17 Native Plants For Tennessee Gardens

Are you thinking of adding some native plants to your Tennesee garden? There are many different native plant options, depending on the area of the state you live in. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares some of her faborite native plants for Tennessee garden spaces.

Native Plants for Tennessee Gardens

If you live in Tennessee, you happen to live in an excellent area for gardening. Tennessee encompasses USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, with a vast majority of the state being in zones 6 and 7. This temperate climate with regular rainfall is ideal for growing many wonderful native plants.

Why choose native plants for gardening? Native plants provide many benefits for gardeners and for the local landscape. All plants provide environmental services, such as taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, providing erosion control, helping create clean groundwater, and providing shade. Gardening with native plants provides some additional benefits.

Benefits of Native Plants

    • Well-adapted to local climate.
    • Don’t require as much fertilizer.
    • Are not invasive within their native range.
    • Food source for wildlife.
    • Nectar and host plants for native butterflies.
    • Attract native honeybees.
    • Variety of beautiful species to choose from.
    • Many are very easy to grow.

If you live in Tennessee, there are a wide variety of native plants you can choose from, including trees, shrubs, wildflowers, vines, and ferns. The most important thing is to choose plants that will grow well in your specific location. Let’s now take a look at some of the top native plants for Tennessee gardens!


American Beautyberry

Bright green bush with long, pointed leaves and long red stems with clusters of pink and light green berries.
The American Beautyberry plant provides an ample source of food for birds and other wildlife.
botanical-name botanical name Callicarpa americana
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 3 to 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 to 12

American beautyberry is a great native shrub for attracting wildlife, especially birds. It’s native to most areas of Tennessee and into Kentucky.

Spring flowers are small and insignificant, but in the fall, the American beautyberry fruits ripen into bright purple berry-like clusters clinging to the stems. The fruits are very showy and much loved by many foraging fruit-eating birds.

These plants typically stay less than 6 feet tall but can grow taller in ideal conditions. They also grow fairly wide, with long arcing branches, so give your beautyberry plenty of room to spread.

American beautyberry does well in partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. Once established, it can tolerate some drought.

Bee Balm

Tall flower stems with spiky pink flowers on top.
These sun loving flowers will attract hummingbirds and other essential pollinators to your garden.
botanical-name botanical name Monarda didyma
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 to 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

Bee balm is a sun-loving wildflower that is a favorite of hummingbirds. Clusters of bright red tubular flowers attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, making it an excellent choice for a pollinator, butterfly, or wildlife garden. Flowers bloom throughout the summer for long-lasting garden color.

Bee balm is a member of the mint family and the leaves and stems have a fragrant minty scent. Plants do best in well-drained soil but are not overly picky about soil quality.

They will grow well in moist soils and become fairly drought-tolerant once established. Plants can be propagated either from seed or by diving established clusters.

Black-eyed Susan

Bright yellow flowers with brown, dome shaped centers.
This popular perennial is self seeding and known to spread quickly.
botanical-name botanical name Rudbeckia hirta
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 to 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 10

Black-eyed Susan is perhaps one of the best-known native wildflowers. It has bright, cheerful yellow flowers with dark brown centers. Flowers are very showy and bloom from summer into early fall. The flowers attract a number of pollinators and the subsequent seedheads attract seed-eating birds.

Black-eyed Susan is a short-lived perennial that’s perfect for Tennessee gardens. It also grows well as an annual. It freely re-seeds itself in most situations to keep growing reliably and spreading to develop colonies.

At peak bloom, a large mass of black-eyed Susan is very eye-catching! Black-eyed Susan grows best in full sun with well-drained soil.

Butterfly Weed

Cluster of tiny orange flowers with a black butterfly perched on top.
These perennials are a staple in any butterfly garden.
botanical-name botanical name Asclepias tuberosa
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 1 to 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Butterfly weed, or butterfly milkweed, is one of the best plants for a butterfly garden or pollinator garden. Milkweed plants are the host plants for the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Milkweed flowers attract a wide variety of butterflies and other pollinators.

Bright, showy clusters of vibrant orange flowers bloom throughout the summer. After flowering, large oblong seed pods are interesting to observe, and when they burst open in the fall, they reveal a mass of soft, white, fluffy seeds.

Butterfly weed is best grown in full sun, with rich, well-drained soil. Plants become quite drought-resistant once established.

Christmas Fern

Several tall, hairy, green stems growing up from a pile of leaves. Each stem is curled up at the top with tiny baby leaves tucked inside, waiting to spread out.
Christmas ferns prefer moist, shady locations and are mostly found in lush wooded areas.
botanical-name botanical name Polystichum acrostichoides
plant-type plant type Fern
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
height height 1 foot
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Don’t forget about ferns when considering native plants. Ferns provide beautiful green foliage for a moist shade garden location. Each spring, new leafy fiddleheads emerge from the ground, unfurling into delicate fronds. The fronds stay green throughout the summer and into late fall.

Christmas ferns would make a good addition to any moist, wooded, or shaded location. They prefer rich, well-drained soil. Ferns do not grow from seed, but instead from spores.

