15 Native Wildflowers Every Gardener Should Plant

Attract pollinators and local wildlife to your yard with this regional guide to native blooms.

May 5, 2017
native wildflowers beardtongue
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As climate change intensifies and habitat dwindles around the globe, there is thankfully one simple way to help the environment, starting right in your own back yard: Plant natives. 

Native plants not only nourish and attract the wildlife, pollinators, and microbial communities that make up the living landscape, but they’re more resilient in the face of extreme weather and all around easier to grow than exotic ornamentals. 

Whether you live amongst the dusty hills of L.A, the high plains of Colorado, or the green grass of Virginia, there are plenty of hardy natives to help heal your little corner of the universe. Here are some of the best for every region. 

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how.)
 

hepatica flower
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Northeast

With its silvery leaves and delicate mauve flowers, mountain mint is a subdued beauty. Take a moment to observe its role in the garden and you’ll be pleased you planted it: one of the best nectar sources for late season insects like monarchs, mountain mint creates a storm of pollinator activity in the garden come August. 

If you’re seeking more ostentation there’s no better must-have than New England aster. It tolerates most soil types in part shade to full sun and comes in a spectrum of pinks and deep purples. 

Finally—and to celebrate the fleeting phenomenon of a northeastern spring—try hepatica (shown above). This woodland native comes in white or purple and thrives in partial shade and moist soils. Its cheery little blooms emerge from beneath the dreary curls of last autumn’s leaves before all other garden plants have broken dormancy. 

Related: 6 Must-Have Plants For A Thriving Native Garden

native wildflower garden beardtongue
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Southeast

The slender trumpets of beardtongue (shown above), or penstemmon, attract May and June’s butterflies—and even the occasional hummingbird. These relatives of the foxglove thrive in full sun in a variety of soil types, although they like freely draining terrain best. If you have a corner of old lawn that needs re-wilding, plant beard tongue right in the broken up sod. It will take to the new space easily, giving you a slice of wildflower meadow in no time. 

If you’re looking for a vine, look no further than Carolina Jessamine. A common feature of many gardens across the southeast, this native is popular for good reason: a tenacious climber, not much gets this evergreen vine down. When planted in full sun, the plant’s mass of golden trumpets open in the earliest days of spring— sometimes even as early as December. Tolerant of a wide variety of soils, Carolina Jessamine will require a bit of taming to keep it from consuming the garden fence, or clambering up the gutter. Prune in early spring, after the plant has flowered, and bear in mind all parts of the plant are toxic if consumed. 

To make a real impact—especially if you’ve got a problematic soggy spot somewhere in the garden—check out the swamp rosemallow. Growing 4-5 feet tall this native hibiscus opens dinner plate sized blooms in the heat of midsummer. Available in a variety of colors, the non-cultivated straight species is generally red-pink. Although swamp rose mallow will grow in many soil types it does require ample water so if a drought strikes, break out the garden hose in short order. 

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laceleaf flower
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Midwest

A bright and cheery harbinger of summer, lanceleaf coreopsis’s yolk-yellow flowers (shown above) open on long stalks, patterning dry slopes with pops of color. Ranging across most of continental North America, this species prefers dry to medium moist soils and naturally occurs in prairies, glades, old fields, and roadsides. If you’re an armchair gardener, spring for this species: just toss out a handful of its seeds and watch them flourish. 

If you’re in love with butterflies, or just a conscientious soul, plant milkweeds. Anything in the Asclepias genus will feed the monarch’s caterpillars, which badly need the food in the large, milkweed-depauperate migration states of the Midwest. Whorled milkweed is particularly beautiful, with pale flowers and slender grey leaves. With a little research, however, you’ll discover there’s a milkweed to suit every garden spot, from wet to dry and sunny to full shade. 

To attract a whole host of buzzing pollinators, try Joe Pye weed in the garden. There are many different species, but hollow-stemmed Joe Pye has seriously statuesque height (almost 8 feet) coupled with the genus’s big tufts of pink-purple flowers. Preferring moist soils, this species will grow in virtually any soil, from sand to clay. 

Related: Top 10 Flowers That Attract Butterflies

blanket flower
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Southwest

A wide-ranging native, blanket flower (shown above) delivers in a wash of reds, yellows, and oranges. Related to sunflowers, these smaller sized blooms love hot sun, dry to medium moist soils and are largely drought tolerant. 

If you live in the southwest, there’s no excuse not to grow any of the region’s native salvias. One of the best is autumn sage, which blooms come fall a deep and sultry magenta. Beloved of hummingbirds, the salvia’s long and slender flowers fit the bird’s beaks perfectly. Plant these relatives of the aromatic garden sage in large swaths in full sun. It’s here they’ll thrive and best attract their winged pollinators

Icon of the southwest, Texas bluebonnet is another must-have for any southwestern gardener with extra space to occupy. These spring wildflowers can be tamed to fit within the backyard but look best in that little corner of the garden you let run wild. Good drainage is essential to bluebonnets, and they prefer slightly alkaline soils out in the full, hot southwestern sun.

camas flower
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Pacific Coast

Plant California mountain lilac and you won’t be setting any new trends—just ensuring a long-lasting, cornea-busting, deep azure explosion of blossom come spring. This lover of hot weather, full sun and dry soils ranges from southern California to mid-coast Oregon, but will grow further north and south, too. 

For a real celebration of spring, plant camas bulbs in a rich, moist, well-lit meadow. These tall, sky-blue relatives of the lily (shown above) naturalize well under these ideal conditions and can turn a boring lawn into a wash of color come May. 

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that receives regular rain, plant the little corms of Oregon fawn lily in moist, part shade to full sun loam. Come spring, the sodden ground will erupt with its pretty speckled leaves and the white stars of its reflex-petaled flowers. 

Related: 10 Tips For Growing A Stunning Organic Flower Garden On A Budget