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Native Shrubs

These are only some of the native shrub species you could choose for your landscape- check with local gardeners, nurseries, and other plant experts for more!  See the Resources section on our Native Plants page for some good places to start.

As a point of interest, we also mention how Native Americans and pioneers used some of these plants for food or medicine.  However, this is not meant as a promotion of their use in this way today.  Historical records may be inaccurate or unclear, and the reader should not interpret this information as being an endorsement of that use being safe.

Each shrub is linked to its profile at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  All links will open in a new window.

Alder, speckled (Alnus rugosa)
This large shrub or small tree is found near streams or sites with moving water in wet meadows and forests. Pendulous flowers emerge in early spring, bringing a soft, earthy yellow to the landscape. Following the flowers, light green leaves turn dark green in summer and then yellow, tinged with red in fall. Falling leaves reveal cone-like fruits that persist all winter. Alder does well in nutrient-poor sites because it can "fix" atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.

Birch, bog (Betula pumila)
This multi-stemmed shrub is most at home in wetter soils. Its small, leathery leaves are coarsely toothed and dotted with shiny glands. The cone-like fruits are held upright and stay perched at the end of branches throughout the winter.

Blackberry, highbush (Rubus allegheniensis)

Bladdernut, American (Staphylea trifolia)
This large shrub or small tree is found in lightly shaded woodlands with moist-to-wet soils. The soft green foliage in spring and summer lightens a shady corner. Bladdernut has bell-shaped, creamy white flowers in spring that transform into bladder-like capsules in fall and dry to look like paper lanterns. This plant develops more flowers and foliage in sunnier, cultivated situations.

Blueberry, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Highbush blueberry is a handsome, large shrub that grows in acidic soils preferring moist to wet areas in partial shade to full sun.  It has dark-green to blue-green leaves in summer that change to beautiful reds and yellows in fall.  This species is the plant source for cultivated blueberries. The delicious fruit emerges after the spring flowers fade, ripening in August.  It is a nice choice as a background shrub in a large planting island.

Blueberry, low sweet (Vaccinium angustifolium)
This two-foot-tall shrub is found in acidic soils of varying moisture content.  It blooms earlier than the highbush blueberry, and its flowers are white, tinged with red.  The glossy, dark green to blue-green leaves define the small spreading, twiggy form of this plant, as does its display of deep red fall color.  The berries are very sweet and edible! This species could function as a loose ground cover.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Wet openings in forests and shrublands are what this large shrub prefers, but it also tolerates drier sites. Its glossy foliage emerges in shades of red and green, changing to dark green in summer and then yellow-green in autumn. Buttonbush is an interesting addition to the wet garden because it blooms in late summer, with creamy white spherical flower clusters that attract small butterflies. These flowers go on to produce round fruits that persist throughout the winter.

Chokeberry, black (Aronia melanocarpa)
This is a small, adaptive shrub that is usually found in wet shrublands or fields, but can prosper under many site conditions.  Black chokeberry provides four seasons of interest. Spring flowers are white with pink anthers; summer leaves are glossy and dark green; fall foliage is crimson; and winter color is provided for a short time by the persistent blue-black fruits.  

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. virginiana)
This large, spreading, multi-stemmed shrub is found in sunny and lightly shaded areas. In spring its leaves emerge as red and green, changing to bright green in summer and golden yellow-orange in fall.  The white spring flowers come out after the leaves, transforming into dark purple or black fruit loved by birds.  This species is one of the most widely distributed native shrubs in North America.  The fruit is edible, though has varying degrees of astringency, and can be used to make jelly.

Cinquefoil, shrubby (Potentilla fruticosa)
This superb small landscape shrub is found in wet, open sites, though it prospers under many conditions. The new leaves unfold in shades of green-gray, changing to bright or dark green in summer and yellow-brown in fall. Shrubby cinquefoil is one of the few plants that flowers all summer with bright yellow blooms, making it a good choice for foundation plantings in sunny locations.

Cranberry, large (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Bogs and low areas are where the large cranberry prefers to grow.  It has wiry, intertwining stems lying close to the ground.  They bear small, leathery leaves and pink flowers that resemble miniature shooting stars. Early settlers thought the stem and expanding flower resembled a crane’s neck and bill, and the plant was called “craneberry”.  The red berries of this species are used for commercial cranberry production and in making sauces and jellies.

