Ohio Native Plants Make a Good Show

Ilona Erwin

There are many ornamental native plants of Ohio that make a wonderful show in the landscape. If you want to get started with five of the best perennials for Ohio gardens, begin here. Some well known plants, widespread in wild areas, are actually exotics which have made themselves at home. Check the lists of native plants here. This not a purist list, but those plants which are generally native to the USA, and growing in Ohio. Here, you will find a sampling of the flowers and plants that are native to Ohio, many of which are garden worthy, some which have named cultivars. Whole books are written, and large websites devoted to native plants.

Know Your Landsite

Is your garden a former woodland, prairie, or bog? Even when a gardened or farmed area was once swampy, shaded, or otherwise comprised of certain native plants, manmade changes may have irrevocably created another kind of environment. Luckily, we can replicate conditions for many of our native plants. Providing shade, incorporating leafmold may help woodland denizens to grow. Providing certain mowing or burning procedures can give the prairie plants what they need to survive and grow. highbanks park wildflowers Photos of wildflowers taken at Highbanks Metro Park from a Garden Journal, Diary of Ilona’s Garden In the photo, all the plants look to be growing as natives, but not all are! Lavender thistles, gleaming yeloow goldenrod, berries of Red baneberry (Actaea rubra), Lonicera and White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) may all be noted in the composite. Which ones are native, which ones are not?

Six Great Ohio Native Plants For Your Garden Borders

6 native perennials which grow well in gardens

  1. Geranium maculatum
  2. Liatris scariosa
  3. Monarda fistulosa
  4. Physostegia virginiana
  5. Rudbeckia fulgida

I choose these five Ohio native plants for not only their garden worthy qualities of beautiful bloom and good form, but because they are easy to grow, and can be grown from seed. If you are starting a garden, or switching to native plantings for ecological reasons, these five are a good place to begin. I think you will be happy with the addition of any one. They range from the vertical interest of the Liatris to the mounding habit of the wild geranium. Rudbeckia fulgida, or Black-eyed Susan will be instantly familiar, since it is the darling of landscape designers today. The Monarda and the Obedient plant are lesser known, but their colors meld together and they are important bee plants. Put them in your garden and cut a few for in the house. Read about each one individually, the links to seed sources are for your convenience.

Ohio Woodlands and Fields Yield Some Garden Favorites

Perhaps you’ve heard of native plants being a better choice for your garden, or the idea of planting perennials that will take less care, live longer, and tolerate difficult conditions has you interested. Native plants are becoming popular for good reason. Ohio is a typical Midwestern state that shares similar climate with a number of other places in the middle of the USA, so it can both borrow some plants indigenous to nearby states, and share some. I chose five of the best performers to give any gardener plants that will add beauty to their yards without a lot of fuss.

Healthy Well-placed Plants Are The Best Style Style

If you grow a good looking healthy plant, it really doesn’t matter which style you decide to design your garden with… the results are going to be pleasing. That is one good reason to grow native plants: they tend to be better suited to climate conditions.

Why These Are Easy To Grow

Most native perennials are labeled “easy to grow” for a reason: they are naturally adapted to the region. They are also highly competitive (in a good way), holding their own in prairie or woodland environments. Growing from seed allows for many plants quickly and easily. You could also divide established plants for increased numbers. Three to five plants together are recommended.

Wood Geranium

Looks delicate, but Geranium maculatum is tough Looks delicate, but Geranium maculatum is tough

Wild geranium

Wild Geranium- Native: Well Established: Container Size: 5.5 Wild Geranium- Native: Well Established: Container Size: 5.5″ pot I have to tell you this is one of the most useful perennial flowers for your garden. Not gaudy and showy, but quietly blooming for a long time and giving natural grace to a garden. It looks best in a woodsy sort of place, but I am out on a flat prairie place and the plants do very well for me. I highly recommend adding this to your landscape or flower bed. It has a sort of cottage-y look to it, too.

Geranium maculatum

From the woodlands comes the wild or hardy geranium, G. maculatum. These plants are also known as ‘Cranesbill’ because the seed capsules resemble the long curved beak of the crane. Showy lavender blossoms open in May.The five petals are satiny lavender or pink with yellow centers. Leaves are palmate shaped. The plants grow as clumps about two feet wide, with pretty green foliage. Hardy from zone 3 to 9, these plants of the eastern United States are grown because of their good looks in the garden and often hybrids have the best qualities for a great garden plant. Most hardy geraniums sold in nurseries and stores are not natives, so be sure to look for the Latin name G. maculatum. Like most woodland plants it likes humus, normal moisture, and partly sunny conditions.

