27 Beautiful Native Plants for Ohio Gardens

Are you looking for some native plants to include in your Ohio garden? There are plenty of different options to choose from, depending on what part of the state you are from. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn shares her favorite Ohio native plants you can grow this season.

Ohio is a fairly small state and is made up of only two USDA hardiness zones, 5 and 6. This temperate climate makes it ideal for gardening, especially for plants native to Ohio. If you have a garden in Ohio and want to add native plants, there are many options to choose from.

The term “native plant” is quite common in the horticulture and landscaping worlds today. There are many reasons to grow native plants in your garden.

Plants are considered ‘native’ to North America if their origins were part of forests, prairies, and wetlands prior to the arrival of European settlers. At this point in history, the settlers brought over foreign plants that competed for natural resources and often became invasive.

Native plants have gained popularity over the past few decades. Commercial nurseries have added trees, shrubs, perennials, and ferns to their inventories that have been part of the North American landscapes for centuries. Let’s explore my favorite 27 Ohio native plants! I picked them based on a wide variety of physical attributes as well as the roles they play in their delicate ecosystems.

Contents

American Elm

Upward view of a tall tree with dark, thin, wavy branches and light green leaves that grow sparingly. The bright but gray sky is visible through the branches and leaves.
The American Elm tree can reach a height of 80 feet tall and is often seen lining the streets of quaint neighborhoods.
botanical-name botanical name Ulmus americana
plant-type plant type Deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 60 to 80 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 to 9

The American elm is a stately hardwood tree. Overall mature heights of 60-80 feet and widths between 30-60 feet give way to the unique V shape characteristic of the species. American elms often lined residential streets, providing shade and picturesque Hollywood-like neighborhoods.

American elm prefers a full sun location in soils that can be wet, so long as they are well draining. I’ve even seen them thriving in parking lots and along city streets again, where heat, salt, and soil compaction would kill other types of trees.

The leaves of the elm resemble ruffled potato chips, with their serrated leaf margins and overall shape, and are often found with fuzzy undersides. The green color of spring and summer fades to a pale yellow in fall.

Arrowwood

Close up of tiny, fine, lacey white flowers that form a cluster at the tip of a dark green stem. The foliage is green and oblong with finely serrated edges. The background is dark and out of focus.
This is an underused Ohio native plant given its ability to adapt to a wide variety of environmental conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Viburnum dentatum
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 6 to 10 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 to 8

Arrowwood viburnums are an underutilized plant. It can be difficult to find a shrub that prefers full sun and wet soils. Yes, they do exist, but if you are looking for an Ohio native plant to provide a natural hedgerow and support a wide variety of wildlife, arrowwood viburnum is an excellent choice.

Arrowwood is not particular about the type of soil it is planted in. The soil can be heavy and wet or well-draining with high pHs. It can also tolerate full sun to partial shade situations. At maximum height, this type of viburnum can reach an average of 5-10 feet tall and wide.

Deeply veined, dark green leaves have a jagged tooth edge and turn yellow in the fall. White, flat-topped flowers open in spring, a favorite of butterflies, and will yield a blue fruit by fall. The branches help solidify the common name of arrowwood. They tend to grow very straight, and it is said that Native Americans would use the branches to make, you guessed it, the shafts for arrows.

Black Chokeberry

Close up of a small, dark purple-blue berry cluster on a branch in a tree, surrounded by light greenish-yellow leaves. The sun shines brightly on the cluster.
You will get a range of different foliage colors on your black chokeberry tree throughout the year.
botanical-name botanical name Aronia melanocarpa
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 to 6 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Black chokeberries, not to be confused with Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana), are native shrubs commonly found growing in various environments. Chokeberries can live in full sun to partial shade, wet soils near bogs and swamps, to dry and sandy construction backfill.

Black chokeberry is often multi-stemmed, sending up large amounts of suckers. This characteristic lends the chokeberry an advantage in creating natural fence rows or naturalized garden sites.