Dewberry, northern (Rubus flagellaris)

Dogwood, alternate-leaf (Cornus alternifolia)
Alternate-leaved dogwood is a large shrub or small tree found in moist or dry, shady sites with good drainage.  Its attractive horizontal branching is like that of its cousin, flowering dogwood.  The spring flowers are exceptionally fragrant, although delicate in appearance.  The fruit, a favorite of birds, changes from green to red to blue-black in a handsome display.  This plant is a good choice for well-drained, semi-shady spots.   However, the more sun it gets, the better it flowers and fruits.

Dogwood, gray (Cornus racemosa)
This large, adaptable shrub is found under many site conditions including wet meadows, dry shrublands, and old fields.  Gray dogwood is handsome in spring with green leaves tinged with red, which turn gray-green in summer.  In fall, the leaves take on a striking purple-maroon color.  Coupled with white berries on bright pink-red stems, this shrub provides a unique display through fall and winter.  More songbird species use gray dogwood for nest building than any other native plant.  It spreads readily, so give this shrub room to grow. 

Dogwood, red-osier (Cornus stolonifera)
A striking, medium-sized shrub found in moist or wet, open or shrubby sites.  This plant’s most attractive asset is its prolific, deep red stems that are beautiful in the snow or against a light-colored wall or fence:  the more sun exposure, the redder the stems.  To maintain twig redness, prune back older stems that have faded.  The summer foliage is also handsome with dark green leaves that turn red and orange in the fall.  A winner for wet to moist places in the garden.

Dogwood, roundleaf (Cornus rugosa)
This medium-sized shrub grows in lightly shaded sites of moist forests.  In early spring its large round leaves are green and red.  They turn to deep green in summer and maroon in autumn.  The showy clusters of flowers cover the shrub in summer, producing white-blue fruit enjoyed by birds and other wildlife in fall.

Dogwood, silky (Cornus amomum)
A mid-sized shrub that is found in open, wet meadows and shrublands.  The ornamental qualities of this shrub are subtle, which make it perfect as a backdrop for other showier plants.  Birds love the porcelain-blue fruit, which disappears quickly.  Branches become increasingly purple through the winter.

Elderberry, red (Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa)
This medium-to-tall shrub grows in moist, partly shady or sunny forest locations but is very shade-tolerant as well.  Another favorite of the birds, its bright red berries ripen in June and July.  There isn’t a consensus on whether or not the berries can be eaten by people; all the vegetative parts (leaves, stems, roots) of the plant are poisonous!  The medium green leaf color makes a good background for a colorful flower border.

Elderberry, American (Sambucus canadensis)
A spreading, medium-to-large shrub found in partly sunny locations of wet meadows and forests. With its arching branches, the spreading form of American elderberry makes it a good candidate for natural areas away from the house. The late flowers add interest to mid-summer, and the later fall fruit is a favorite of quail and pheasant, as well as other wildlife. Like the red elderberry, this plant’s vegetative parts are poisonous, but the berries can be used in cooked treats such as jellies and pies.

Gooseberry, prickly (Ribes cynosbati)
This medium-sized shrub is found in practically any wooded situation, wet or dry.  Arching, delicate-though-armed branches present light green in spring, medium green in summer, and yellow leaves which are tinged with orange to red, turning to purple, in fall.  Small clusters of greenish-white flowers adorn the plant in spring; when the green berries turn red-purple they are ready to eat (but prickly and sour!).  This plant, however attractive, does provide an alternate host to eastern white pine blister rust, so don’t plant it near white pines.

Hazelnut, American (Corylus americana)
A medium-sized shrub with zig-zag branches, it is found in open woodlands and edges under many soil and moisture conditions.  Leaves are yellow-green throughout the season until the fall, when they turn brilliant shades of yellow, purple, and red.  The male flowers are in clusters of dangling brown tails.  The inconspicuous flowers develop into a plump fruit surrounded by a hairy husk with ragged edges.  The nut is gobbled up by wildlife unless you’re watching closely; it is considered as good as imported European filberts.

Holly, Michigan (Ilex verticillata)
This handsome, medium-to-large shrub grows in sunny or partly shaded locations of wet shrublands and wet forests.  Michigan holly has many seasons, beginning with its delicate white flowers in early summer.  Leaves are glossy and deep green, providing a rich contrast to the bright red berries that emerge in late summer and persist throughout the winter.  This plant is glorious against a backdrop of snow.  You need to plant at least one male specimen for female plants to set fruit

Hop-tree; Wafer-ash (Ptelea trifoliata)
The hop-tree prefers dry, sandy or rocky soil.  Its three-parted leaves are somewhat reminiscent of poison ivy leaves without teeth.  They smell bitter when crushed and have been used in various herbal remedies.  The attractive fruits are papery thin wafers that have been tried as a replacement for hops in brewing.  The glossy green foliage turns a soft yellow in the fall.

