I was super excited the other day when I looked over while sitting on my back porch and noticed that my Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) was in bloom. The common name comes from how the leaves are attached to the square stem in such a fashion that they form a "cup". It's a native plant to Illinois and I have a beautiful stretch of them along the one side of my house and here and there popping up in the backyard too. Of course this got me thinking about some of my other favorite native plants.
I should preface this with just because its native does not make it immune to disease or insect issues. For example, Ash trees (Fraxinus sp.) are native trees but are currently being decimated by an exotic invasive insect – Emerald Ash Borer and unless treated will not survive and we are no longer recommending them being planted. There are also some native plants that really aren't suitable for the landscape and don't have problems but just aren't good choices such as Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) which is a fast growing weak wooded maple. So with that being said – here are some of my favorite native Illinois plants.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) – This is my absolute FAVORITE tree in the world. It's a deciduous conifer – forms cones but loses its needles in the fall. It has a gorgeous coppery fall color and is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. The bark is a beautiful reddish/orange brown and with age the trunk becomes fluted. Make sure to give it room to grow as it can reach 50-70 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide.
PawPaw (Asimina triloba) – The largest native fruit bearing tree in Illinois and the fruit is really tasty. I consider it to be along the lines of a tropical fruit blend – banana, mango, pineapple type flavor. For best fruiting make sure to place PawPaw in a full sun setting in moist well-drained soils. This tree can grow anywhere from 15-30 feet tall.
American Hornbeam/Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) – This tree can reach 20-35 feet tall (and wide) and has a globe shaped canopy. The bark of the tree is a gorgeous smooth gray color and with age the truck begins to take on the appearance of flexed muscles hence the common name. It will do fine in average well-drained soils in part to full shade. Come fall the tree will provide a display of red, yellow or orange leaf colors.
American Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) – This native shrub can grow 8-12 feet tall with a similar spread. Chose a planting location in part to full sun with moist well-drained soil but it will tolerate poorer soil conditions as well. I love this shrub because of its multiple seasons of interest – white flowers for a few weeks in late spring/early summer, bright red fruits come late summer, and red/purple fall color. How can you argue with that!
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) – This is the awesome shrub that has the bright red stems in the middle of winter. There are a lot of cultivars available that provide a range of heights from a couple of feet tall to over 10 feet. This shrub does well in a range of soil conditions, but prefers moist well-drained soils in part to full sun. The brightest red stem color is on the younger stems so implementing a renewal pruning plan is a good idea to keep new growth forming. Renewal pruning is removing 1/3 of the oldest growth each year over a 3 year period.
Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) – I absolutely adore this perennial. Beautiful blue flowers in the late spring followed later by charcoal black seed pods and a lovely overall shape. I'd recommend a full sun location with average well-drained soils, but it will tolerate part shade and drought and poor soils. Over time Blue False Indigo will develop an extensive root system and should not be transplanted once established so make sure to pick a permanent home when choosing a planting location.
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – I dedicated an entire article on this back a few months ago, but it deserves mention again. It's a food source for monarch caterpillars, has gorgeous orange flowers June through August, drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer resistant – need I say more? This is another plant that is best if you find it a permanent location as it doesn't transplant well. Chose a full sun location with average, dry to medium, well-drained soils.