The leaves are green during the growing season, turning red in the fall. Pale pink to white flowers bloom in late spring, producing a dark red to black colored pome fruit (think apples)

Chokeberries are a member of the rose family. Their seeds can be easily dispersed by birds and mammals that are willing to eat the bitter black fruits.

Cardinal Flower

Close up of a tall red flower stalk with bright red, star shaped, flowers. Another stalk with the same red flowers grows among other plants int the blurred background.
Mulch around your cardinal flower plants to keep the soil moist, which will help the shallow roots to flourish.
botanical-name botanical name Lobelia cardinalis
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial flowering plant
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3 to 6 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

The cardinal flower, with its deep red bell-shaped flowers lining the flower spike, is a great lure to bring hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. With its compact form, 2-4 feet high, including flower plumes, and a width of about 2 feet, cardinal flowers are great additions to full sun to partial shade gardens.

Cardinal flowers are a tad picky when it comes to soils. They prefer wet locations over well-draining ones and can even take brief periods of flooding. This is almost unheard of in the plant world.

Cardinal flower is shallow-rooted, hence the preference for wet soils. To keep it from drying out quickly, be sure to mulch around your plants to help maintain even soil moisture.

Cinnamon Fern

Close up of long burnt orange colored stems covered with smaller stems lining the center stem. Each smaller stem has small burnt orange leaves lining each one.
If you want to add some depth to an overly green landscape, cinnamon fern is the way to go.
botanical-name botanical name Osmunda cinnamomea
plant-type plant type Fern
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2 to 5 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 10

Cinnamon fern is an excellent option for areas in the landscape that are partially to fully shaded, with damp, rich soils. It is a true understory plant.

Clumps of cinnamon ferns average 2-3 feet tall, with a similar spread. Since it is a fern, it is non-flowering. However, the large yellow-green fronds have reddish-brown fibers near their bases, which resemble cinnamon sticks. In the fall, the leaves will turn yellow and fall off completely at ground level.

Eastern Hemlock

Medium sized tree densely packed with long branches covered in tiny green leaves, hanging over the trunk of the tree, touching the ground. Rocks surround the tree that vary in size. The day is clear and bright. The sky is blue and nearly cloudless. Other trees of various species grow in the background.
The Eastern hemlock tree has these unique, draping branches that make the perfect retreat for small animals.
botanical-name botanical name Tsuga canadensis
plant-type plant type Pyramidal conifer
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun or part shade
height height 40 to 75 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 7

Another evergreen member of the Pine family, the Eastern hemlock, is a great choice for a year-round habitat for birds and small animals. The overall shape of the Eastern hemlock is a cone shape, with the bottom significantly wider than the top. The branches droop like fringe on grandma’s shawl and are dotted with tiny, brown pinecones.

The traditional Eastern hemlock has the potential to reach a minimum of 40 feet tall and a width of 25-35 feet. The unique shape adds interest to your home landscape.

One potential problem with Eastern hemlock is the insect pest Hemlock wooly adelgid. This insect sucks the sap out of the hemlock branches, causing premature wilt and needle drop, including branch death.

The adelgid is a small, round-shaped cottony insect often found along the needles. This insect was brought over from Eastern Asia and does not have any natural predators here.

Eastern White Pine

Topmost part of a medium sized tree with spiky, long, needle-shaped leaves and tall, light yellow cones that grow on the ends of the branches. More green trees grow in the background and a tree with red leaves grows to the right toward the bottom.
The Eastern White Pine tree prefers full sun and well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Pinus strobus
plant-type plant type Needled evergreen tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun and partial shade
height height 50 to 100 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

Eastern white pines prefer full sun, receiving at bare minimum 6 hours of sunlight each day. They are relatively adaptable to many different soil types but prefer well-drained, sandy soil.

Avoid planting this pine near the street or sidewalks, particularly if they are salted in the wintertime for ice removal. The exposure of salts in the soil, as well as salt spray from passing vehicles, will cause tissue damage to the roots and needles, resulting in unsightly browning and even tissue death.

