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Bulletin #2500, Gardening to Conserve Maine’s Native Landscape: Plants to Use and Plants to Avoid

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Gardening to Conserve Maine’s Native Landscape: Plants to Use and Plants to Avoid

Developed by Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, Lois Stack, University of Maine Cooperative Extension with Judy Hazen Connery, Natural Resource Program Manager, Acadia National Park.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu.

Maine’s Native Landscape

Maine’s landscape offers spectacular variety, with ocean beaches, lakes, rivers, mountains, fields and forests. Maine is locally influenced by both coastal and inland weather patterns. This creates relatively mild areas, and areas that are almost arctic, all within the state’s 300 mile length and 200 mile width. Maine rises from sea level to over 5,000 feet in elevation at the top of Mount Katahdin. This wide range of elevation results in a diversity of habitats including flat sandy plains, rolling hills, rounded summits and craggy mountains with shear cliffs. Maine’s forests vary from spruce and fir near the coast, to hardwoods in the western hills, and mixed hardwood/softwood forests in the North. More than 100 types of habitats have been identified with about 1,500 native plant species spread across the state’s varied landscape.

What Are Native Versus Non-native Plant Species, and Why Should I Care?

Native plants are those species that either originated here, or arrived in Maine without human intervention, perhaps thousands of years ago. Non-native species were brought intentionally for horticultural or other uses, or came accidentally in ships’ ballasts, crop seed or in soil. Some non-native plants continue to escape from cultivation and become naturalized in wetlands, lakes, woods, fields or roadsides.

Natural predators and diseases are often left behind when non-native plants are moved to new places. Therefore, their spread is uncontrolled and such non-native species as purple loosestrife, Japanese barberry and Asian honeysuckles can become serious pests.

One long-term effect of invasive non-native species is to degrade habitat for native plants and animals. Some non-native plants choke out native vegetation, diminish the availability of food and habitat for wildlife, and alter the behavior of native animals such as pollinators, plant-eating insects and fruit-eating birds. Unchecked, invasion by non-natives could drive some species to extinction. This is why non-native plants are a major concern to people who want to protect native species and natural areas.

Plants to Avoid and Why

Most familiar nursery plants are not invasive and are appropriate for planting. However, a few popular species, including purple loosestrife and Japanese barberry, are highly invasive. A single purple loose strife plant can produce three million seeds in a single season! Even tiny root fragments can grow into new plants. Japanese barberry is invading Maine’s forests because birds disperse its seeds over long distances. Both species are very difficult to eradicate once they become established. Other plants that have invaded southern New England, such as callery pear and mile-a-minute vine, are poised to invade Maine, enabled in some cases by global climate change.

Non-native Garden Plants Considered to be Invasive in Maine Include:

  • Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
  • Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
  • Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
  • Burningbush (Euonymus alatus)
  • Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
  • smooth and common buckthorn (Frangula alnus and Rhamnus cathartica)
  • non-native honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)
  • purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Promote native plants by refusing to purchase or transplant them.
  • Grow plants that do not “jump the fence” or escape from your garden.
  • Try growing some native plants as ornamentals and as food for birds and pollinators.
  • Eliminate invasive non-natives from your yard and garden. Remove the plant, including roots, and dispose of them in a way that does not allow them to spread to a new site.
  • Urge your garden center managers to expand their selection of propagated native plants.

Looking for Native Plants at Your Garden Center

Native plants are well adapted to Maine’s climate and are therefore hardy. Most plants in the Native Plant Recommendations are available at local garden centers, where professionals can help you with plant selection. Ask if their native plants are nursery-propagated. Collecting plants, cuttings, seeds, or sods from the wild can devastate natural populations. If the nursery cannot guarantee that its native plants are nursery-propagated, purchase your plants elsewhere.

Avoid collecting native plants from wild areas; some species are vulnerable to over collecting. Also, leaving open disturbed soil in natural areas can allow those sites to be colonized by weedy or invasive species.

The Maine Invasive Plants fact sheet series describes invasive exotic plants that present threats to native Maine terrestrial and aquatic habitats.


