Landscaping with Native Plants

Almost all plants provide shelter or food in some way for wildlife. However, planting native Illinois plants in your backyard habitat will deliver more benefits to you and to wildlife year after year. Native plants naturally adapt, providing shelter and food to native wildlife more consistently, even during drought or freezing conditions. You'll find that planting native flowering species will provide an abundance of nectar, whereas non-native, novelty counterparts do not. Native plants are beautiful, hardy, easier to maintain, and are beneficial to the environment. Once you have established your native habitat you will save time and money, and you'll reduce air pollution by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and water and lawn maintenance equipment.

Native Plant List

Following is a variety of native plants and shrubs suitable for almost any backyard. Not only will you discover what types of native plants you can add to your yard, you'll also learn what conditions are most suitable for each plant and whether your yard can provide for such conditions. Each plant draws in a number of wildlife, from butterflies and songbirds, to chipmunks, deer and beneficial insects







full sunFull Sun

moistDry to wet


Partial sun and shadePartial Sun and Shade






Plants for Full Sun

These plants thrive in a full day of sunshine. They'll fill your garden with color. Be sure to note each plant's requirements, as many can adapt to various soil and lighting conditions.

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)


Amorpha canescens

1 - 3'   June - August  (Purple)

A beautiful legume named after its lead-grey foliage. 6"-long spikes are covered with purple-to-orange flowers. Does well in a sandy or dry site due to deep, penetrating roots. May take up to two years for plants to fully mature.

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi)

Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardi

4 - 8'  Any Soil  September - October  (Brown)

Eye-catching tall grass flows with the wind. Delight in dancing green leaves with purplish stems. In fall, blooms are a light brown color, turning reddish bronze after the first frost. A colorful addition to your full sun garden with colorful foliage that persists all winter.

Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparius)

Little Bluestem

Andropogon scoparius

2 - 3'  Any soil   August - October  (Red/Brown)

Widely used in landscaping. This bunched grass grows in dense clusters with flowering stems. Leaf colors range from blue to green in hue and turn bright red in the fall. Stems are topped by fluffy silvery-white seed stalks. Important to birds and butterflies. Prefers dry/sandy soils, but can also grow on medium/dry soil, in full sun.

Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Marsh Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

1 - 5'   June - August  (Pink)

Branched stems support bright pink/crimson flower clusters at the tip. One of the very best food plants for Monarch butterfly larvae.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa

1 - 3'   June - August  (Orange)

A favorite among both gardeners and butterflies. Lots of bright orange blossoms in the summer are great for fresh bouquets or drying. The roots were widely used by Native Americans and colonists as a treatment to bronchial and pulmonary disorders.

Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis)

Smooth Blue Aster


Aster laevis

1 - 3'  Any soil  August - October    (Blue)

Attracts butterflies and bumblebees.

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

New England Aster

Aster novae-angliae

2 - 4'  August - October    (Purple)

Asters come out in full force when others are fading to add an autumn splash of color. Extremely hardy. Does well in our common clay soil. Butterflies love it!

Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)

Side-Oats Grama

Bouteloua curtipendula

2 - 3'  July - October    (Orange)

Very effective when planted with prairie flowers and little bluestem. When in full bloom, the flowers are bright reddish/orange and the seeds hang gracefully from the blade. Excellent for dry/sandy soils.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

New Jersey Tea

Ceanothus americanus

1 - 3'  June - August    White

The seeds made by this bush are hard, round and are stimulated by heat. You can break dormancy by pouring boiling water over seeds in a bowl, cool, then plant immediately. Hummingbirds visit to eat the tiny insects that pollinate the flowers.

Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata)

Prairie Coreopsis

Coreopsis palmata

2 - 3'  Any soil  June - July    (Yellow)

The perfect plant for your sun garden no matter your soil type. Use bright yellow summer blooms in your picnic flower arrangements! If you don't cut the flowers, birds will flock for seeds and butterflies for the nectar.

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Pale Purple Coneflower

Echinacea pallida

2 - 3'  June - July    (Lavender)

Lovely, tough, and versatile: a gardener's dream! A strong taproot supports a long-lived plant that does well in clay soil. Natives of the Northern Great Plains used this plant more than any other for burns, stings and snake bites.

Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis)

Purple Lovegrass

Eragrostis spectabilis

1 - 2'  July - October    (Pink)

A lovely grass that works well as a border or backdrop for shorter plant species. Fine-textured pink/red blooms are long-lasting. Will grow in dry soil, even sandy.

Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Rattlesnake Master

Eryngium yuccifolium

2 - 4'  Any soil  July - August   (White)

Yucca-like foliage and unusual blooms on 2-4'-tall stalks. This plant does well in clay soil, but likes limy soil best. Makes great dried flower arrangements. The name is derived from Native Americans' use of the root as an antidote to rattlesnake bites.

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

Prairie Smoke

Geum triflorum

1/2 - 1'  April - May   (Red)

Lovely booms and even more spectacular when it goes to seed! Attractive green leaves with three or six nodding reddish-purple flowers that fade to feathery silver and pink "smoky" seed heads. Native Americans used to make tea from the roots.

Path Rush (Juncus tenuis)

Path Rush

Juncus tenuis

1/2 - 1'  May - June   (Green)

This plant gets its name from its ability to grow successfully on pathways. Greenish-brown blooms come. Prefers full sun, but will grow well in partial shade also.

Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)

Prairie Blazing Star

Liatris pycnostachya

1 - 4'  Any soil  July - August    (Purple)

Dramatic 1-4' spikes covered with dozens of purple blooms. Flourishes in any soil condition and great for butterflies, birds and bees. Blooms hold their color well even when dried.

Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm) (Monarda fistulosa)

Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm)

Monarda fistulosa

2 - 4'  July - September   (Lavender)

From the mint family. Attracts bees, birds and butterflies. Very fragrant. Once used in tea to serve as a balm for nerve and stomach ailments. The oil from the leaves was used to cure respiratory problems. Perfect for fresh and dried bouquets.

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

Switch Grass


Panicum virgatum

3 - 6'  Any soil  August - September   (Pink)

As pretty as it is useful! Grows in any soil. Clouds of soft pink blooms in August-September eventually to white. In fall, seed heads turn golden and the foliage persists all winter. Makes excellent winter and early spring wildlife cover.

Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)

Wild Quinine

Parthenium integrifolium

2 - 4'  Any soil  July - August    (White)

Once common to black-soil prairies, this plant is now found in only a few undisturbed prairie refuges and home gardens. Clusters of pure white flowers bloom for a month or longer in the middle of summer. Seed heads left are highly aromatic when crushed. Grows best in fertile, well-drained soils. Tea made from Wild Quinine was used to treat fevers and there was a brief commercial trade for it during WWI.

Purple Prairie Clover (Petalostemum (Dalea) purpureum)

Purple Prairie Clover

Petalostemum (Dalea) purpureum

1 - 3'  July - September    (Purple)

Grows in moist/dry (but well-drained) clay soil. As part of the legume family, this plant is self-fertilizing - it naturally adds nitrogen to the soil.

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)

Prairie Phlox

Phlox pilosa

1/2 - 2'  Any soil  May - July    (Pink)

Clusters of showy pink blooms attract butterflies as well as gardeners. Fine downy foliage packs a lot of color during the long bloom season. Grows in virtually any soil, even does well in rock gardens.

False Dragonhead / Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)

False Dragonhead / Obedient Plant

Physostegia virginiana

2 - 4'  August - September   (Pink)

Spikes of blooms resemble snapdragons. The "Obedient plant" name comes from the way a bloom will "stick" in the direction it is turned. Scientists suggest that this happens in nature to protect the pollinating bees and insects from storm winds.

Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Potentilla fruticosa

3'  Any soil  June - September   (Yellow)

A great shrub that grows up to 3' tall and spreads horizontally about 3' wide. It sports gray, needle-shaped leaves and long-lasting bright yellow blooms. Shedding brown bark adds extra interest.

Grey-headed Coneflower  (Ratibida pinnata)

Grey-headed Coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

2 - 5'  Any soil  July - September    (Yellow)

Excellent for clay soils and necessary for any garden! Yellow blooms flower in profusion all summer long. Unique brown bullet-shaped flowers sport seed heads that are sharply aromatic when crushed.

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)

Compass Plant

Silphium laciniatum

3 - 10'  June - August   (Yellow)

With its great height and large multiple yellow blooms, it'll brighten your day! The leaves are large, green and deeply grooved to give it a graceful look. Not only will you enjoy this plant but the goldfinches will also be by in the summer to check out a new food source and perching stalk.

Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)

Showy Goldenrod

Solidago speciosa

2 - 6'  July - October   (Yellow)

If you like butterflies you'll love this! Long-lasting blooms provide an important late-season nectar source. Does not, in fact, cause hayfever. This plant is pollinated by insects, not wind, thus it does not release a lot of allergy-producing pollen into the air.

Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)


Sorghastrum nutans

3 - 6'  Any soil  August - September   (Yellow)

A beautiful tufted tall grass with flowering spikelets of an almost metallic golden sheen. Plant it behind shorter grasses and wildflower species to serve as a dramatic background. This species is very important to tallgrass prairies and is relished by livestock.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Prairie Dropseed

Sporobolus heterolepis

2 - 3'  Any soil  August - September   (Red)

Perfect as a border with its fountain of emerald green leaves, turning red/orange in the fall. Flowering stalks project 2-3' in late summer. The flower heads have a pungent, waxy aroma and produce small ball-like seeds from which Native Americans made tasty and nutritious flour.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)



Tradescantia ohiensis

1 - 3'  Any soil  May - August   (Blue)

Blooms open first thing in the morning and close tight by early afternoon, leaving only its graceful foliage. In August the plants have set to seed and virtually disappear to make room for other summer flowers.

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)


Vernonia fasciculata

3 - 6'  July - September   (Purple)

This clay-buster plant thrives in moist/medium soil. Will break up clay with its roots. Neon purple flower heads appear in a dense cluster at the top.

Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)

Culver's Root

Veronicastrum virginicum

3 - 5'  July - August    (White)

Add definition to your natural garden. Elegant white flower stalks that resemble spires above dark green leaves. The clustered flowers have tiny protruding red tips that sometimes give the spires a pinkish/red cast. Creates defined lines when planted behind shorter species.

Plants for Partial Shade

Lovers of woodland edges, these plants will adapt to practically any partially-sunny or dappled shade area. Whether you choose to place these plants in the openings between trees or as a border, your garden will display a touch of grace and elegance no matter where you look.

Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)

Nodding Wild Onion

Allium cernuum

1 - 2'  July - August   (Pink)

A delicate beauty. Large white globular flowers turn pink as the season wears on. This lily family gem attracts butterflies and forms new plants adjacent to the main bulb.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Wild Columbine

Aquilegia canadensis

1 - 4'  Sun or shade   April - June   (Red/Yellow)

Hummingbirds love its nectar. An inner yellow flower is covered by an elegant red outer flower. Does best in dappled shade, but can live in full shade. Native Americans used to use the black seeds in a beverage to treat fever and headaches.

Short's Aster (Aster shortii)

Short's Aster

Aster shortii

1 - 2 1/2'  August - October    (Blue)

This unique aster doesn't need full sun. Gorgeous ray-shaped blooms that are plentiful late in the blooming season keep your woodland or savanna area colorful through fall.

Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana)

Tall Bellflower

Campanula americana

2 - 5'  July - October    (Blue)

Adds dignity to your wildflower garden. Delicate green leaves grow up alternately along a stalk. Unlike its name, the blooms are actually a flat star, not bell-shaped.

Purple-Sheathed Graceful Sedge (Carex gracillima)

Purple-Sheathed Graceful Sedge


Carex gracillima

2'  May - June    (Tan)

A graceful plant with a red-to-purple base and delicate leaves. Interesting addition for many areas.

(Midland) Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)

(Midland) Shooting Star

Dodecatheon meadia

1 - 2'  April - June    (Pink)

Part of the Primrose family. White/pink blossoms hang "inside-out" from a tall stalk. Does well in moist/medium rich soil in full sun/partial shade. Excellent for rock gardens too.

Sweet Joe Pyeweed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Sweet Joe Pyeweed

Eupatorium purpureum

3 - 7'  July - September   (Purple)

According to legend, Joe Pye was a Native American herb doctor who used these plants to cure fevers. Colonists used it to treat an outbreak of typhus. It grows up to 7' tall and half as wide, but the room is worth the profuse purple blossoms. You can trim the plant down to 2' in June to produce a lower, bushy plant with numerous blooms. Bumblebees may roost on the flowers while you pick leaves for a homemade vanilla-scented potpourri.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild Geranium

Geranium maculatum

1 - 2'  April - June    (Pink)

Great as a border in your garden. The thick horizontal roots have had medicinal purposes and should be planted 2" deep.

Alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii)


Heuchera richardsonii

1 - 2'  May - July   (Cream)

Hairy, fine flower stalks are topped with greenish/cream blooms. This very adaptable plant is pretty, and low-growing foliage makes it a nice border plant. Long ago the root was crushed to make a powder to control bleeding.