The needles of the Eastern white pine are arranged in clusters of five, green in color, and are soft to the touch, unlike other evergreen trees. In late spring, new growth emerges at the end of the branches, showing 6-8 inches of new, bright green growth. At maturity, Eastern white pines reach 50-80 feet high and 20-40 feet in width.

Despite being evergreen, needle cast is common among Eastern white pines. Needle cast is the yellowing and subsequent dropping of needles from the branches, usually the needles closest to the trunk.

Hornbeam

Close up of green, almond-shaped leaves with deep veins. Two long, ruffled, curled up leaves grow among the flatter leaves. The background is dark, green, and out of focus.
Hornbeam trees are smaller and can be layered in with taller canopy trees.
botanical-name botanical name Carpinus caroliniana
plant-type plant type Slow-growing, deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
height height 20 to 30 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

The American hornbeam is a great small to medium size tree, reaching heights of 20-30 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide and making a nice rounded canopy. The branches and trunks are deeply ridged, making the tree appear to have “muscles,” which gave way to another common name of the hornbeam, ‘musclewood.’

Hornbeams prefer to be in partial shade and moist soil. They do not tolerate droughts, excessive heat, or compacted soils.

The foliage of the hornbeam is a rounded triangular shape with tooth margins. The leaves turn orange-red color in the autumn. In early spring, male flowers produce yellow/green pollen on elongated pendulums called catkins. Female flowers are yellow/green puff balls. After pollination, the female flower will produce a small brown nutlet.

Mountain Laurel

Round clusters of light pink, cup-shaped flowers on the tops of long branches, surrounded by round, pointed green leaves.
An alternative to rhododendrons and azaleas, mountain laurels are often found in more wooded areas.
botanical-name botanical name Kalmia latifolia
plant-type plant type Broadleaf evergreen shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade or dappled sun
height height 5 to 15 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 9

Mountain laurels are found growing on the perimeter of the woods. Their growth is often a rounded shape, reaching heights and widths of 5-12 feet. They prefer the filtered sunlight that comes through the overhead tree canopy instead of receiving direct sunlight. Because of their shallow roots, the soil should be well-draining but moist. In true evergreen form, acidic soils are preferred.

Mountain laurels are a great alternative to rhododendrons and azaleas. They have clusters of cup-shaped flowers with petals that appear more fused together than individualized. Flower colors will vary from white and pale pink to deep magenta and purple.

It should be noted, like many members of the Ericaceae family, all parts of the mountain laurel are poisonous. So if you have pets that like to chew on your outdoor plants, consider a different evergreen shrub for your landscape.

Ninebark

Close up of a bush with small white flowers growing in round clusters grow among dark red-purple leaves that have three points and ruffled edges.
This Ohio native plant blooms white fluffy flower clusters in the late spring and early summer in contrast to the dark purple foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Physocarpus opulifolius
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to Full shade
height height 5 to 9 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 to 8

Ninebark is a great deciduous shrub. There are many cultivars available on the market today that display leaves of deep reddish-purple to bronze during the regular growing season. One characteristic that all the cultivars have is the presence of peeling or exfoliating bark, similar to that of birch trees. This peeling bark gives the ninebark a unique winter interest in the landscape.

Generally speaking, ninebark will reach 5-10 feet tall and wide. This shrub is very adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions, be it moist or dry, and can tolerate temperatures as low as -40 degrees. Due to its height, it can make an excellent privacy hedge.

Ninebark flowers in the late spring to early summer. This shrub blooms with clusters of white, fuzzy flowers that yield reddish-pink capsule-shaped fruit in the early fall. If you would like to promote fruit production, be sure to plant a few ninebark plants because they are not able to pollinate themselves.

