Looking to incorporate more native plants, but appreciate the form and/or function of some familiar non-natives? Fear not- native plants go far beyond the species generally seen at traditional nurseries. To further the goal of invasive plant removal and naturalized landscaping, bellow is a quick list of some native alternatives to common non-native plants. Think of our suggestions as “Including but not limited to”. These are not comprehensive lists of every species that will work, but are a good place to get started!
Invasive Plants- These plants are actively detrimental to local habitats and should be removed as soon as possible. Immediately replanting with native species discourages invasives from recolonizing and hastens recovery of wildlife habitat.
Amur (Bush) Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive: Both wildly invasive species common along roadsides, fence rows, forest edges, and second growth forest understory. Easily replaced with American Elderberry, an adaptable and fast growing native with a similar growth habit. Plant longer lived, slower growing shrubs and small trees at the same time for long term health, such as Cranberry Viburnum, Blackhaw Viburnum, Red Mulberry, Northern Spicebush, Eastern Wahoo, Coralberry, Hoptree, and more!
Japanese Honeysuckle Vine: A quick grower and rampant spreader that strangles native woody plants. Replace with showy native flowering vines such as Trumpet Vine, Virgin’s Bower Clematis, and Purple Passionflower, or vines valuable to wildlife like Wooly Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa), Yellow Passionflower, and American Bittersweet.
Callery Pear, Bradford Pear: Infamous and smelly invasives, they readily reseed and form dense, thorny colonies wherever there is room. Small, showy spring blooming native trees include American Plum, Flowering Dogwood, Alternate-leaved Dogwood, Serviceberry, and Redbud.
Winter Creeper, English Ivy: Often planted for groundcover in shady areas, these evergreen vines are difficult to eliminate, can girdle trees, will form vast, choking colonies, and reseed in new areas. Native groundcover for shady areas include Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), Wild Strawberry, Canadian Ginger, Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), and Running Wahoo (Euonymus obovatus).
Firebush: A wildly invasive shrub still commonly used in landscaping due to its fall color. Native shrubs with showy fall foliage include Sumacs, Dogwoods, Blueberries, Sweetspire, Spicebush, and Chokeberry. Native euonymus species, like the Eastern Wahoo, bear similar fruit.
Lilly of the Valley: Develops a thick root mat that is difficult to remove once established, and readily spreads to wild areas. Replace with similarly growing Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum tacemosum), and Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora).
Asiatic Bittersweet Vine: Commonly planted for its decorative berries that linger into winter, it can easily be substituted for the similar American Bittersweet. The two vines are so similar in appearance that they can be mistaken at first glance, so be sure to positively identify wild plants before propagating them, or buy from a knowledgeable grower.
Forsythia: Easily replaced with the hardy Northern Spicebush, which have small, yellow flowers in the early spring and turn bright yellow in the fall. As a bonus, spicebush supports the first pollinators in the spring, hosts spicebush swallowtail butterflies and promethea moths, and has red fall berries valuable to migrating birds! A prime example of the importance of native plants over non-natives!
Privet: A family of bushes native to Asia that spread prolifically through runners. Can be replaced with most any native shrub including Black Chokeberry, Red Chokeberry, Chokecherry, and Sweetspire.
Vetch, Crown Vetch: A groundcover of medium height originally introduced to combat erosion, it is an egressive colonizer and, once established, will spread and choke out all competition. Native plants that spread well by runners or layering are can be used for erosion control instead, such as Coralberry, or the herbaceous plant Whirled Milkweed.
Sweet Autumn Clematis: In a boon for clematis fans, this invasive vine has an almost visually identical native clematis- the Virgin’s Bower Clematis!
Narrowleaf Cattail, Hybrid Cattail: Sadly, these little known and extremely common, densely growing invasives are routing our native Broadleaf Cattail and reducing the value of wetlands to wildlife. To make matters worse, narrowleaf cattail hybridizes with broadleaf cattail to produce a possibly more virile hybrid cattail. Care must be taken to replant with the native broadleafs and not hybrids. Wet habitats can also be planted with native such as Rose Mallows (Swamp, Halberd-leaf), Bulrushes (Great, Rufus, Hardstem), Horsetails, Swamp Rose, Pickerel Weed, Ironweed, Swamp Milkweed, Cardinal Flower, and Sedges.
Phragmites: A tall, plumed invasive now oft seen in ditches and along bodies of water. Waterside alternatives include Rose Mallows (Swamp, Halberd-leaf), Bulrushes (Great, Rufus, Hardstem), Horsetails, Swamp Rose, Pickerel Weed, Ironweed, Swamp Milkweed, Cardinal Flower, and Sedges.
Landscaping Plants- These plants are a common sight, but are of little value to wildlife. Any planting can be made more sustainable and immediately create habitat while maintaining aesthetics by switching these species out for natives!
Yucca: Can be easily replaced with the prairie plant Rattlesnake Master. Though Rattlesnake Master is a visual look-alike and favors the same sunny, well drained habitat, it is not a close relative of yucca. It is actually in the parsley family!
Irises: Conveniently, the Indiana has a number of native irises including Southern Blue Flag Iris, Zigzag Iris, and Dwarf Crested Iris. Smaller, slender irises can be replaced with their close cousins, Stout Blue Eyed Grass or Common Blue Eyed Grass.
Hibiscus, Rose-of-Sharon: The Midwest has perennial, native hibiscus! Our water-loving but often adaptable natives are Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), Halberd-Leaf Rose Mallow (Hibiscus laevis), and Hairy Rose Mallow (Subspecies of Hibiscus moscheutos).
Lilies: Our native lilies and kin are just as stunning at their imported cousins, and far more at home in our environment! Check out Spider Lily (Hymenocallis occidentalis), Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum), and American Tiger Lily (Lilium superbum).
Chinese Holly: Although Indiana is short on evergreen plants, we do have a native, deciduous holly bush- Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)! They will drop their leaves in the fall, but female plants bear the classic red bunches of berries that often hold on the bush into the winter. Coralberry also bears red bunches of berries into the winter.
Clematis Vines: Our native clematis is Virgin’s Bower Clematis, which flowers densely with small white blooms. Purple Passionflower can be planted for a vine with large purple blooms, though the more modest Yellow Passionflower has a wider range in the state.
Hydrangea: Indiana has a native wild hydrangea, Smooth Hydrangea! These take much the same conditions and care as their non-native relatives, and have similar flat bunches of white flowers.
Report sightings of invasive species to IDNR here.
See species illegal to sell/move/plant in Indiana here.
INPS list of native plants by habitat/purpose here.