If purchasing a potted Christmas fern, you can expect it to slowly grow into a large clump that can then be divided, if desired.


Close up of a red and white flowers. Each flower has 4 thin, white upward-pointed tubes surrounded by five longer, red,  pointed petals.
The Columbine flower comes in a variety of colors to choose from.
botanical-name botanical name Aquilegia canadensis
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 1 to 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Columbine is a versatile native perennial wildflower that grows well in a partly shaded location. Foliage is very attractive and almost fern-like, providing beautiful green leaves for most of the growing season.

Leaves will tend to wither and die back by late summer, particularly in sunnier or dryer locations. If your plant’s leaves turn brown mid-season, don’t worry, just cut back the dead vegetation and your columbine will regrow the following spring.

There are several colorful cultivars of columbine, but the native variety has red and yellow flowers. Flowers are uniquely shaped, like 4 thin upward-pointed tubes connected by a common drooping bell-like opening. The flowers bloom in late spring and attract hummingbirds.

Dutchman’s Pipe

Large yellowish-green color, pipe shaped flower growing on a vine with large heart shaped leaves.
These unique plants provide the perfect breeding ground for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.
botanical-name botanical name Aristolochia tomentosa
plant-type plant type Vine
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 20 to 30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 8

Dutchman’s pipe is an interesting native vine that grows well in both full sun or partial shade. Grow it in rich moist soil; it does not do well in overly dry soil. Dutchman’s pipe can grow to be a very long climbing vine. It needs a support structure to grow on, such as a sturdy trellis, arbor, or fence.

Vines will spread vigorously by underground runners, so be sure to give it plenty of space. Flowers are interestingly pipe-shaped, hollow tubes, but a fairly inconspicuous yellowish-green color.

Dutchman’s pipe is the host plant of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. If you are lucky enough to attract these butterflies, they will lay their eggs on the heart-shaped leaves, and you will soon have large black caterpillars munching away.

Don’t worry, though, this vine is vigorous and will have plenty of leaves to share with the caterpillars, which will then become the next generation of beautiful butterflies.

Eastern Redbud

Dark brown branch with pink flower, heart shaped leaves and a butterfly perched on one of the flowers.
The Eastern Redbud tree will reach a height of 20 to 30 feet.
botanical-name botanical name Cercis canadensis
plant-type plant type Tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 20 to 30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

If you are looking for a smaller native tree to add to your landscape, consider an eastern redbud. These attractive trees tend to stay fairly small and will grow well in either full sun or partial shade. They do best in medium-moisture soil but are not overly picky about soil quality.

Eastern redbud is a familiar sight along forest edges in the springtime. This tree’s dense purple flowers almost cover the bare branches early each spring, followed by the emergence of heart-shaped leaves. Leaves turn yellow in the fall, and after leaf drop, elongated seed pods often remain on the tree for year-round interest.

Fringe Tree

Long dark branch with clusters of leaves and tiny star shaped flowers.
This is a low-growing tree that turn completely white when they are in full bloom.
botanical-name botanical name Chionanthus virginicus
plant-type plant type Tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 12 to 20 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Fringe tree is a smaller native tree that puts out a stunning spring flower display each year. Small clusters of delicate, white, fringe-like flowers bloom from late spring through early summer. In full bloom, this tree becomes almost entirely white with feathery flowers.

Fringe tree is an attractive low-growing tree with many branches, making it sometimes look like a very large shrub. In summer, female trees produce small dangling fruits that attract birds, and in the fall, leaves turn a deep yellow color. Fringe tree grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil.

Hearts a Bursting

Close up of a bright pink, spiky looking fruit, hanging from a skinny green branch with long pointed leaves.
This Tennessee native is a great food source for deer and other smaller mammals.
botanical-name botanical name Euonymus americanus
plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade
height height 4 to 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 to 9

Hearts a bursting, also known as strawberry bush, is an unusual shrub. It generally looks like a small cluster of upright, sparsely-leafed stems emerging from the ground. In the spring, small inconspicuous white flowers bloom along the stems at leaf joints.

By mid to late summer, showy fuschia-red seed pods develop, bursting open to reveal fleshy bright red-orange seeds. Leaves change from green to red in the fall.

Hearts a bursting is a valuable wildlife food plant. Birds and small mammals will enjoy the little fruits and seeds, and deer like to eat the vegetation, so protect your young plants from browsing deer if you want to preserve them. Hearts a bursting grows best in a shaded location with rich, moist soil.


Thick branch with large, dark maroon-colored flowers, that have six overlapping petals that slightly curl back. The petals have deep, intricate veining and a green and white, textured center.
These fruit trees produce delicious, mango-shaped fruit in mid-fall.
botanical-name botanical name Asimina triloba
plant-type plant type Tree
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 15 to 30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 9

Pawpaw is a wonderful native tree for home gardeners. In spring, dark maroon-colored flowers bloom along the branches. Pawpaw will produce delicious, edible fruits but needs two genetically different trees to cross-pollinate. By mid-fall, mango-shaped fruits ripen and are enjoyed by both humans and wildlife.