Pussy Willow

Bush with very long, tall, skinny branches with tiny, fuzzy balls of white flowers growing along the entirety of each branch. Green grass and a wooden fence are in the blurred background.
This Ohio native plant prefers full sun and is commonly found in very wet areas, like marshes and river bottoms.
botanical-name botanical name Salix discolor
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 6 to 15 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

One of the first signs of spring is the pussy willow. The creamy white, fuzzy, elongated oval-shaped flowers are hard not to touch, even for adults. These flowers bloom prior to the emergence of the pussy willow leaves and are used as a source of pollen for early-arriving bees. Pussy willow leaves are small, elongated, and blue-green in color and add a nice texture and color variation.

Pussy willows prefer full sun and live in areas that are very wet, like marshes and river bottoms. Mature heights of pussy willow are between 10-20 feet, but the spread will vary. Pussy willows have underground stems called rhizomes that will lead to suckering and production of more twigs and branches above ground.

Pussy willows are one of the power pollinator garden plants. Not only do bees utilize the pollen from the pussy willow flowers in the early spring, but a wide variety of moths and butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves prior to metamorphosis.

Red Maple

Medium-sized tree covered in red leaves that are jagged from top to bottom, with bits of thin trunk visible only though small portions of the tree's branches and leaves. The tree is in a grassy field with other green trees in the background. The day is full of sunshine with a cloudless sky above.
The Red Maple tree will grow to be around 40 feet tall and prefers full sun.
botanical-name botanical name Acer rubrum
plant-type plant type Deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 40 to 60 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 7

Red maples are the most abundant native trees in eastern North America, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The average height of a red maple is 40-60 feet and about 40 feet wide, making it an oval shape at maturity. During the growing season, the red maple has green upper leaves, with the lower side being slightly gray in color.

One way to determine if a maple is indeed a red maple is by looking at the leaf petiole (the leaf “stem”) that attaches the leaf to the branch. Red maples have red-colored leaf petioles during the growing season. During autumn, the green leaves often turn to a brilliant shade of red, contrasting nicely with the silvery bark of the trunk.

If you are considering a red maple in the yard near the sidewalk, driveway, or patio, look for a male red maple (yes, maples come in both sexes). The males will produce flowers in the spring, whereas the females will form the whirlybirds we all played with as kids, botanically called samaras.

Red-Osier Dogwood

Cluster of white berries with smaller purple berries mixed in, growing off of a red branch with green oval-shaped leaves. The rest of the shrub grows in the background out of focus.
This Ohio native plant will thrive in full sun and can reach a height of 7 all the way up to 20 feet tall.
botanical-name botanical name Cornus sercea
plant-type plant type Upright-spreading, suckering shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to some shade
height height 7 to 20 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 to 7

The red-osier dogwood, also known as red twig dogwood, red stem dogwood, and American dogwood, is another multi-stemmed shrub commonly found in wet areas uninhabitable by other plants. With an equal height and spread of 6-9 feet, the red-osier dogwood does well in partial sun. The light intensity of a full sun scenario can cause heat stress during the peak of summer.

Clusters of flat, white flowers open in late spring/early summer against the backdrop of green, smooth, ovate leaves. The flowers lead to berries that provide food for numerous birds well into the winter season.

The most attractive feature of the red-osier dogwood is the stems. A bright, red clump of stems is quite striking in the dull, gray winter months. Red-osier dogwoods are great when planted in rows to create a natural fence line, especially since deer tend to leave them alone.

Red-Osier Dogwood Fun Fact: In addition to the berries being a food source for birds, the red-osier dogwood is a host plant for butterfly larvae and the flowers are visited by bees. This makes the dogwood a great plant for pollinator areas.

Sassafras

Close up of leaves hanging from a tree with three lobes. Some leaves are green and some are a bright yellow or orange. The sun shines brightly on the tree.
The leaves on sassafras trees are a distinct, three-lobed leaf, and will grow yellow and white flowers in the spring.
botanical-name botanical name Sassafras albidum
plant-type plant type Deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun and partial shade
height height 30 to 60 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

Sassafras trees are very adaptable to a variety of soil conditions. They will live happily in wooded areas, open fields, and along the road if the area is well draining. Sassafras can live in full sun to partial shade.