Key to Light and Moisture Abbreviations

light Light:

F=full sunlight
P=partial shade
S
=shade

moisture Moisture:

H=hydric; wet, periodically or often inundated by water
M
=mesic; moist, adequate soil moisture all year
S
=sub-xeric; moist to dry, seasonally moist but periodically dry
X
=xeric; dry, little soil moisture retention, excessively well drained


Native Plant Recommendations

Trees | Shrubs | Vines and Ground Covers | Perennials: Flowering Plants | Perennials: Ferns

Trees
NAME
Common Scientific
light
moisture
Height Comments
Balsam fir Abies balsamea

F,P

M

75′ Open growth in hot, dry locations; evergreen; coastal trees susceptible to adelgids
Red maple, Swamp maple Acer rubrum

F,P

M

60′ Excellent fall color; tolerates wet spring soils
Sugar maple, Rock maple Acer saccharum

F,P

M

75′ Excellent orange-red fall color; beautiful large shade tree
Mountain maple Acer spicatum

F,P

M

30′ Good for naturalizing
Yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis

F,P

M

100′ Does best in cool soils and cool summers; beautiful bark; long lived
Paper birch Betula papyrifera

F

M

70′ Beautiful white bark year-round; tolerates poor, dry soils
Gray birch Betula populifolia

F

M

40′ Does well in poor soils; good for naturalizing
American hornbeam, Blue-beech Carpinus caroliniana spp. virginiana

F

M

30′ Good for naturalizing; tolerates periodic flooding
Cockspur
hawthorn
Crataegus crus-galli

F

M

30′ Glossy green leaves; 2″ thorns; persistent dark red fruits
White ash Fraxinus americana

F

M

80′ Handsome; good fall color; tolerates alkaline soil; susceptible to emerald ash borer
Green ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica

F,P

M
60′ Faster-growing than white ash; tolerates dry, high-salt, alkaline soil; susceptible to emerald ash borer
Larch,
Hackmatack, Tamarack
Larix laricina

F

H,M

80′ Good in well-drained and moist-to-wet naturalized sites
Black gum,
Black tupelo
Nyssa
sylvatica

F,P

M

50′ Excellent yellow-orange fall leaf color
American hop-
hornbeam
Ostrya
virginiana

F,P

M,S

40′ Slow to establish after transplanting; good medium-sized tree
White
spruce, Cat
spruce
Picea glauca

F,P

M

60′ Good specimen or windbreak; evergreen
Black spruce Picea
mariana

F,P

M

40′ Tolerates wet sites; evergreen
Jack pine Pinus
banksiana

F

S,X

50′ Useful for windbreaks or mass plantings in sandy soil; evergreen
Red pine,
Norway pine
Pinus
resinosa

F

S,X

80′ Good windbreak; tolerates dry soils well; evergreen
White pine Pinus strobus

F

M,S

80′ Handsome specimen; not tolerant of salt; evergreen
Bigtooth
aspen
Populus grandidentata

F

M,S

70′ Fast growing, short lived; good yellow fall leaf color
Quaking
aspen,
Trembling
aspen
Populus tremuloides

F

M

50′ Fast growing, short lived; good yellow fall leaf color
Pin cherry,
Fire cherry,
Bird cherry
Prunus pensylvanica

F

M

35′ Adaptable; fast growing; tolerates poor soil; susceptible to disease
Black cherry Prunus
serotina

F

M

60′ Interesting black bark; white flowers in spring; wildlife food source; susceptible to disease
White oak Quercus alba

F

M

80′ Large tree; transplant when young
Northern red
oak
Quercus
rubra

F

M

75′ Transplants readily; good fall red leaf color
Black willow Salix nigra

F

H,M

35′ Tolerates wet soils; twigs can cause lawn litter
American
mountain-ash
Sorbus
americana

F

M

30′ Fruit eaten by wildlife
Showy
mountain-ash
Sorbus
decora

F

M

30′ Fruit eaten by wildlife
Pagoda dogwood Swida
(Cornus) alternifolia

F,P

M

25′ Moist soil is important; white flowers in early June
Northern white-cedar, Arborvitae Thuja
occidentalis

