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Opt for Sticking with Illinois Natives

As a horticulturist, I am often asked to name my favorite plant. After my mind spins from traveling through my past, I am left momentarily speechless. Is my favorite plant the bountiful bunch of cymbidium orchids from Holland or the vivid blue poppies from the Chelsea flower show in London or the pineapple lilies on display at Longwood gardens in Pennsylvania or those gorgeous pink poppies adored by Illinois gardeners?

None of these options are my answer because I favor native Illinois plants -- native plants like fleeting spring woodland ephemerals, summer prairie blooms the color of fire and fall trees framing beautiful Illinois skies.

I chose native Illinois plants because somewhere along this journey of “all things University of Illinois horticulture,” I became an environmentalist. In addition to growing beautiful flowers, I fell in love with insects and their interactions with plants and flowers.

As gardeners, we learn that non-native plants cannot compete with native plants when it comes to attracting butterflies. The Illinois landscapes and its 150 species of butterflies and 1,850 species of moths can be benefited by the choices of gardeners like you. It is as simple as choosing alternatives to typical non-native and invasive landscape plants.

  • Instead of planting butterfly bush or shrub lespedeza to attract butterflies, plant native Hyssop, Milkweed, Liatris, Purple Coneflower, Bee Balm and Joe Pye Weed.
  • Instead of invasive burning bush for brilliant fall color, plant Highbush Blueberry, Chokeberry, Summersweet and Fothergilla.
  • Instead of Japanese barberry and border privet for hedges, plant Bayberry, Virginia Sweetspire, Highbush blueberry and Chokeberry. Prune these after flowering to keep shape.
  • Instead of invasive bradford callery pear for fast-growing gorgeous flowering trees, plant witch hazel, service berry, arrowhead viburnum, dogwood or hawthorn.
  • Instead of invasive winter creeper and lysimachia for ground cover plant Barren Strawberry or Bearberry Cotoneaster.
  • Instead of English Ivy for shade ground cover, plant Wild Ginger, Variegated Dead Nettle, Foam Flower, Virginia Bluebells, Ostrich Fern, Sweet Woodruff or spring wildflowers.
  • Instead of invasive sweet autumn clematis or wisteria for climbing vine plant climbing hydrangea.
  • The spread of these landscape invasives can also contaminate natural areas by outcompeting native Illinois plants.

For more information on landscape alternatives for invasive plants, visit For information on Illinois wildflowers please visit