Even though I was taught to find the mitten-shaped leaves, the leaf shape can vary on sassafras. Common leaf shapes of sassafras include the mitten, three-lobed, and fork arrangements of oval-shaped, dark green leaves. Yellow to orange fall color is most common with sassafras, but occasionally you will also see the leaves turn red.

Sassafras blooms in the spring with little pom poms of yellow to white flowers, similar to the flowers of the Cornelian cherry dogwoods. After pollination occurs, small blue-black drupe fruits grow from the branches by deep red stems.

Sassafras Fun Fact: Traditional root beer was crafted from oil from the sassafras roots until the 1960s. Modern-day root beer still contains sassafras root, but the oil has been banned by the FDA due to its cancer-causing possibilities.

Showy Goldenrod

Close up of a bumble bee hanging from a skinny light green branch with tiny, bright yellow, flowers lining the stem. The background is yellow-green and very blurry.
Goldenrod shrubs will thrive in partial shade in zones 3 through 8.
botanical-name botanical name Solidago speciosa
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 2 to 3 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Some cultivated varieties of goldenrod are smaller in size than the ones you see running rampant in the fields and ditches along the roads. The plus side to using a cultivated variety is that although they do produce seeds, they do not set as many seeds as the wild types. Therefore, the cultivated types are less invasive to places outside your garden.

Cultivated varieties are less prone to spread via underground stems or rhizomes. Rather, they form clumps about 3 feet in diameter and stay contained for the most part. Full sun is required, but goldenrod can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions so long as it is well drained.

Goldenrod blooms towards the end of summer and into the autumn months. Tall, deep yellow plumes atop pale green leaves and red stems add great color to the landscape when most plants have begun shutting down for the season. These blooms are essential sources of food for pollinators who are beginning their migratory journey for the winter.

Sourwood

Close up of a branch with long, skinny orange leaves and clusters of light yellow seed pods. The sun shines on the branch. The background is blurred where more thin leaves and seed pods dangle in the shade.
Also known as Lily of the Valley tree, the sourwood tree will develop white fragrant flowers in the summer.
botanical-name botanical name Oxydendrum arboreum
plant-type plant type Deciduous understory tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 20 to 30 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 9

Sourwood, also referred to as Lily of the Valley Tree and Sorrel Tree, is a small understory tree, reaching 20-30 feet tall and 20 feet at maturity. Because of its preference to live on the outskirts of taller trees within the forest, sourwood performs best in moist, acidic soils receiving mid and late-day sun.

Long, oval-shaped leaves, 5-8 inches long, are glossy green during the summer, followed by red to purple fall foliage. The tree gets the name sourwood because of the sour taste the leaves give off when chewed.

Early summer produces white to cream-colored fragrant panicles of flowers, resembling the flowers of the perennial groundcover, Lily of the Valley. The flowers are very long-lasting, often remaining on the tree for 3-4 weeks.

Spicebush

Thin, dark brown branches with clusters of tiny yellow flowers growing along them. More dark, thin branches with several clusters of yellow flowers grow in the blurred background.
This hardy, adaptable Ohio native plant can grow in a variety of environments.
botanical-name botanical name Lindera benzoin
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 6 to 12 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

Spicebush is a very hardy, adaptable shrub for various environments. Natively, it is found along riverbanks, moist woodlands, and ditches. However, it can be planted where it can receive partial shade and moist but well-draining soil.

Rounded, yellow flowers emerge in mid-spring on the bare branches. The foliage on the spicebush is dark green with oval-shaped leaves. They emerge after flowering in the spring, turning deep yellow in the autumn.

Spicebush does grow at a faster rate than other shrubs. It maxes out at 6-12 feet and width at maturity. Spicebush does require some annual pruning to keep the plants contained. Prune the shrubs back after flowering to allow new flower buds to form on the remaining wood.

Spicebush Fun Fact: There is a specific member of the butterfly family that uses spicebush as a food source for its larvae/caterpillars. The spicebush swallowtail butterfly larvae eat the leaves on the spicebush shrub, so this plant is great for attracting pollinators to your garden.