Sweet (Vanilla) Grass (Hierochloe odorata)

Sweet (Vanilla) Grass

Hierochloe odorata

1 - 2'  May - July    (Cream)

This quaint grass truly smells like vanilla, especially when burned. Native Americans still use this species in sacred ceremony fires by drying the long leaves and braiding them into bundles. A perfect compliment to many of our native plants and since it blooms April-June, it doesn't detract from bright summer flowers.

Kalm's St. John's Wort  (Hypericum kalmianum)

Kalm's St. John's Wort

Hypericum kalmianum

1 1/2 - 2 1/2'  June - October    (Yellow)

This small shrub blooms vibrant yellow all summer and into the fall. It'll come back year after year with hardly any work on your part.

Bottlebrush Grass (Hystrix patula)

Bottlebrush Grass

Hystrix patula (Elymus hystrix)

2 - 4'  June - August    (Pink)

A decorative native grass that thrives in shade! The spikelets resemble a baby's bottlebrush, thus the name. Tiny flowers are hidden along the stalk and arrive in June-August. Prefers moist soil that is common in woodland or shaded areas.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris shrevei)

Blue Flag Iris

Iris shrevei

1 1/2 - 2'  May - June    (Violet)

An Iris that does well in moist soil. This family is named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

Cardinal Flower ()

Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis

1 1/2 - 2'  July - August    (Red)

Attracts hummingbirds, which are its primary pollinator (note the blooms' tubular shape, like a hummingbird beak). Each plant is one erect stalk, with an elongated cluster of brilliant red flowers at the tip. The beauty of this plant has caused it to become over-picked in its own natural environment.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Great Blue Lobelia

Lobelia siphilitica

2 - 3'  July - September    (Blue)

Graceful! Leafy spikes support a stalk of dark blue-to-pinkish/white flowers. Prefers moist soil. Hummingbirds love this plant.

Foxglove Beardtongue  (Penstemon digitalis)

Foxglove Beardtongue

Penstemon digitalis

2 -3'  May - July    (White)

This member of the snapdragon family is a majestic must for your landscape. 2 - 3'-tall stalks with white trumpet-shaped blooms. Although elegant, its seed heads produce a sharp odor when mature.

Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans)

Jacob's Ladder

Polemonium reptans

1/2 - 2 1/2'  April - June    (Blue)

Bumblebees aren't the only ones that celebrate this blue-belled arrival. This Phlox family member blooms in early spring. Interesting symmetrical foliage. Works well as a ground cover.

Heartleaf Golden Alexander (Zizia aptera)

Heartleaf Golden Alexander

Zizia aptera

2'  April - June    (Yellow)

Like the name suggests, its leaves are heart-shaped and its flowers golden. Gorgeous 2" yellow clusters form a dome at the end of a stalk.

Plants for Shady Areas

These natural woodland residents are going to love your garden's shady areas. Most are early bloomers. They pack in as much light of springtime as possible before tree leaves fully open and canopies block out the rays of the sun.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum pedatum

1 - 2'   (non-flowering plant)    

Looks fragile, but it's really quite hardy and will add interest to any moist area. Lacy fronds with bluish-green leaflets fan out in arching whorls on polished black stalks, almost in a horseshoe-shape. Prefers light to moderate shade and moist, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Truly a woodland plant, it will not tolerate drought, direct sun or intense heat.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)


Arisaema triphyllum

1 - 2'  April - June    (Green)

Easy to grow and self-sows in moist shade. Blooms in spring and will stay visible until early autumn when red berries appear to add color to your yard. Native Americans used the taproots as a vegetable.

Side-flowering Aster (Calico Aster) (Aster lateriflorus)

Side-flowering Aster (Calico Aster)

Aster lateriflorus

1 - 3'  August - October    (White)

Changes shades to match the moods of fall. White blooms appear August to October as the foliage turns purple - two ways to add color to your late-season woodland garden.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Lady Fern

Athyrium filix-femina

2'  (non-flowering plant)    

Lacy, light green, finely-cut fronds. The tips of the fronds usually point downward. A wonderful accent for underneath trees. Like the maidenhair fern, moist soil with lots of organic matter will bring out her best.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)

Black Cohosh

Cimicifuga racemosa

6'  July - August    (White)

Tall, bearing large thrice-compound leaves. Flowers are small, white, and crowded in a dense, branched cluster atop a 1 - 3' spike that rises majestically above the leaves. May need to be staked. Grows best in partial/moderate shade and mesic soil. This plant has an unpleasant odor that works as a bug repellent. Roots were used for many ailments ranging from snakebites to lung inflammation to the pains of childbirth.

