Seed the Day: Popular Native Plants for Chicagoland Gardeners

With close to 2,000 species native to the Chicago region alone, choosing the best ones for your garden can seem overwhelming at best. A few pieces of good news: Gerould Wilhelm, author of Plants of the Chicago Region, says only about 100 of those will actually do well in the typical garden (for more on that, read the myth).

Still overwhelmed? We hear you. So we’ve put together a short list of popular native plant picks that tend to do well in gardens around Chicagoland.

Common Witch-Hazel: These big (we’re talking 20-30 feet tall, and 15-20 feet wide) shrubs do well in full sun to shade, and moist, well-drained soil. We love the yellow ribbon-like flowers they produce in fall.

Shooting Star: A dainty spring perennial, this native plant has a leafless flower stem with lovely white or pink blossoms. It likes full sun to partial shade, and moderately moist soil.

Some of Illinois' natural beauties, clockwise from left: little bluebell, purple coneflower, shooting star. (Pictures by Chicago Botanic Garden)
Some of Illinois’ natural beauties, clockwise from left: little bluebell, purple coneflower, shooting star. (Pictures by Chicago Botanic Garden)

Purple Coneflower: An Illinois prairie flower star, the vivid coneflower is a lovely addition to a sunny garden. Its rosy-purple daisylike flowers bloom in late summer—and can last straight through to October.

Bluestem: One of the most common prairie grasses in the state, this warm-season grass was named the Illinois state prairie grass in 1989. Its delicate leaves and bright fall and winter colors make it a nice way to highlight areas of your garden.

Golden Alexander: A native perennial, this member of the carrot family grows up two feet tall, with starbursts of yellow flowers blooming from late spring to early summer. It thrives in full to partial sun, though light shade can work too, and moist, loamy soil is best.

Glade Fern: This lush native fern has elegant, shiny leaves, and grows well in moist, silty or loamy soil that’s lightly shaded and sheltered.

Blue Wild Indigo: These pretty, native perennial plants are related to beans, and produce showy flowers in varying shades of blue in late spring. They fare best in full sun with average moisture levels and rocky or loamy soil.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of other great native options for your garden out there. The decision as to what to buy depends on so many variables, from the sunlight in your location to the soil composition, so the best thing to do is check with an expert. Head to one of these native plant sales, where you can browse and get advice while you’re at it.