Spiked Blazing Star

Field of tall flowering spires with spiky purple flower petals growing up each stalk. A bee flies in the center. The green spiky foliage grows toward the bottom of each spire, all the way to about 2/3 up the plant where the purple flowers begin. The sun is setting over the field.
Also known as prairie feather, these perennials grow in tall stalks that attract bees and other pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Liatris spicata
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial flowering plant
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 to 6 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Spiked blazing star, also known as prairie feather, snakeroot, and gayfeather, is a spike-shaped white or purple flower towering over a tuft of green grass-like foliage and is part of the Asteraceae family.

Prairie feathers prefer a full-sun location but can also thrive in partial sun. A well-drained area suits this perennial best due to the stems being located underground. In times of drought, spiked blazing star can go dormant prematurely, but the plant itself will not die. The mature size of liatris is 3-6 feet in height, including the flower stalks, but only 12-18 inches in width.

Spiked blazing star has a very unique characteristic. Unlike most flowers, which flower from the bottom up, the flowers located at the top of the flower spike open first, successively opening downward. Butterflies, moth larvae, and many bees are attracted to the gayfeather plant’s colorful flowering towers.

Squirrel Corn

Bright green, fan shaped leaves with small, satiny white colored flowers, dangling from a shepherd’s hook like petiole, in groups of four to eight.
Squirrel Corn shrubs love full to partial shade and are known for their extremely fragrant blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Dicentra canadensis
plant-type plant type Tuberous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
height height 6 to 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 7

A cousin to the perennial favorite bleeding heart, this species of Dicentra is native to the rich soils of forest floors. It receives filtered sunlight due to the canopy of leaves providing shelter from above.

Rather than the cultivated pink flowers, the flowers of squirrel corn are a satiny white color that grows in groups of 4-8. These heart-shaped flowers bloom mid-spring and last about 2-3 weeks. Blooms are very fragrant and are frequented by butterflies.

The leaves on squirrel corn are deeply fringed and green in color, resembling a delicate fern frond or flat-leaved parsley. The plants will reach a maximum size of 12 inches tall with equal width. Unfortunately, this green foliage only lasts for a few weeks after blooming.

Swamp Milkweed

Shrub with tall, thick, green flower stalks with large oval shaped leaves and light pink flower clusters. The shrub grows among tall overgrown grass that goes out of focus toward the background.
This Ohio native plant is known to attract monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Asclepias incarnata
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 to 4 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Swamp milkweed is an essential Ohio native plant for any pollinator garden or naturalized location. Monarch butterfly caterpillars forage on the narrow, smooth-edged green leaves of swamp milkweed before entering the transforming pupae stage.

A variety of bees will also visit the pinkish rose clusters of small, star-shaped flowers while they are in bloom from late spring until early autumn.

Swamp milkweed prefers full sun locations with wet, marshy soils, where they can reach heights of 4-5 feet and widths within the 2-3 feet range. Due to swamp milkweeds having a taproot instead of a fibrous root system, transplanting swamp milkweeds is not advisable.

The sap contained within swamp milkweed is poisonous. It can cause skin and eye irritations if you are accidentally exposed. Be sure to wear gloves when handling milkweed plants. Do not ingest any part of a milkweed plant, as the sap can impact the function of the cardiovascular system.

Sweetgum

Close up of a tree with bright orange/red, five pointed leaves and round, green, spiky balls growing among the leaves, hanging downward off the branches. There is a thin, gray-brown trunk to the left where the colorful leaves grow from. The background is out of focus foliage from another tree.
Sweetgum trees are Ohio native plants that are known to adapt well to different soil conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Liquidambar styraciflua
plant-type plant type Broadleaf deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 60 to 75 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 5

Sweetgums are very adaptable native trees when it comes to soils, tolerating both wet and dry areas with ease. Be sure to allow plenty of space for this tree, as it can reach heights of 60-80 feet, with smaller widths of 40-50 feet. This is definitely not a candidate near houses or in small landscaping beds. Full sun is preferred, but it can tolerate some shade, especially in the early part of the day.