F,P

M

60′ Useful hedge or specimen plant; tolerates alkaline soil; susceptible to deer browse
Basswood, American
linden
Tilia
americana

F,P

M

80′ Large tree; tolerates alkaline soil; good for urban landscape
Eastern
hemlock
Tsuga
canadensis

F,P,S

M

70′ Graceful evergreen; does not tolerate drought or windy sites; susceptible to adelgids on coast
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Shrubs
NAME
Common Scientific
light
moisture
Height Comments
Downy serviceberry,
Downy
shadbush
Amelanchier arborea

F,P

M

25′ Useful in edible and wildlife landscapes; excellent orange fall color
Eastern serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis

F,P

M

20′ Useful in edible and wildlife landscapes; yellow-gold fall color
Smooth serviceberry, Allegheny serviceberry Amelanchier laevis

F,P

M

25′ Useful in edible and wildlife landscapes; leaves are bronze in spring
Bog rosemary Andromeda polifolia
var. glaucophylla

F,P

H

1-2′ Leathery evergreen leaves; requires very moist acid soil
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis

F

H

6′ Good for wetland plantings
Sweet-fern Comptonia peregrina

F,P

S,X

3′ Aromatic foliage; interesting texture; good in dry sandy soil
Gray dogwood Swida (Cornus) racemosa

F,P,S

M

15′ Spreads by suckering stems; many birds eat its white fruits in fall
Red-osier dogwood Swida (Cornus) sericea

F

H,M

6’ Red stems attractive in winter; spreads by suckering stems; tolerates wet soil
American hazelnut Corylus
americana

F,P

M

15′ Good for naturalizing; fruit eaten by wildlife; tolerates alkaline soil
Bush
cinquefoil
Dasiphora floribunda (Potentilla fruticosa)

F

M,S,X

4′ Good summer-flowering shrub; tolerates alkaline soil
Bush-honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera

S,P

M

5′ Spreads by suckering stems; very hardy, adaptable
Leatherwood Dirca palustris

S

M

4′ Yellow fall color; thrives in moist, shady sites
Common witchhazel Hamamelis virginiana

F,P

M

15′ Avoid droughty sites; yellow flowers in October; yellow fall leaf color
Winterberry, Black-alder Ilex verticillata

F,P

H,M

10′ Bright red fruits persist into midwinter; excellent wetland plant
Common juniper Juniperus communis
var. depressa

F

M,S,X

3′ Tolerates drought, wind, sterile or alkaline soils; evergreen
Sheep, laurel, Lambkill Kalmia angustifolia

F,P

M,S

3′

Adaptable to many soils; best in very acid soil; good for naturalizing
Northern
bayberry
Morella caroliniensis (Myrica pensylvanica)

F,P

S,X

6′

Good for massing; useful in poor soil sites; aromatic foliage
Sweetgale Myrica gale

F

S,X

4′

Bushy plant; dark green foliage; aromatic foliage
Black chokeberry Aronia (Photinia) melanocarpa

F,P

H,M,S

6’ Spreads by suckering stems; wine-red fall color; good wildlife plant in wet or dry soils
Beach plum Prunus maritima

F

M,S

6′ Good for edible landscape; salt-tolerant
Choke-cherry Prunus virginiana

F

M

30′ Spreads by suckering stems; white flowers in spring; wildlife food source
Rhodora Rhododendron canadense

F,P

H,M

3′ Magenta flowers in spring; best in very acid soil
Labrador tea Rhododendron (Ledum) groenlandicum

F,P

H,M

3′ Transplants well; good for moist-to-wet naturalized sites
Staghorn
sumac
Rhus hirta (R. typhina)

P

M,S.X

25′ Spreads by suckers; good mass plant for dry slopes
Meadow rose Rosa blanda

F

M

5′ Spreads by suckering stems; single light pink flowers; red hips in fall and winter
Pasture rose Rosa carolina

F

M

5′ Pink single flowers in midsummer; small red hips persist into winter
Virginia rose Rosa virginiana