Juniper, ground (Juniperus communis var. depressa)
Ground juniper is a low, spreading, evergreen shrub that grows in open, dry sites of fields and shrublands.  This slow-growing plant can get large and take on variable forms, but it always provides year-round landscape interest with its blue-green foliage.  It also serves wildlife as a place for shelter and as an important food source.  The dusty, dark blue juniper "berry" is actually a fleshy cone.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)
This fascinating medium-sized shrub is found in partly shaded, moist, wooded sites in rich soils.  It has very flexible branches that are "leathery" and almost impossible to break.  An early bloomer, its flowers emerge before the leaves, making an interesting introduction to spring.  The light green summer leaves turn a clear, beautiful yellow in fall if the shrub is planted in a semi-shaded location.  Native Americans used its branches to make woven baskets, bowstrings, and fishing lines.

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba)
This small shrub is found in moist or wet, open sites of meadows and shrublands.  Its numerous, delicate stems make it an excellent filler plant in front of the shrub border.  Meadowsweet’s flower spikes make a fluffy display in late summer and dry into attractive seed heads for winter interest.

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
A small shrub, New Jersey tea grows in very dry, open to somewhat shaded sections of prairies, fields, and savannas.  The delicate stems make a thick mass and support flower spikes in mid-summer.  The flower clusters can be dried and used in floral arrangements or other decorative arts.  The size and nature of this shrub make it a prime candidate for the perennial border.  During the Revolutionary War, this plant’s leaves were used as a substitute for tea.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
This twiggy, medium-sized shrub is found in moist or wet, open conditions of wet forest and meadows.  Its branching habit makes it suitable for screening or massing.  Pretty, pink-white flowers decorate the plant in late spring or early summer, while developing fruit provides a rose-red color during summer.  Falling leaves in autumn reveal attractive peeling bark and the papery fruit capsules persist throughout the winter.

Plum, American wild (Prunus americana)
This large, multi-stemmed shrub or small understory tree is found in open, dry sites. In spring before the leaves emerge, fragrant white flowers open on the many slender branches and then fade to pink as they begin to create yellow or red fruit in late summer. This shrub’s foliage begins as light green, turning dark green in summer and pale gold in the fall. The fruit is juicy and sour and can be eaten raw or cooked in jams and jellies.

Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
This large shrub or small tree is found in moist, open old fields or shaded sites.  It is an excellent shrub for barriers due to the stout prickles along the stems. Yellowish flowers in spring draw attention before the green foliage emerges.  This plant is the larval food of Michigan’s largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail. Native Americans chewed the stems and fruits of this plant to alleviate toothaches.  Its leaves have a pleasant citrus fragrance when crushed.

Raspberry, black (Rubus occidentalis)

Rose, Carolina (Rosa carolina)
Our smallest native rose, found in dry prairies and open woods, grows well under various soil and moisture conditions. This plant has erect, prickly stems that display large, deep pink flowers in summer. Its small stature makes it the perfect rose to add to a perennial border. It has light-to-medium green foliage in summer that turns yellow-orange in fall. Bright red hips (fruits) decorate the plant in fall and winter.

Rose, prairie (Rosa setigera)
The prairie rose is a scrambling mound of tangled thorny branches that produces large, lightly fragrant pink flowers that fade to white. It is often found in thickets and along fencerows in almost any soil. The bright red hips (fruits) are relatively small and are borne in open clusters. Give this shrub room to spread or train it on a trellis or garden arbor.

Rose, smooth (Rosa blanda)

Rose, swamp (Rosa palustris)
This mid-sized native rose is found only in wet forests and shrublands.  The red-brown, prickly canes display pink flowers in early- to mid-summer and red-orange hips (fruits) in the fall.  This is a nice ornamental addition to any low, wet area of the garden.

Saint John's-wort, shrubby (Hypericum prolificum)
This delightful delicate shrub is amazingly tough and tolerates most types of soils and wetness.  It is found in old fields, swampy areas or open woods.  The fine textured leaves are narrow and not toothed.  The flowers start opening along the ends of the branches in June and continue throughout most of the summer.  A large tuft of golden yellow stamens tops the bright yellow flower petals.  