Star-shaped leaves turn yellow, orange, red, and even purple during the fall, depending on the level of light the tree receives. The flowers are not particularly showy and are open during mid-spring.

The most noteworthy characteristic of the sweetgum is that of the fruit. The fruit is about the size of a quarter in circumference, hard, brown, and pointy all around the gumball.

Since the gumballs can be numerous from just one tree, many homeowners refrain from using this species due to the maintenance required for raking. Otherwise, sweetgums are pretty maintenance-free.

Turtlehead

Close up of a skinny, light green flower stalks with a cone shape cluster of small white budded flowers. More of these flower heads grow in the blurred background.
Turtlehead plants prefer full to partial sun and will reach a height of 2 to 3 feet tall.
botanical-name botanical name Chelone glabra
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun or part sun
height height 2 to 3 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

This may be one of my favorite perennials for partially shady spots, the turtlehead. I mean, a flower that looks like a turtle sticking its head out of its shell is pretty cool! These Ohio native plants can get 2-3 feet tall and spread 1-2 feet across. They grow in clumps in soils that are wet, swampy, and rich in decomposing leaf debris.

Leaves are dark green, narrow, and lance-shaped with toothed margins. The flower stalks are rather rigid, with a spike of white flowers with a hint of pink.

They are shaped like turtle shells surrounding the stem, blooming from the bottom upwards. Due to the flower shape, pollinators like hummingbirds and bees frequent turtleheads.

Although it is a different species, the commercially available Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ is a great splash of nearly fluorescent pink flowers not common that late in the growing season.

Wild Bergamot

Close up of a field of light purple flowers with spiky petals surrounding a large, purple, dome shaped center. The foliage is green and opens up around the flowers.
Wild bergamot seeds will attract songbirds, while their fragrance will deter small pests and deer.
botanical-name botanical name Monarda fistulosa
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 to 4 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Also called bee balm and Eastern bergamot, wild bergamot is a native perennial found thriving in full sun. They live naturally in dry, rocky soils along roads, fields, and forest perimeters.

Flowers are purple in color, resembling the shape of a firework, blooming in late summer/early fall. A member of the mint family, the green, toothed leaves give off a fragrance when crushed. This fragrance contributes to the lack of interest in the plant by rabbits, deer, and small mammals.

Wild bergamot will grow in clumps growing anywhere from 2-4 ft tall. If you are planting multiple plants, allow for air circulation. Powdery mildew, a white fungus that grows on the leaves and flowers, thrives under conditions of moisture and poor air movement. With proper plant spacing, you can help inhibit the pathogen formation within the flower bed.

Winterberry Holly

Close up of bright red round berries clustered together on a branch, with long oval shaped, light green leaves also growing on the thin, gray branches. The rest of the shrub grows in the blurred background.
The Winterberry holly will add a pop of color to any white winter landscape.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata
plant-type plant type Deciduous holly
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 6 to 12 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Another great Ohio native plant for winter garden interest is the Winterberry holly. Hollies thrive in acidic soil, typically on the outskirts of woods and forests. Those soils have a continual supply of leaf debris, which composts down year after year, creating a rich, slightly acidic soil. they prefer full sun but can withstand some shade, preferably in the morning.

Glossy, dark green leaves cover the brown twigs during the spring and summer. Flowers bloom in early summer. They are small and white, often unnoticed due to the foliage. The fall color is yellow, with the orange/red berries becoming more visible as the leaves turn and fall.

An important side note when it comes to berry production. Holly plants are dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants.

Female plants are the ones that produce the fruit. To get fruit, you need both male and female plants. One male plant is capable of pollinating four female plants. Place two females on each side of the male plant, and you will have a plentiful berry crop!