Garden Uses

In a wild garden or a semi-shady one, the May bloom mixes well with other late spring blooming plants and bulbs and would be gorgeous under a Redbud tree. Try them underneath shrubs, and tucked away in a corner to bring a little spring color to the scene.

Woodland Pathway

Geranium Maculatum grows well in woodland conditions Geranium Maculatum grows well in woodland conditions

A related plant

Eastern Blazing Star

A fine stand of Liatris A fine stand of Liatris

Liatris scariosa

This Liatris is also called the “Eastern Blazing Star”, and has relatives that are good garden plants. so if you don’t find this particular Liatris, why not look for L. spicata or L. pycnostachna? The last one is known as Kansa Gayfeather. All of them carry a spike of showy purple flowers which give vertical interest in a garden, and they have the interesting habit of blooming from the top downwards. There are white varieties available, too. This variety is hardy in zones 3 to 9, naturally found in savannahs and prairies. It will grow in full sun or part shade and is a good plant for hummingbirds and butterflies. This flower looks at home in many types of gardens, and especially mixes well in color and habit with the popular Echinaceas.

Monarda Fistulosa

Bee Balm is in the Mint family Bee Balm is in the Mint family

Easy to grow from seed

Package of 400 Seeds, Wild Bergamot Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) Non-GMO Seeds By Seed Needs Package of 400 Seeds, Wild Bergamot Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) Non-GMO Seeds By Seed Needs You can also make a tea from the leaves and flowers, which explains its nickname of Oswego Tea. It was used as a cold remedy. The tea can be used for cosmetic purposes as a skin or eye wash. Flowers can be used to garnish a salad.


I have found this very easy to grow, but it does need some sunshine to thrive. It tolerates a shady spot, but will be happier in the sun. Not as well known as its scarlet cousin, the lovely, subtle lavender color is welcome in almost any landscape. Monarda Encourages Honeybees This bee plant, with the common name of “Bee Balm” will help the honeybee. A perennial with so many benefits, that even without its beautiful and interesting flower, you would want to add it to the garden. It is not just bee friendly, and a butterfly attraction, but one of the hummingbird’s favorites.

How To Grow Monarda

Hardy from zone 4 to 9. Likes full sun to part sun. Moist to Moderately Dry Average soil

Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens

Often included in bee, butterfly, and hummingbird gardens along with its relative Monarda didyma, M. fistulosa produces a nicely shaped upright growing plant that has many blooms during the midsummer. Good looking foliage, which is an asset which should not be overlooked, it attracts lots of visitors who love its nectar rich flowers. Grows without much trouble, although it is best that it gets enough sun and isn’t crowded out by shrubs or other perennials. Usually three to four feet high and two to three feet wide.

Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

Outsidepride Obedient Plant Pink - 1000 SeedsOutsidepride Obedient Plant Pink – 1000 Seeds This is a large amount of seed to assure a good stand of a beautiful plant. Be sure to keep moist for best success, especially in the first year. A pretty plant that looks something like snapdragons. This perennial is a good choice for a sunny area.

Physostegia virginiana

“Obedient Plant” is an interesting cut flower of medium to tall height which has cultivars for garden use. “Summer Snow”, “Rosy Spire”, and “Pink Bouquet” are three that represent the different colors of white, rose red, and pink. It likes fertile, moist soil and added humus. It grows in sunny to part sun conditions, blooming during late summer when color is welcome after the first flush of early summer blooms are over. This is a good hummingbird and butterfly plant.

Black-Eyed Susans

Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), 380 Certified Pure Live Seed, True Native Seed (Rudbeckia fulgida), 380 Certified Pure Live Seed, True Native Seed Rudbeckia is a standby in today’s landscapes. It is easy to grow from seed and this tough native is very tolerant of many challenging conditions. The only thing it asks for is enough sunshine, so find a sunny spot and sow the seeds of this native perennial with its golden black centered blooms.

Rudbeckia fulgida

An all round great plant, and one that has become a favorite of landscapers due to its tolerance to tough conditions and good looks in many situations. A prairie plant that blooms during the midsummer, it is a food source for birds and butterflies. Few other perennials have a longer bloom, from July through October. The golden flowers with the black cone centers mix well with grasses, other plants such as daylilies and the plants mentioned on this page.

