full sun, Cardinal Flowers bloom an incredible deep crimson red in late summer. It's said this plant takes its name from the deep red of the Roman Catholic Cardinal's robe. A wetland plant by nature, Cardinal Flowers are happiest in rain gardens, along stream banks, and in wet meadows.
Don't let the name fool you! Sweet Joe Pye Weed is a dramatic yet well-behaved Ohio native, especially well-suited to filling out cottage gardens or perennial borders along forest margins where they will thrive in the semi-shade to full sun conditions. Sweet Joe Pye Weed is a taller plant (roughly 4-5 feet on average) with fine upturned pink flowers that will attract butterflies and other beneficial insects.
This is not your grandmother's geranium. Wild Geranium is a low growing and clump forming plant that prefers partial shade to full shade. Its lower habit combined with bright violet flowers and deep green foliage make for a an excellent ground cover, especially during its blooming period in late spring.
Blooming in an explosion of tiny, daisy like flowers, White Wood Aster brings life and energy into the shaded understory. Once its white flowers have helped to feed pollinators well into early fall, its seeds - like all herbaceous perennials in the Asters - will become a meal for winter songbirds. This is a no brainer addition to a shaded flower border.
One of the more striking shade-loving native perennials, Zig Zag Goldenrod's dark green leaves and bright yellow flowers will help to invigorate even the gloomiest shade gardens. This plant can spread through rhizomatic roots to form attractive patches. Zig Zag Goldenrod supports a huge range of pollinators and is host to the beautiful Brown Hooded Owlet Moth, whose caterpillars feed on the plant in August.
As its name suggests, Tall Bellflower boasts gorgeous blue tubular flowers on tall thin spikes - an easy way to enliven partial and full shade gardens alike. A self-sowing biennial, Tall Bellflower will attract butterflies and bees alongside hummingbirds.
Are you living in Ohio and looking for Ohio native plants? My Home Park has over 35 pre-designed gardens that bring together multiple species of Ohio native plants produced by expert, organic growers. These gardens are designed to bloom from early spring to late summer while supporting wildlife.
Check out our catalog for Ohio here.
Or, explore our offerings for other states in the Great Lakes here.