The 2005 Way Hot 100: American Natives

I Love This Plant

The 2005 Way Hot 100: American Natives

March 17, 2005


  • Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice' (Blue star) Longer blooming than the species, the cool blue flowers continue for four to six weeks from mid- to late spring. Only 14 inches tall, it can even be used as a ground cover. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' (Dwarf aromatic aster) One of the last things to bloom in the glowing autumn garden, a compact plant with vibrant blue flowers and fragrant foliage. This is a "true plant for the designer...with an extravagant look and lots of flowers." (DHS) Zones 5 to 8.
  • Athyrium filix-femina 'Dre's Dagger' (Lady fern) Thin, sharply pointed fronds have a crisscross pattern of leaflets. The crested tips continue to grow through the season, creating lush, frilly tassels. To 18 inches tall. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Cercis canadensis 'Appalachian Red' (Redbud) This redbud cultivar "shouts when it opens" from dark reddish-purple buds to "glow-in-the-dark neon" magenta flowers, clustered thickly along the bare gray branches. (TB) Flowers later than most forms. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Clematis viorna (Leather flower) This delicate-looking clematis is easy to grow in part shade. Urn-shaped flowers with thick, leathery petals, pinkish purple at the base and white at the tips, appear in late spring and bloom for several weeks, followed by golden, downy, Medusa-like seed heads. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Coreopsis 'Crème Brulée' (Tickseed) Similar to 'Moonbeam', this selection is more vigorous with longer-lasting blossoms. The soft gold flowers occur all along the stem, not just at the tips, appearing earlier and continuing longer (into fall) than its popular cousin. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Echinacea Big Sky TM Series (Coneflower) Hybrids between E. purpurea and E. paradoxa, the first introductions by Saul Nurseries are 'Sunrise' (yellow) and 'Sunset' (orange). They offer huge flowers in luscious colors, light fragrances ('Sunrise' has a "honey-rose scent"), a sturdy plant form and a longer bloom period. (RS) Zones 4 to 9.
  • Heuchera 'Peach Flambé' One of the latest in a line of eye-popping heucheras, the bright peach-colored foliage with infusions of red really "blows people away." When backlit, "I just cannot explain the glow." (DH) Zones 4 to 9.
  • Hibiscus 'Plum Crazy' (Rose mallow) Another in an outstanding series from the Fleming Brothers of Nebraska, this close relative of 'Kopper King' hibiscus has the same wine-colored foliage but darker flowers ("where rose meets purple") that reach 10 inches across and a purple eye zone. (DHS) Compact and shrubby, 3 to 5 feet tall. Zones 5 to 9.
  • Hydrangea White Dome TM (Smooth hydrangea) "Like a smooth hydrangea on steroids" (PM), strong stems support the 6- to 10-inch, dome-shaped, creamy white blooms without flopping under the weight, as 'Annabelle' hydrangea often does. Large leaves have a thick, substantial texture and white undersides. Zones 4 to 7.
  • Liriodendron tulipifera  Majestic Beauty TM (Tulip poplar) Unusual square-ended leaves are marked with yellow or greenish-yellow margins. A fast-growing shade tree with a signature straight trunk, to 80 feet. Flowers are tulip-shaped, chartreuse brushed with day-glo orange. Fall color is golden-yellow. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Lonicera sempervirens 'John Clayton' (Coral honeysuckle) Unlike other yellow forms of the native honeysuckle, this heavy bloomer, selected by the Virginia Native Plant Society, continues to flower for a long time?from June through November. Good orange-red berries in the fall, very mildew resistant. Zones 4 to 8.
  • Lysichiton americanus (Swamp lantern) A Northwest native with the intriguing names of swamp lantern and Western skunk cabbage. Large, yellow scoop-shaped flowers emerge in very early spring. Enormous 3-foot leaves follow. A dramatic plant for a boggy location. Zones 5 to 8.
  • Opuntia ellisiana 'Burbank Spineless' (Prickly pear) Imagine the durability and drama of a cactus minus those pesky spines! With its "highly sculptural effect," it "makes a great focal point in a xeriscape planting, surrounded with other drought-tolerant but more delicate-looking plants." (PB) Zones 7 to 10.
  • Penstemon 'Sour Grapes' Large, tubular, juicy purple flowers cluster thickly at the ends of pink-tinged stems that will mingle with nearby plants. Bright green narrow leaves are evergreen. Zones 6 to 9.
  • Phlox paniculata 'Laura' (Summer phlox) Large heads of bright purple flowers with white, star-shaped eyes make 'Laura' a standout in the summer border. Mildew-resistant, dark green leaves line the sturdy 3-foot stems. Zones 4 to 8.
  • Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' (Spiderwort) With its compact mound of bright chartreuse-yellow, strap-shaped leaves and electric-blue flowers, this is a screaming combination, though it blends surprisingly well with other perennials in the spring garden. Needs a bit of shade, where it really glows. Drought tolerant. Zones 5 to 8.


We couldn't squeeze them all into the April issue, but here are three more great natives you should know about:

  • Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven' (Jacob's ladder) Unlike many variegated plants, this one has vigor; five-year-old plants at the New England Wild Flower Society, where it was discovered, are 2 feet across. Though it has lavender flowers in spring, "you grow variegated plants for the foliage, and 'Stairway to Heaven' just keeps putting on leaves," even until frost if it's kept watered. (BC) Zones 4 to 8.
  • Rhododendron Confederate Series When Dodd & Dodd Nursery selected from a cross between R. austrinum and a heat-tolerant Exbury hybrid azalea, the plants needed "gorgeous colors, a nice fragrance and to be tolerant of the conditions in Semmes, Alabama"?where summers are hot! (TD) The first in the series, 'Admiral Semmes', has huge clusters of fragrant, creamy yellow, 21?2- to 3-inch blooms. Zones 6 to 9.
  • Wisteria macrostachys 'Aunt Dee' (Kentucky wisteria) "Blooms are significantly bigger than other native wisterias, with a bicolor effect and a nice fragrance, similar to lilacs." (PM) Flowers later in the spring and at a young age, with 6-inch clusters of purplish blue and white. Refined foliage emerges silver after flowering has begun. Zones 5 to 8.