F

M,S

5′ Spreads by suckering stems; good in dry and seaside sites; good barrier/hedge
Pussy willow Salix discolor

S

H,M

15′ Fuzzy flowers in early spring; good for naturalizing; tolerates wet soil
Black
elderberry
Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis

F

M

12′ Useful in edible landscape; tolerates alkaline soil
Red elderberry Sambucus racemosa subsp. pubens

F

M

20′ Flowers in mid to late July; handsome red fruit in midsummer
Gray dogwood Swida (Cornus) racemosa

F,P,S

M

15′ Spreads by suckering stems; many birds eat its white fruits in fall
Red-osier
dogwood
Swida (Cornus) sericea

F

H,M

6’ Red stems attractive in winter; spreads by suckering stems; tolerates wet soil
Canadian yew Taxus canadensis

P,S

M

6′ Hardiest yew; good for naturalized shady landscape; evergreen
Highbush blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum

F

M

8′ Good for edible or wildlife landscapes; best in very acid soil
Mapleleaf
viburnum
Viburnum acerifolium

P,S

M,S

6′ Suckering; good for mass plantings in shady sites
Hobblebush Viburnum lantanoides (V. alnifolium)

P,S

M

8′ Open shrub; good for naturalized landscape
Arrowwood viburnum Viburnum dentatum var. lucidum

F,P

M

15′ Durable; good for hedges; tolerates alkaline soil
Nannyberry Viburnum lentago

F,P

M,S

15′ Good for wildlife and naturalized landscapes
Witherod, Wild-raisin Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides

S,P

M

10′ Excellent fall foliage and fruit color
Highbush cranberry V. opulus var. americanum (V. o. var. trilobum)

F,P

M

12′ Excellent for screening; good for wildlife landscapes
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Vines and Ground Covers
NAME
Common Scientific
Light
moisture
Height Comments
Running serviceberry Amelanchier spicata (A. stolonifera)

F,P

M

2’ Stoloniferous groundcover; forms thickets
Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

F,P

S,X

6” Best in poor, sandy, very acid soils; salt-tolerant; groundcover
American bittersweet Celastrus scandens

F,P

M,S

Climbing vine; separate male and female plants; tolerates alkaline soil
Bunchberry Chamaepericlymenum
canadensis (Cornus canadensis)

P,S

M

6″ Spreading groundcover; white flowers in spring; red fruit in fall
Virgin’s bower Clematis virginiana

F

M

Climbing vine; white flowers in late summer; best in alkaline soil
Checkerberry, Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens

P,S

M

6″ Evergreen groundcover; leaves fragrant when crushed; reddish in fall
Creeping juniper Juniperus horizontalis

F

M,S,X

1′ or
less
Adaptable; tolerates hot, dry sites and alkaline soil; evergreen
Partridgeberry Mitchella repens

S

M

2″ Delicate plant; red fruits persist into winter
Woodbine,
Virginia
creeper
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

F,P,S

M,S,X

Vigorous vine; tough; maroon fall color; tolerates alkaline soil
Lowbush
blueberry
Vaccinium angustifolium

F

M

2′ Slow; good for edible or wildlife landscapes; requires acid soil
Large
cranberry
Vaccinium macrocarpon

F

H,M

6″ Slow; good for edible or wildlife landscapes; requires acid soil
Fox grape Vitis labrusca

F

M

Handsome foliage; good vine for arbors and fences
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Perennials: Flowering Plants
NAME
Common Scientific
light
moisture
Height Comments
White baneberry; Red baneberry Actaea pachypoda, A. rubra

P,S

M

24″ Attractive, but poisonous fruits
Columbine Aquilegia canadensis

F,P,S

M,S

12″ Early spring flowers
Spikenard Aralia racemosa

P,S

M,S

36″ Good for back of border
Silverweed Argentina anserina

F

S,X

6″ Yellow flowers, silvery leaves
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum

P,S

H,M

12″ Flower green and brown; bright red fruits
Milkweed Asclepias syriaca

F

S,X

36″ Flowers attract bees; monarch butterflies lay eggs on leaves
Marsh marigold Caltha palustris

