Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping in Maryland

Milkweeds such as this butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) are important host plants for Monarch butterflies. Photo credit: Randy Loftus, USFWS.About These Plant Lists

These lists provide information about native plants that can be used for habitat restoration and natural or environmentally beneficial landscaping projects such as BayScapes. All of the plants listed occur naturally in Maryland. The list is divided by region. Plants are grouped by plant type, then listed alphabetically by Latin name. This is not intended as a complete list of plants native to Maryland. Rather, plants have been included because they have both ornamental and wildlife value, and are generally available for sale.

Why Use Native Plants?

Native or indigenous plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved. They are adapted to local soil, rainfall and temperature conditions, and have developed natural defenses to many insects and diseases. Because of these traits, native plants will grow with minimal use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Wildlife species evolve with plants; therefore, they use native plant communities as their habitat. Using native plants helps preserve the balance and beauty of natural ecosystems.

A box turtle enjoys a woodland garden featuring native plants (here, fern fiddleheads as they emerge in spring). Photo credit: Britt Slattery, USFWS.Treasured Natural Resources

Maryland's landscape includes a wide range of natural communities, physiographic provinces, and natural features. Here, one can find both southern and northern ecosystems in close proximity. From the cypress swamps, barrier islands, and Delmarva bays of the Eastern Shore; to the rolling hills, stream valleys, and hardwood forests of the Piedmont plateau; to the mountain boreal bogs, caves, and limestone woods to the west, Maryland offers a diversity of habitats that support an impressive variety of species. Rich in plants and animals, Maryland harbors some species with extremely limited ranges -- the nationally endangered dwarf wedge mussel and Delmarva fox squirrel find refuge within our borders, along with rare subterranean invertebrates, beach-loving beetles, and uncommon shale barren plants, like Kate's-mountain clover. When early colonists first explored this part of the New World, they found an abundance of wildlife, including elk, wolves, bison, and prairie-chickens. Today, these species are gone from Maryland and many more have declined. Much of our natural heritage is now confined to small fragments of the original wilderness. As our population grows and land-use pressures intensify it is increasingly important that we protect our vanishing species and remaining natural areas, and restore or create habitat for the wildlife that remains. Maryland's wildlife, plants, habitats, and network of streams and rivers that lead to the Chesapeake Bay hold tremendous resource potential, as well as educational, recreational, aesthetic, and cultural values. By working together, these treasures can be conserved for future generations.

Maryland's Regions and Habitats

Map of Maryland.

From the sandy dunes of the coast to the rocky slopes of the mountains, Maryland's rich variety of habitats are strongly linked to its geology (see map). For this guide, the state has been divided into three regions:

  1. The coastal plain, an area with a more southern climate in the eastern part of the state, which includes the Chesapeake Bay's eastern and western shores, up to the fall line roughly represented by U.S. Route 1. Click here to see plant lists for this region.
  2. The Piedmont plateau, which extends roughly from the fall line to Frederick, MD. Click here to see plant lists for this region.
  3. The mountain zone, a more northern climate, which reaches from Frederick westward, above the 1500' elevation level. Some native plants are common throughout the state, while others are adapted to the unique conditions found only in one or two regions. Click here to see plant lists for this region.

This publication is part of a set of three brochures that feature lists of species appropriate for planting in Maryland's coastal plain, Piedmont plateau, and mountain region. To help ensure successful landscaping and restoration, use plants' natural ranges to guide your plant selection. For more complete plant information, request a copy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new edition of Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat, a more comprehensive guide to native plants for the full Chesapeake Bay watershed (see references list). Wetland, forest, meadow, and thicket are just a few of Maryland's habitats, each of which is characterized by plants that have adapted to the available growing conditions. Plants usually do best when placed in sites with the same light, moisture, and soil conditions as their natural habitats.

Growth ConditionsA bumblebee visits eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowers.  Pollinators play a critical role in the success of our native plant populations. Photo credit: Britt Slattery, USFWS.