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana)

Virgin's Bower

Clematis virginiana

5 - 15' (vine)  July - September    (White)

An easy and beautiful vine. Prefers its soil to be cool (in the shade) and neutral-to-acidic although it can survive most anything except drought or bogginess. The vine itself likes shade to sun. Will grow on anything from your mailbox to the fence as long as there is something to support its 5-15' of growth. In July-September you will be rewarded with white blooms, after which you'll have a fuzzy seed head.

Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)

Marginal Shield Fern (Leatherwood)

Dryopteris marginalis

2 - 3'  (non-flowering plant)     

A fern and an evergreen! Stays green through the winter. The stalk looks shaggy due to the bright golden-brown scales all along it. Rises up from an exposed rootstock that acts like a 'trunk'. Easy to grow and also great on slopes as ground cover. Prefers well-drained, medium-to-acidic soil.

Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginica)

Virginia Waterleaf

Hydrophyllum virginica

1 - 2'  May - June    (Lavender)

A graceful addition to your natural setting. Delicate bell-shaped white/lavender blooms appear when most other shade plants lose their spring flowers. The leaves are 'water-stained' shades of green (hence the name).

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica

1 - 2'  April - May    (Blue)

Smooth, gray-green foliage and nodding clusters of blue buds burst into blue trumpet-shaped flowers in spring. Loves moderately moist soil and partial shade/shade. When grown in masses, it's truly spectacular. Belongs to the forget-me-not family.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon Fern

Osmunda cinnamomea

3'  (non-flowering plant)     

This native clump-forming plant spreads slowly and gracefully with long, wide fronds that are especially woolly at the base. The fertile fronds come from the center of the plant and grow straight up almost as if cinnamon sticks are protruding from this fern. Will grow in sun and shade, but needs more moisture than most other varieties.

Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Blue Phlox

Phlox divaricata

1/2 - 1 1/2'  April - June    (Blue)

Sometimes called "Wild Sweet William", this plant is common in our woods and fields. Fragrant flowers.

May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum)

May Apple

Podophyllum peltatum

1 - 1 1/2'  May - June    (White)

Not only does this hardy beauty do wonderfully in the woodlands, it can do wonders in your garden. Green 'umbrella' blooms around May (hence the name), but is hard to see unless you lift up its lobed leaves. The apples, or fruit, appear in midsummer. Will grow in your more difficult areas. Note: the leaves, roots and seeds are poisonous if ingested in large amounts. However, the edible golden fruits have been used in jellies.

Blood Root  (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Blood Root

Sanguinaria canadensis

1/2 - 1'  April - May    (White)

You will fall in love with this plant. On a smooth 10" stalk, a solitary white flower with a golden orange center rises from the curled folds of its leaf, opening into the sunlight. At night the bloom is again encased until the next morning. It certainly looks fragile enough to need protection, but it is actually quite hardy. Native Americans used the red juice from the roots as a dye for baskets, clothing, war paint and even insect repellent. Latin name Sanguinarius means "bleeding".

False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina racemosa)

False Solomon's Seal

Smilacina racemosa

1 - 3'  May - June    (White)

Plant imposter! Looks just like Solomon's seal, but this plant has a pyramidal cluster of many small feathery white flowers instead of bell-shaped blooms. A great compliment to your moist, shaded areas. Bears ruby-red berries after flowering.

Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmfolia)

Elm-leaved Goldenrod

Solidago ulmfolia

1 - 3'  July - October    (Yellow)

A shorter Goldenrod that does well in partial-full shade. It attracts a variety of pollinators, has long-lasting bright yellow blooms, and is a wonderful centerpiece for your fall garden.

Great White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Great White Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum

1 - 1 1/2'  April - May    (White)

A native bulb that sprouts a whorl of three leaves. From the center rises a single three-petaled bloom. This particular species has a 3"-wide white bloom -- the largest of the Trillium family. As perfect as it would be for a fresh bouquet, keep in mind that without the leaves being able to mature and die back, the bulb won't be replenished for next spring.

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

Prairie Trillium

Trillium recurvatum

1 1/2'  April - May    (Maroon)

A native bulb, up to 18" tall with a whorl of three leaves and a three-petalled red bloom. Flower and leaves should not be picked; your plant may not survive without the replenishment of its own leaves. Likes filtered light to shade and humusy soil. Native Americans used to use Trillium to treat arthritis.