  • Full sun
  • Well drained soil
  • Average fertility
  • Drought tolerant

Yarrow is a good looking and easy to grow native perennial that grows well in the Midwest. This one is the hybrid 'Paprika' Yarrow is a good looking and easy to grow native perennial that grows well in the Midwest. This one is the hybrid ‘Paprika’

Try This One, Too

Achillea Millefolium is a fine perennial border plant

The white flower, midground, is a yarrow.

Achillea Millefolium

Fine ferny foliage and a beautiful array of bloom colors in the hybrids create a wide range of pretty colors from pinks to brick reds, soft yellows, and many other shades that make lovely bouquets. I’ve grown them from seeds and they are also multiplied through division. Good for butterfly gardens, for naturalizing, and even herb gardens.

  • Full sun
  • Average soil
  • Average moisture
  • Drought, deer, and pollution tolerant

Very hardy, from zone 3-9.

Native Flowers For Your Garden

Woodland natives

Trees & ShrubsPerennialsGrass, Annuals & Vines
MahoniaRudbeckia
DogwoodLiatris
Calycanthus floridusBaptisiaSisyrinchium
Chionanthus virginicusAsclepias tuberose
SpireaAchillea
ViburnumAquilegia
Symphyotrichum, Asters
Coreopsis
Euphorbia
HawthornAsarum canadenseZinnias
MapleNicotiana
Red Oak
SweetgumVirginia Creeper, Boston Ivy

Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

Dogwood Chionanthus virginicus

Flowers

Trillium Sessile “Wake Robin” Trillium grandiflorum (Ohio’s official wildflower) Aquilegia canadensis “Canadian columbine” Asarum canadense “Wild ginger” Asclepias incarnate “swamp milkweed” Aster novae-angliae “New England aster” Chelone lyonii “pink turtlehead” Dodecatheon maedia “Shooting Star” Lobelia cardinalis “Cardinal flower” Lobelia siphilitica “Great Blue Lobelia” Uvularia perfoliata “Wood Merrybells”

What Is Your Landscape Need? Easy-Care? Water-saving?

Ohio has a climate that has plenty of rainfall. Many of its plants need average moisture and fertility.

Prairie natives

native spiderwort

Bluejacket

Tradescantia ohiensis, our Spiderwort is edible. The leaves can be added to salads, the stems braised like asparagus, the flowers added to fresh greens as a color accent, or candied for cake decoration. If you have ever grown it, you know it is “mucilaginous”, a quality apparent when cooking the leaves in a soup. Probably not to most peoples taste. (Be sure you are eating the native variety of Tradescantia, others are not recommended and might even be toxic). It is important to correctly identify plants and berries before ingesting.

Flowers (Forbs)

Spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis Heath aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides syn. Aster ericoides Asclepias tuberose “butterfly weed” Baptisia australis Liatris spicata Solidago sp. “goldenrod”

Grasses

Chasmanthium latifolium “Northern sea oats”

Interesting facts about some of the Ohio Native Plants

White Snakeroot is sometimes eaten by cows , and unfortunately, the resulting milk they give becomes toxic. “milk sickness” as it was called used to be a problem, and was determined to be the cause of death in the case of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. It has pretty little fluffs of white flowers on corymbs of starry late season bloom.

Easily Grown From Seed

Easy to start from seed or increase from division makes the plants suggested here quite economical. Several, including the Black-eyed Susans, are pollution and drought tolerant.

Start Your Own Seeds Indoors

iPower Durable Waterproof Seedling Heat Mat 48″ x 20″ Warm Hydroponic Heating Pad

Tips for Finding Native Plants

The two most common ways to add native plants or wildflowers to your garden is by growing them from seed or ordering “bare-root” plants. Also, you may find container grown plants, but these are more costly to ship. This source is best when obtained locally from a reputable nursery.

Each Source has Advantages

  • Seeds are most economical and, if you are experienced with growing from seed, can yield a higher number of plants per dollar.
  • Container plants are easiest to plant and grow successfully. If plants are given their requirements and cared for well in the first season, these will quickly multiply.
  • Bare root plants can be very similar to container grow in results; they often start out as much larger plants. (More economical to ship).

Once you decide on which native wildflowers you can best grow for the conditions, whether shade, sun, dry, or moist… get tips on planting the particular type of plant material for greatest success.

Plant Bare Root Plants

Learn More About These Native Plants

© 2014 Ilona

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.