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Native Plants for North Alabama Gardens 

April 17, 2023
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Guest Post by Sara Johnson, Conservation Biologist with the North American Land Trust and Land Trust of North Alabama volunteer

34% of plants in the US are at risk of extinction. It is more important than ever to begin reconsidering how important our own backyard or neighborhood is to fighting the biodiversity crisis. 

The concept of a “Homegrown National Park” encourages change at the individual and local level; by providing safe havens for plants and wildlife at home. By growing native plants and creating habitat in our communities, we can supplement already protected places and create a mosaic of natural habitat across the United States. Each backyard and native plant garden then acts as a stepping stone for plants, birds, and animals to thrive. 

Gayfeather (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii) and Monarch Butterflies

By definition, native plants are those that have evolved to live in our local or regional conditions. They are adapted to our regional soil type, moisture and rain intervals, our temperature range, and our weather patterns. Beyond their innate value as keystones of our Alabama cultural and natural heritage, they also demand less and give more than common commercially sold plants. Because native plants evolved in our region, they are already adapted to regional conditions and make great plants for the garden requiring less soil amendment, less watering demand, and are more likely to be resistant to local pathogens and pests. 

Wood Mint (Blephilia) and metallic bee

Unfortunately it’s difficult to find native plants at commercial or local plant nurseries with typically over 75% of plants sold being non-native. Why? It is claimed that there is not enough demand and people often don’t know what to ask for. With plant nurseries skeptical to stock native plants that people may not buy, there is typically little support for native plant growers or sustainable seed collection.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Ruby-throated hummingbird

When we are lucky enough to find native plants at the nursery, they are often cultivars or hybrids, meaning, they are not true species you would find in the wild. Why does this matter? The insects and animals that depend on these plants for food may not be able to use these plants for a variety of reasons

  • Hybridized cultivars generally produce less nectar and pollen
  • Plant structure is often altered, for example, double flowers don’t provide nectar or pollen resources at all. 
  • Sterile flowers don’t reproduce.
  • Can be grown or treated with pesticides that are harmful to insects or wildlife.
  • Cultivars are typically cloned and do not support local genetic diversity. 

The more we ask for native plants, the more likely nurseries will begin to prioritize finding sources for native plants. 

Purple Coneflower (Echinaceae purpurea) and bumblebee

Worse, many plant nurseries still sell highly destructive and invasive non-native plant species like Mahonia, Nandina, Honeysuckle, English Ivy, and Vinca Vine. These plants are commonly known to escape gardens because of proximity or because seed is spread by birds and wildlife, or people via their clothing or shoes. 

Native plants provide a variety of necessary resources for birds, insects, and other wildlife and benefit humans too. Native plants:

  • Provide food in the form of berries, seeds, nectar, and vegetation for herbivores, caterpillars and other insect larvae. Not only does this provide a food source for the larval form of many insects, this provides food to all levels up the food chain. Insects to birds or bats. Plant material to herbivores like rabbits and mice which feed owls and hawks, predators like fox or coyote, etc. 
  • Provide shade and buffer against extreme heat.
  • Can buffer against drought and flooding. 
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) Seed Pod with Milkweed Beetles

Beyond all these concepts, native plants are beautiful! There are a wide variety of native flowering plants, grasses and sedges, and trees and shrubs that may thrive in your own backyard. Many of these will also thrive in containers in the right soil and moisture conditions. Consider learning about the native plants that grow in your area and try to either source or propagate some yourself.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis) and metallic bee

A reminder to never take plants from the wild and to always ask permission to source plant material from private landowners before taking. Contact your local Master Naturalist or Master Gardener program to learn more about local plant and seed swaps. Importantly, take a list of desired native plants to your local nursery and ask them to begin to stock native plants. 

This is a short-list of some potential plants that you may find at your local nursery. To find out which species are native or preferred for your soil and moisture conditions, great sources of information about these plants are listed below if you want to learn more.


Dry Shade

Fire Pink


  • Silene virginica (Fire Pink)
  • Viola pedata (Birds-foot Violet)
  • Penstemon sp. (Beardtongue)
  • Blephilia hirsuta (Wood Mint) 
  • Solidago flexicaulis (Zig Zag Goldenrod) 
  • Rudbeckia sp. (Black-eyed Susan)
  • Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine)
  • Tradescantia sp. (Spiderwort)

Graminoids and Sedges

  • Carex radiata (Star sedge)

Shrubs and Trees

  • Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye)
  • Prunus caroliniana (Carolina Plum)
  • Cornus sp. (Dogwoods)
  • Amelanchier canadensis (Shadbush)
  • Prunus americana (American Plum)
  • Ulmus americana (American Elm)
  • Fagus grandifolia (American Beech)
  • Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coral-Berry)


Wet Shade


  • Lobelia sp. cardinalis, siphilitica, puberula (Cardinal Flower)
  • Heuchera americana (American Alumroot)
  • Viola sororia (Blue Violet)
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)
  • Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Graminoids and Sedges

  • Chasmanthium sp. sessifolium, latifolium (Oats Grass)

Shrubs and Trees

  • Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
  • Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)
  • Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry)
  • Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam)
  • Nyssa sylvatica (Black Tupelo)
  • Diospyros virginiana (Common Persimmon)
  • Aralia spinosa (Devil’s-Walkingstick)


Dry Sun


  • Monarda sp., citriodora, fistulosa, punctata (Bee Balm)
  • Liatris sp. (Gayfeather)
  • Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine)
  • Salvia sp, azurea, lyrata. (Sage)
  • Symphyotrichum sp., laeve, etc. (Asters)
  • Asclepias sp. syriaca, tuberosa, viridis, verticillata
  • Solidago sp. (Goldenrods) 
  • Silene virginica (Catchfly)
  • Coreopsis sp. (Tickseeds)
  • Echinacea sp. (Coneflowers)

Graminoids and Sedges

  • Scizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)
  • Sorgastrum nutans (Indian Grass)
  • Bouteloua curtipendula (Side-Oats Grama)

Shrubs and Trees

  • Quercus sp. (Oaks)
  • Corylus americana (Hazelnut)


Wet Sun

Cardinal Flower


  • Lobelia sp. cardinalis, siphilitica, puberula (Cardinal Flower)
  • Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)
  • Liatris sp. (Gayfeather)
  • Iris virginica var. shrevei (Blue Flag Iris)
  • Pycnanthemum sp. (Mountain Mint)
  • Eutrochium maculatum (Joe Pye Weed)

Graminoids and Sedges

  • Scizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)
  • Sorgastrum nutans (Indian Grass)
  • Bouteloua curtipendula (Side-Oats Grama)

Shrubs and Trees

  • Neviusia alabamensis (Alabama snow wreath)
  • Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
  • Hamamelis virginiana (American Witch-Hazel)
  • Quercus sp. (Oaks)



Where to buy native plants locally:

Information about Alabama’s Plant Species:

Keystone Plants by Genus for the Eastern Temperate Forest: NWF GFW Plant List Eco Region 8

Mt. Cuba Center Native Plant Resource Center: Take Action, Conservation

Xerces Native Plant Guide for Pollinators: Pollinator Plants Southeast-Region

Audubon’s Native Plant Guide: Enter your zip code to get a customized list with details about where each plant will do best!