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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

9 native Illinois shrubs for sun and shade

Amorpha canescens - Lead Plant - Layne Knoche

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on April 30, 2021

Whether you have an area around your home that gets full sun or shade, is wet or dry, there is a native shrub option for you. Native shrubs are touted as easier to care for and provide ecosystem services like flowers for pollinators and berries for birds. When planting native shrubs, plant in groups and water during the establishment period.  

Full sun but need additional water during drought: 

  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) grows 10 feet tall and spreads by suckers. Fragrant small white flowers in clusters appear in May and June. White drupes that are attractive to birds appear later in summer followed by bright red ornamental stems that last all winter.  

  • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) forms thickets and is a fast growing 5 to 12 foot shrub. Showy fragrant flowers appear in June in large clusters. Berries are purplish black drupes that are edible.  

  • Virgina Sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a spreading shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall. It has a long floral display of drooping fragrant white flowers starting in May. The fall color is red, orange, and gold, and leaves stay on the plant well into winter.   

Full sun and can withstand drought conditions: 

  • Lead plant (Amorpha canescens) grows 2-3 feet tall and gives way to long purple spikes July through September on top of hairy gray foliage.  

  • New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) grows 3-4 feet tall. This compact plant displays fragrant white flowers from May until July attractive to hummingbirds.  

  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum calycinum) grows between 2 and 5 feet and blooms June through August bright yellow.  

Part shade to full shade but need additional water during drought: 

  • Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a large shrub, 12 to 15 feet, and blooms on erect panicles in April and May. These flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds. Can also be planted in full sun.  

  • Spice bush (Lindera benzoin) grows 6- 12 feet with fragrant yellowish blooms appearing in March before the shrub leafs-out. Female plants produce attractive red drupes but male plants have a showier floral display. The leaves turn bright yellow in autumn. Spicebush can be planted in full sun.  

Part shade to full shade and can withstand drought conditions: 

  • Bush honey suckle (Diervilla lonicera) is not the invasive honey suckle that plagues the state’s natural areas, but is an Illinois native. Bush honey suckle grows 2-3 feet tall and has yellow tube-like flowers that appear in June and July. An outstanding fall color follows.  

For more information on planting your new shrubs, read these tips for shrub success.


Pictured: Amorpha canescens (Lead Plant)

Photo credit: Layne Knoche, Illinois-Indiana SeaGrant