Wintergreen

Close up of small oval shaped, reddish-green, leaves and tiny red round berries. More of these reddish green leaves grow in the blurred background.
American wintergreen is a low-growing Ohio native plant, making them perfect for rock gardens and ground covers.
botanical-name botanical name Gaultheria procumbens
plant-type plant type Evergreen shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright light but little direct sun
height height 4 to 6 inches tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Also called boxberry, checkerberry, and teaberry, American wintergreen is our only evergreen perennial on the list. And for good reason. If you are looking for a low-growing native ground cover that will thrive in the shade, you are in luck with wintergreen. It is a low-growing Ohio native plant, only reaching 4-8 inches at maturity. However, the spread is nearly double the height,

Wintergreen is found naturally lining the floor of woods and forests, where the soil is rich in composting leaves from the trees above. The leaves are green and elliptical in shape. New leaves are a lighter shade of green and turn a spectacular shade of purple in autumn. This color persists through the winter months.

The summer months bring small, white, urn-shaped flowers. A ½-inch diameter red/burgundy colored fruit follows the flowers.

Witch Hazel

Thin, brown-gray, branches with clusters of bright yellow, spiky flowers with a red center growing along either side. More branches with the same flower clusters grow in the blurred background.
Witch hazel requires a unique pruning schedule and technique in order to have a significant bloom.
botanical-name botanical name Hamamelis virginiana
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub or small tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 15 to 20 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Common witch hazel is a late autumn dazzler. When everything else has dropped its leaves and begun its winter dormancy, common witch hazel has begun opening its showy, yellow, spider-shaped flowers on its zig-zag patterned branches and stems.

This shrub can reach heights of 12-15 feet with 8-10 feet spreads at maturity. Commonly found on the exterior borders of woods and forests, witch hazel likes to have full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It also likes a nice rich soil, which is slightly acidic and well-draining.

Witch hazel is relatively maintenance-free. If pruning does need to happen, prune in the early spring after flowering has occurred. Witch hazel blooms on old wood, so if you prune at the wrong time of year, you can accidentally prune off any formed flower buds.

Yellow Buckeye

Close up of a tree branch with small, thin golden-orange leaves that are textured with lines that point toward the center vein. There are tiny, light green flower buds in clusters at the tips of the light green stems where the leaves also grow. The background is green and blurred.
Yellow Buckeye trees will develop these beautiful golden leaves in the fall.
botanical-name botanical name Aesculus flava
plant-type plant type Deciduous tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 50 to 75 feet tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

It is impossible for me not to include a buckeye tree in this list, given the list is specific to Ohio and my loyalty to the university…how firm thy friendship O-HI-O! Seriously, though, the yellow buckeye is a great specimen for the home garden.

Yellow buckeyes mature to a 60-70 feet height and a narrow 30 feet spread, making them elliptical in structure when fully grown. Leaves are dark green in color, composed of 5 finger-like leaflets that meet at the leaf petiole. If grown in full sun, the fall color of the yellow buckeye is golden yellow to sunset orange, making it a striking individual focal point in the yard or garden.

Spring brings pale yellow panicle-shaped flowers, which lead to green-brown fruit that contain one to two seeds. These seeds are known as buckeyes due to their rich brown color with a creamy white to tan center ‘eye’ resembling the eyes of male deer common in Ohio’s woodlands.

Final Thoughts

There are hundreds of Ohio native plants that are equally impressive as the specimens listed above. However, regardless of how spectacular they are, some natives, like trillium, are very beautiful but virtually impossible to find commercially. And when you do find them for sale, they are insanely expensive for the size of the plant you receive.

The majority of my list is plants that you can find at a reputable garden center or retail nursery. You may discover there are different varieties of these natives on the market too. Differing slightly in height, color, or disease resistance, these variations are, more times than not, improvements on the original plants themselves.

Now you have the knowledge to pick native plants that bring both beauty and functionality to your home landscape. Consider the plant’s mature size when making your selections, as well as the level of sunlight and type of drainage your site has. Then sit back and enjoy a wide variety of flowers, foliage, and wildlife your hard work will provide.

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