Serviceberry, Allegheny (Amelanchier laevis)

Serviceberry, shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis)

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
A harbinger of spring, this large shrub grows best in moist or wet forest soils under light shade but will also do well in drier, sunnier locations.  The early yellow flowers and twigs smell spicy, similar to allspice.  The leaves are also aromatic, emerging pale yellow-green in spring, then changing to light green in summer and clear lemon-yellow in fall.  Bright red fruits provide early winter interest.  Several insect species feed on spicebush, including caterpillars of the Promethea Moth and the Green-clouded Swallowtail (commonly called the Spicebush Swallowtail).  Pioneers used this plant’s aromatic oils to make a medicinal tea.

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa)
This relatively small native shrub grows throughout southern Michigan where it prefers wet soils and boggy or swamp-like conditions.  It blooms in clusters of small pink flowers in an elongated cylindrical flower head.  Both the leaves and flower clusters are thickly covered in dense hair.  This plant was widely used medicinally as a tea to treat diarrhea, as a poultice to treat tumors or ulcers, and as an astringent.  Large groupings are most effective.

Strawberry bush, running (Euonymus obovatus)
This is an open, creeping shrub or trailing vine that is found in moist, shady, wooded locations.  Low-growing and spreading, it can be used as a spare ground cover.  This plant’s glossy, dark green leaves turn crimson red in the fall.  The sparse fruit also provides fall interest, with its pink capsule and scarlet seeds.

Sumac, fragrant (Rhus aromatica)
This medium-sized shrub is found in dry prairies and old fields.  This plant provides excellent wildlife food, and its multi-stemmed character creates thickets suitable for wildlife shelter.  Fragrant sumac also produces roots at the tips of stems that touch the ground, making it useful for rapid bank stabilization.  It has yellow flowers in the spring and wine-red fruit and red-purple leaves in the fall, making it attractive as well as a hard worker!  Crushed leaves are wonderfully fragrant.  Fruits can be made into a vitamin c rich tea or sumac-aid. This plant is particularly suitable for massing and filling large spaces.

Sumac, smooth (Rhus glabra)

Sumac, staghorn (Rhus typhina)

Sumac, winged or shining (Rhus copallinum)
This sumac is a very ornamental, medium-sized shrub that can be found in sandy areas and old fields.  It has open, thick branches, which bear substantial yellow-green flower clusters at the end of mid-summer.  The large dark green leaves are glossy on the surface and their scarlet fall color is unrivaled.  The stems between the leaflets are “winged.” 

Viburnum, downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquianum)
A small to medium-sized shrub found in drier woodlands. With its upright habit, this viburnum is a good size for foundation plantings in the native garden. It displays creamy white flowers in the spring, medium green foliage in the summer, maroon fall leaf color, and blue-black fruit in the winter. Native Americans used the stout stems as arrow shafts.

Viburnum, maple leaf (Viburnum acerifolium)
Like the downy arrow-wood, this is another small viburnum found in dry forests that does well as a foundation plant.  It develops yellow-white flowers and black fruit, but its best characteristic is its shade- and drought-tolerance—a plant that can take care of itself!  This species also has a wider range of fall leaf colors than the other viburnums, including creamy-pink, rose, and red to grape-juice purple.

Viburnum, nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
Although this tall shrub or small tree likes moist or wet areas of forests or meadows, it is adaptable to a variety of conditions. The clustered, creamy-white flowers change into yellow and red fruits that ripen to black. Leaves are light green in spring, bright green in summer, and orange-red then purple in the fall. This viburnum provides an important winter food for birds. Finger-like buds give this plant year-round interest.

Witchhazel, American (Hamamelis virginiana)
This spreading, tall shrub or small understory tree is found in moist forests and tolerates a diversity of site conditions, excluding wet sites.  This plant is unique in that it flowers late in the fall with yellow, ribbon-like blossoms.  It also brightens the woodland garden with its leaves, which are light green in spring, bright green in summer, and clear lemon-yellow in fall. The fuzzy urn-shaped fruits remain on the plant for a full year before they ripen. Extracts from its bark and leaves are astringent and are often used in lotions for treating bruises and insect bites.  The seeds are edible.

Check out our brochure series for more information!


Contact Information
1831 Traver Rd
(734) 794-6627
David Borneman, Manager

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