This fruit tree does surprisingly well in partial shade. It prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil. Trees will multiply by underground root suckers to eventually form colonies. Leaves are oblong, tapering to a point, and slightly drooping. In autumn, leaves change to an attractive yellow color.

Prairie Aster

Field of purple flowers that have long, skinny petals with a spiky yellow center.
Prairie Aster is a low-maintenance wildflower that grows in large open areas with ample sun exposure.
botanical-name botanical name Symphotrichum turbinellum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 to 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 8

There are many aster varieties available to gardeners. Prairie aster is a low-maintenance wildflower that is native to prairies and open woodlands of the central United States. This plant grows best in full sun with rich, well-drained soils. Once established, it is fairly drought tolerant.

The prairie aster is a medium-sized perennial that can become rather bushy. From late summer through mid-fall, prairie aster will be covered with a multitude of small pale purple flowers with yellowish-orange centers. Flowers attract butterflies and bees and would be a good addition to a pollinator garden.

River Oats

Close up of grasslike branch bent over with flattened, rows of golden brown seed pods.
This ornamental grass will add a rich texture to your yard or garden.
botanical-name botanical name Chasmanthium latifolium
plant-type plant type Ornamental grass
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 to 5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Ornamental grasses add diversity to the landscape and should not be overlooked when planning a garden. There are a number of native grasses, such as river oats, which are showy and easily incorporated into your planting.

River oats, also sometimes called sea oats, blooms from late summer into early fall. Plants are tall and grasslike, developing flattened green flowers and seeds.

The seedheads are showy and add some interesting diversity to the garden. As the season progresses, the seedheads turn golden brown and continue to stand well into the winter months.

Rose Verbena

Close up of two tall flower stalks, with balls of five petal, light purple flowers.
This Tennessee native thrives in the sun with rich, well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Glandularia canadensis
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 0.75 to 1.5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 to 10

Rose verbena is a very pretty herbaceous perennial native to the eastern United States. It grows best in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. It is low-growing and will fill in areas to make an effective ground cover. Incorporate rose verbena into a rock garden or pollinator garden, or grow it along edges and borders.

Rose verbena grows in a loose cluster. It has bright green leaves that may become bronze-edged in bright sunlight. This plant has a long blooming season and may flower anywhere from late spring through fall. Flowers are bright pink and attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Solomon’s Seal

Long green branch with long, white, tube shaped flowers hanging down from the branch.
These flowers provide a whimsical look to gardens with more shade and moisture.
botanical-name botanical name Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
height height 3 to 5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

Solomon’s seal, or giant Solomon’s seal, is a wonderful plant for a moist shade garden. Tall, upright, gracefully curving stems emerge from the ground each spring, lined with simple, alternate leaves.

Drooping, bell-like, greenish-yellow flowers form along the undersides of the stems. The foliage is unique and adds beautiful diversity to a shady location.

Solomon’s seal likes an area with rich, moist, well-drained soil. This species typically grows in moist woodlands with ferns, mosses, and other understory plants.

Plants will slowly spread over time by underground rhizomes. Plants are most easily propagated by dividing larger clusters and replanting the rhizomes.

Wild Geranium

Close up of four light purple flowers with a bubble bee on one. Each flower has five, purple, round overlapping petals with dark red veins and a white center.
These low growing flowers are a great source of nectar for a variety of pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Geranium maculatum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
height height 1 to 2 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Wild geranium is a perennial perfect for Tennessee gardens. This native perennial wildflower is a versatile plant and can be use in a variety of different ways. Grow it as a ground cover, in a pollinator garden, or with other native plants. This clump-forming plant grows well in full sun or partial shade and moist soil, although it will tolerate some brief dry periods.

Wild geranium has attractive, deeply cut leaves. In springtime, plants bloom with showy flowers in shades of pink or purple. When large clusters of wild geraniums bloom in mass, the effect is quite eye-catching. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators

Woodland Phlox

Close up of a cluster of light purple, star shaped flowers. Each flower has five, pear shaped petals with a white throat in the center.
These flowers provide a colorful carpet of blooms from mid-spring to early summer.
botanical-name botanical name Phlox divaricata
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
height height 0.5 to 1 foot
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

Woodland phlox is a beautiful plant for a moist shade garden plot. This native perennial wildflower grows naturally in moist, shaded woodlands, often in lowland areas near streams. It is a familiar spring wildflower that attracts early-season butterflies and other pollinators.

Bright pink to purple 5-petaled flowers grow in masses atop tall stems. The flowers bloom in profusion from mid-spring until early summer, creating a carpet of color in densely planted clusters.

The rest of the year, the plant is simply a leafy green mound. The stems and leaves are slightly hairy and also slightly sticky feeling when touched.

Final Thoughts

Gardeners in Tennesee have many wonderful options for native plants that can be easily incorporated into the landscape. Native plants can be hardy, long-lived, and showy, coming back year after year with beautiful foliage and flowers.

Select plants that will grow best in your local soil and light conditions and give them plenty of space to grow and thrive. Then relax and enjoy your native plants and all their benefits!

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