LIGHT. The amount of sunlight a plant requires is defined as: (1) Full sun (Su), the site is in direct sunlight for at least six hours a day during the growing season; (2) Partial shade (PS), the site receives approximately three to six hours of direct sunlight; and (3) Shade (Sh), the site receives less than three hours of direct sunlight or filtered light.

MOISTURE. The amount of soil moisture a plant requires is defined as: (1) Wet (W), areas where the soil is saturated for much of the growing season, except in droughts. Many of the plants designated for wet areas tolerate specific ranges of water depths. Consult a wetland plant specialist or reference book; (2) Moist (M), areas where the soil is damp, and may be occasionally saturated ("average soil" has been included in this category); and (3) Dry (D), areas where water does not remain after a rain. The latter areas may be in full sun or in a windy location, on a steep slope, or have sandy soil. Plants in this category are drought tolerant.

SOIL. Many of the native plants listed will tolerate a range of soil types. For best results, select plants suited to existing site conditions rather than amending the soil. However, be aware that plant selection may be limited if your site has very sandy soil, heavy clay, compacted soil, or extreme soil pH (above 6.8 or below 5.5). In these cases, seek advice from a nurseryman, horticulturist, botanist, Maryland Cooperative Extension, or other expert.

Designing a Habitat

In addition to providing the growth conditions that native plants prefer in the wild, it is also a good idea to try to re-create a natural habitat. Consider using plants together as they grow in the wild (known as plant communities). Arrange plants in groups or groves, providing several layers of vegetation. Select plants that fruit or bloom during different times of the year to provide food for wildlife year round. For more information and assistance, particularly with large habitat projects, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, county Soil Conservation District, Maryland Cooperative Extension, or other natural resources agency or organization.

Seed heads can be ornamental while providing wildlife food.  New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is one example. Photo credit: Britt Slattery, USFWS.Where to Find Native Plants

Most nurseries carry some native plants, and some nurseries specialize and carry a greater selection. Some plants will be more readily available than others will. If you have a favorite that you can't obtain, be sure to ask your local nursery to consider adding it to their stock. A list of native plant nurseries in the Chesapeake Bay region is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office at Native plants should not be removed from the wild unless an area is about to be developed. Even then, it is difficult to transplant wild-collected plants and to duplicate their soil and other growth requirements in a home garden. Plants that are grown from seed or cuttings by nurseries have a much greater tolerance for garden conditions. Help to preserve natural areas by purchasing plants that have been grown, not collected.

Avoid Using Invasive Non-Native Plants

Non-native or exotic plants introduced from other parts of the world or other parts of the country have degraded many natural ecosystems. Although many non-native plants are considered beneficial and do not escape into the natural environment, it is difficult for most gardeners to know the risks of every ornamental plant. Some of these introduced plants are invasive, meaning that there are few or no naturally occurring measures such as insects or competitors to control them. Invasive plants can spread rapidly and smother or out-compete native vegetation. Ecosystems impacted by invasive, non-native plants have a reduced ability to clean our air and water, stabilize the soil, buffer floods, and provide wildlife food and shelter. Lists of non-native plants to avoid in your landscape are available from the Maryland Native Plant Society, Maryland DNR Heritage Program, or Plant Conservation Alliance (see contact information).

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) provides early spring bloom and valuable berries for birds in fall. Photo credit: Britt Slattery, USFWS.For More Information

There are many resources available that provide information on native plants and natural landscaping. Walking in natural areas near your home is a good way to see the plants in their native habitats, and to get ideas on how to plant them in your landscape. Check libraries and bookstores for field guides to native plants and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay region. You will also find books on how to create native plant landscapes. Organizations such as the Maryland Native Plant Society and the Plant Conservation Alliance publish newsletters and maintain Web sites. Landscaping with native plants has become very popular, and you will be joining many others in this effort to help preserve Maryland's natural resources.

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 Publication by USFWS BayScapes Conservation Landscaping Program
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Last updated: 9/4/01