Sure, coneflower and black-eyed susan are great. But there’s more to Midwestern native plants than those two stalwarts. In fact, you may be surprised by a few plants that boast Indiana roots.
Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern sea oats)
Native to rich woodlands and slopes near streams, Northern sea oats sports drooping seedheads that rustle beguilingly on 2′ to 4′ stalks. It performs well in full sun to part shade. While it does best in moist soils, it’s tolerant of drier, poorer soil too. Sea oats self-seeds aggressively; either cut off the seed heads (a shame, since they’re so lovely) or plant it where it can naturalize.
Hibiscus moscheutos (Rose mallow)
Despite its tropical looks, this hibiscus is actually native to Indiana! While rose mallow can handle a bit of shade, full sun and good air circulation will produce the strongest stems and biggest flowers. Cultivars are available in sizes from 2′ to 7′ tall. Blooms come in tones of red, white, and pink, and foliage may be green or have a purple cast. We’ve had good luck with ‘Luna Red,’ ‘Fireball,’ and ‘Kopper King.’ We’ve planted ‘Plum Fantasy’ in our garden here at SGS. Chicago Botanic Garden conducted a trial of H. mochuetos cultivars in 1993; many new cultivars are available well.
Phlox paniculata (Garden phlox)
A standby of the garden border, Phlox paniculata is native to Indiana. The 2′ to 4′ perennial likes a slightly alkaline soil and prefers full sun, but can handle some shade as long as it gets six hours of sun a day. Loads of cultivars are available in tones of pinks, purples, magentas, and white.
Phlox is prone to powdery mildew, so make sure it has good air circulation. We cut several stems in each clump in half to improve air circulation and stagger the blooms. Chicago Botanic Garden has a ranking of P. paniculata cutivars from its trials.
Rhus aromatica (Fragrant Sumac)
Not to be confused with poison sumac, fragrant sumac is a smallish, Indiana shrub native to open woods. It grows in full sun to part shade, spreading to create a thicket with a strong, musky smell. Fragrant sumac has small yellow catkins, red berries that are good for wildlife, and terrific fall color. (Plant at least two if you want berries.) While the species can get to about 5′, the dwarf cultivar R. aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ tops out around 2′ to 3′ and makes a terrific ground cover, especially for a dry site. Use it to stabilize full-sun sites, to cover the back area of a naturalistic garden, and to create additional wildlife habitat.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster; Michaelmas daisy)
Previously Aster novae-angliae, New England aster is a robust plant 3′ to 6′ tall with starry flowers. Grow it in full sun to light shade in good soil. In its common form, New England aster is pretty rangy and wild-looking for the border. But thanks to plant breeders, we can now choose from pink and purple asters in a range of sizes, from the 5′ tall ‘Harrington’s Pink’ to the dainty 16″ ‘Purple Dome.’ Check out this trial by Chicago Botanic Garden for a ranking of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.