Southern Native Plants Worth Growing

Choose these native plants for easy-growing Southern charm.
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'Blue River II' Hardy Hibiscus

Dinner-plate size white blooms give this hardy hibiscus a breathtaking quality from July to September. Like all hardy hibiscus, 'Blue River II' performs best when soil stays consistently moist and full sun bathes the plant. Cut plants back to 3 to 4 inches in late fall. This hibiscus is hardy in zones 4 to 9; provide winter protection in coldest zones.

Blue False Indigo

Beautiful purple flower spikes appear in late spring to early summer above blue-tinted leaves on this shrubby native. Blue false indigo can be slow to establish in the garden and dislikes being moved, so take time to site it carefully. Give plants full sun, and keep an eye out for caterpillars. Many butterflies use this plant as host food for their caterpillar larvae. False indigo is hardy in zones 4 to 8.

Black Tupelo

Also called black gum, this Southern favorite fills autumn forests with fiery color. Black tupelo soars to 30 to 50 feet, with a pleasing, broadly pyramidal shape. It makes an excellent street tree and withstands soil conditions from dry to standing water. Female trees bear fruit that’s a favorite among birds. These trees don’t transplant well, so site them where you want them. Black tupelo is hardy in zones 3 to 9.


Spicebush brings multi-season interest to a garden. Scented blooms appear in late winter to early spring, before leaves unfurl on branches. Fall color features yellow shades, and when leaves drop, female plants display red berries that beckon birds. Be sure to plant both male and female plants to get berries. The shrub also hosts spicebush swallowtail butterfly larvae. Plants are hardy in zones 4 to 9.

Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia

An ideal choice for smaller yards, Moonglow magnolia opens lemon-scented blooms from mid-spring to early summer. Unlike other magnolias, Moonglow tolerates wet and even boggy sites. Plants tend to be deciduous except in the warmest areas, although foliage can be semi-evergreen even in colder zones. Growth tends to be more shrub-like in coldest areas; a traditional tree-like form occurs in more Southern zones. Moonglow is hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Lady Fern

Choose lady fern for a lush groundcover in a shady garden. Plants tolerate full sun if soil stays consistently moist. This fern thrives in well-drained soil with average moisture, but plants can tolerate drier soil. Lady fern provides wonderful habitat for insects and ground-feeding birds. This fern is hardy in zones 4 to 8. 'Lady in Red' features dark red stems that stand out against chartreuse green fronds.

Shooting Star

Tuck this pretty wildflower in a part to fully shaded garden with average, well-drained soil. The purple to pink blooms appear in early spring and provide an important pollen source for bees. Plants are spring ephemerals and disappear as summer heat arrives. Let blooms set seed, and you’ll be rewarded with drifts of these bloomers. Avoid waterlogged soils, especially those that drain poorly in winter. Plants are increasingly rare in the wild. Shooting Star is hardy in zones 3 to 8.

'Munchkin' Oakleaf Hydrangea

This cultivated variety of the native oakleaf hydrangea boasts a tight, compact form that’s ideal for modern yards. Plants reach a mature size of 3 feet tall by 4.5 feet wide and are suitable for use as a specimen shrub or hedge. Flowers open white and fade to pink as they age. Leaves turn an eye-catching mahogany red in autumn. Harvest faded flowers to dry for indoor arrangements. 'Munchkin' is hardy in zones 5 to 8.

'Blue Shadow' Fothergilla

Before leaves unfurl, white, honey-scented bottlebrush blooms that attract pollinators appear on fothergilla in early spring. Leaves offer blue shades in summer and stage a stunning fall display of red, orange, gold and purple hues. Hardy in zone 4 to 8, fothergilla blends easily with native azaleas and rhododendrons.

Swamp Milkweed

A must in butterfly gardens, swamp milkweed is a host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly adults visit blooms, along with many other pollinators. Flowers are typically pink, but you may spot some white blossoms on plants. Despite the name, swamp milkweed tolerates average to moist soils. This tap-rooted perennial prefers full sun and is best left undisturbed once planted in the garden. Swamp milkweed is hardy in zones 3 to 6.

Franklin Tree

This native flowering tree has become extinct in the wild. It makes a good addition to modern yards with its small stature. Late summer blossoms smell like honeysuckle, and fall foliage offers bright shades of red, orange and purple. Plants demand well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Full sun works for trees in northern regions; in the South, provide afternoon sun. Franklin tree is hardy in zones 5 to 8, but needs winter protection in northernmost areas.

American Witch Hazel

Yellow flowers with ribbon-like petals appear on plants in late fall about the time that leaves drop, providing an important late-season pollen source for insects. Plant form is a shrub to small tree. In its native setting, witch hazel favors woodland settings with well-drained, acidic soil, but tolerates heavy clay soil. Plants form suckers and will spread to form a shrubby colony. Remove suckers to keep plant spread in check. Witch hazel is hardy in zones 3 to 8.

Woodland Phlox

Woodland phlox forms carpets of blue in early spring throughout Southern forests. The blossoms provide an important food source for early-season pollinators—bees love these flowers. In the garden, give plants a shady spot in soil that’s moist, but well-drained and filled with organic matter. Woodland phlox spreads easily and makes an excellent groundcover. Plants benefit from summer mulch and are hardy in zones 3 to 8.

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