F,P

H,M

12″ Showy yellow flowers in early spring
Harebell Campanula rotundifolia

F,P

M,S,X

12″ Delicate blue-purple flowers
Blue cohosh Caulophyllum thalictroides

P,S

M,S

36″ Blue fruits; back of border
White turtlehead Chelone glabra

P,S

H,M

24″ Interesting white flowers in midsummer
Bluebead-lily Clintonia borealis

P,S

M,S

12″ Pale yellow flowers; fruits poisonous
Trout-lily, Dog’s-tooth-violet Erythronium americanum

P,S

M

6″ Flowers early spring
Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum

F

H,M

24″ Green flowers; good for drying
Joe-pye weed Eutrochium (Eupatorium) maculatum F

H,M

48″ Purple flowers in fall; attracts pollinators; good for drying
Blue flag Iris versicolor F,P

H,M

24″ Elegant form; blue-purple flowers; easy to grow
Indian cucumber-root Medeola virginiana

P,S

M

12″ Interesting magenta floral bracts
Obedient plant Physostegia virginiana

F,P,S

M,S,X

24″ Flowers pink, leaves dark green; good cut flower
Solomon’s seal Polygonatum pubescens

P,S

M

18″ Arching stems; white flowers in early spring; tall groundcover for shade
Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis

P,S

M

12″ Showy white flowers in early spring
New England
aster
Symphyotrichum (Aster) novae-angliae

F,P

M,S,X

24″ Fall flowers are deep purple
New York
aster
Symphyotrichum (Aster) novi-belgii

F,P

M,S,X

24″ Fall flowers are purple
Foam-flower Tiarella cordifolia

P

M

6″ Delicate white flowers in early spring
Wild-oats Uvularia sessilifolia

P,S

M

6″ Creamy, bell-shaped flowers in early spring
Violet Viola species

P

M

2-6″ Various species and colors; most self-sow to form groundcovers
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Perennials: Ferns
NAME
Common Scientific
light
moisture
Height Comments
Maidenhair fern Adiantum pedatum

P,S

M

18″ Graceful black stem; nearly circular fronds; tolerates alkaline soil
Lady fern Athyrium angustum

P,S

H,M

18″ Lacy fronds; reddish in spring
Hay-scented fern Dennstaedtia punctilobula

F,P

S,X

12″ Fragrant lacy fronds; tolerates hot, dry sites; spreading
Spinulose wood fern Dryopteris carthusiana

P,S

M,S

24″ Lacy fronds; reddish in spring
Marginal wood fern Dryopteris marginalis

F,P

S,X

24″ Easy to grow; fronds blue-green; tolerates rocky sites
Ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica

P,S

M

36″ Edible fiddleheads; beautiful green fronds; plume-like fertile fronds
Sensitive fern Onoclea sensibilis

F,P

H,M

12″ Easy to grow; spreads; persistent bead-like fertile fronds in winter
Cinnamon fern Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
(Osmunda cinnamomea)

P,S

H,M

36″ Easy to grow; attractive cinnamon-colored fertile fronds in spring
Interrupted fern Osmunda
claytoniana

F,P,S

H,M,S,X

36″ Easy to grow; spreads well; luxuriant spring growth
Royal fern Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis

F,P,S

H,M,S

36″ Vase-shaped; interesting fertile fronds; sterile fronds finely dissected
Long beech fern Phegopteris connectilis

P,S

M

6″ Small size fern, low growing; spreads well
Christmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides

P,S

M

12″ Leathery, evergreen fronds
The botanical names in this plant list are consistent with those found in: Haines, A. 2011. Flora Novae-Angliae: a manual for the identification of native and naturalized higher vascular plants of New England. Yale University Press.

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This publication was made possible by:
Friends of Acadia
Garden Club Federation of Maine
Josselyn Botanical Society
Maine Natural Areas Program
Maine Department of Conservation
Maine Department of Agriculture
Maine Landscape and Nursery Association
Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
National Park Service
Plant Conservation Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
University of Maine Horticulture Club
U.S.D.A. Forest Service

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Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2003, 2017

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