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Native Plants to Know

These plants have been featured in NANPS newsletter, the Blazing Star

If you would like to add to this list, please contact our newsletter editor: editor@nanps.org

Dioscorea villosa, Wild Yam – 5 (4)

By Tom Atkinson

Most of us know yams from the produce shelf at the local grocery store, farmers’ market or organic growers. They tend to be solid, relatively dense (when raw), orange in both skin and flesh, and the shape of a warped football. When cooked, the flesh becomes tender, soft even, and succulent. These yams, as we all know, are exotic. They come originally from Papua New Guinea. But did you know that there’s a yam native to eastern North America? I was amazed to learn of its existence, and to discover that it too is edible.

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Camassia quamash, Blue Camas – 6 (1)

By Joe Arnett

On both sides of the Cascade Mountains, blue camas (Camassia quamash) offers one of the most alluring displays of spring flowers in the Pacific Northwest. When Meriwether Lewis first surveyed this region, he noted this striking lily in stands that to his eye resembled lakes of blue water.

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Carpinus caroliniana, Musclewood – 3 (3)

Meditations on Musclewood
By Catherine Siddall

My mother and father have always been interested in nature, and we often took family “woods walks” when I was a child. My mother in particular is a natural storyteller and passed to her children many of the stories she learned about the plants we encountered on these walks.

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Coptis trifolia, Goldthread – 3 (1)

Description: Solitary white flowers and lustrous, evergreen basal leaves rise from a thread-like, yellow underground stem. The flowers are 1/2-inch (1-cm) wide with 5 to 7 white, petal-like sepals and very small club-like petals. There are numerous stamens and several pistils.

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Sorghastrum nutans, Indian Grass – 4 (4)

By Catherine Macleod

The most breathtaking quality of Sorghastrum nutans — one of the most beautiful of native grasses in my opinion — is animation. In even the subtlest of breezes Indian grass, as it’s commonly known, creates a ballet of movement and sound.

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Hierochloe odorata, Sweetgrass – 2 (2)

By Linda and Ken Parker

This Ontario native perennial grass has significant ties to Native North American or First Nation culture. Natives of the Great Plains believe it was the first plant to cover Mother Earth. The Anishinabe Natives believe it is a purifier, and burn sweetgrass before all ceremonies. It is a reminder to respect the earth and all things it provides.

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Euonymus obovata – 1 (3)

By Trish Murphy

Yes this plant does have a common name, but it is so awkward and misleading that we won’t tell you what it is. Maybe having a cute common name would help this plant get the recognition that it deserves, for it is startling how few people know Euonymus obovata. In the meantime, grit your teeth, all you Latin avoiders.

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Calamintha arkansana, Wild Savory – 4 (1)

By Charles Kinsley

The word savory evokes images of warm, steamy dishes, comforting thoughts of home and hearth. These associations are direct, unambiguous.

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Asplenium rhizophyllum, Walking Fern – 5 (2)

By Nelson Maher

On a warm sunny day at the end of winter it’s not hard to think about walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum). I know that under a great depth of snow all those walking ferns that I saw last year are in excellent shape, deep green and leathery. This species is just one of the 15 evergreen ferns that I look forward to seeing each spring as I take my first walk on the Bruce Peninsula without skis or snowshoes.

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Gentianopsis procera, Smaller Fringed Gentian – 2 (3)

By Kristl Walek

The smaller fringed gentian is one of our most beautiful natives, found in eastern and Midwestern North America. A self-perpetuating biennial, the plant grows to 18 inches (40 cm) with narrow, pointed foliage. The most striking feature is the plant’s fringed blue flowers, which are upward facing, and open in the sun and close at night or on overcast days.

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Nyssa sylvatica, Black Gum – 4 (3)

By Tom Atkinson

Black gum, pepperidge, tupelo – these are a few of the vernacular names for that delight among Mother Nature’s panoply of large woody plants known as trees – Nyssa sylvatica. Not too long ago I knew nothing about this plant, but now that I have “seen the light” I wander about preaching its virtues with a missionary’s zeal.

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Panax quinquefolius, American Ginseng – 3 (2)

By Janice Stiefel

Description: Rising from the centre of three, large compound leaves, arranged in a circle, is an umbel of small, greenish-white or yellowish-green flowers that are scented like Lily-of-the-Valley (and almost camouflaged by the foliage). The flowers are about 1/12-inch wide, with five petals.

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Rhododendron maximum, Rosebay Rhododendron – 5 (3)

By Kevin Kavanagh

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, tucked away inside the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, is one of those North American pilgrimages that all botanists should make at least once in their lives.

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Stylophorum diphyllum, Wood Poppy- Rare for a Reason – 4 (3)

By Jane Bowles

In May 1887 poet/naturalist Robert Elliot presented a specimen of a spectacular yellow-flowered poppy to the London chapter of the Entomological Society of Ontario. He had discovered wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) growing in a few isolated patches along the Thames River near his home in Plover Mills. A few more discoveries were made close by over the next couple of years and then there were no more reports of this plant for almost a century.

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Rhus aromatica, Fragrant Sumac- 5 (1)

By Catherine Siddall

My earliest encounter with fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) taught me that fragrant does not necessarily mean sweet-smelling. I was asked to prune some unruly specimens that were encroaching on a stairway and I left smelling pungent with the shrub’s peculiar earthy, resinous odour. A few of fragrant sumac’s other names – polecatbush and skunkbush, for instance – make reference to what some have called its “malodorous” qualities.

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Sassafras albidum, Sassafras – 2 (1)

By Tony Jovan

GENUS: Sassafras albidum is the only species of the genus sassafras native to North America. It belongs to the Lauraceae family, which is mainly tropical and subtropical. Other members of this family are Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which is found in Ontario, Cinnamon Tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Camphor Tree (C. camphora), Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), and Avocado (Persea americana).

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Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud – 6 (4)

By Tom Atkinson

My first brush with the genus Cercis occurred in early April 1984 on a business trip to California that included a three-day nature tour of the Sierra Nevadas with my aunt and uncle.

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Pinus strobus, White Pine – 7 (1)

By Paul O’Hara

Myopia is the most common affliction of the modern landscape professional. It comes from too much comfy deskwork and not enough unpaid field wandering. Sometimes I think columns like this do not help. So when asked if I would submit an article for ‘Native Plant to Know’ I felt there was only one plant I could consider: white pine (Pinus strobus).

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Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem – 7 (4)

By Catherine Macleod

Schizachyrium scoparium or little bluestem once flourished throughout North America feeding bison and other grazing animals. It is a major component of the grassland complex of this continent, especially the tallgrass prairies that once occupied over a million square kilometres (400,000 square miles).

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Castilleja coccinea, Indian Paintbrush – 8 (1)

By Paul Heydon

A number of years ago, while hiking on the Carden Alvar north of Toronto, I stumbled across a stand of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea). It was one of the most breathtaking scenes I have experienced: a sea of brilliant scarlet, orange and yellow. I now go back every year to see the show.

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Magnolia fraseri, Fraser Magnolia – 8 (4)

By Tom Atkinson

The magnolia is a tree of ancient lineage. If you live in the southern USA, the type magnolia would be the bull bay or southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

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Aesculus parviflora, Bottlebrush Buckeye – 4 (2)

By Catherine Siddall

Michael Dirr’s tome on woody plants is unlikely bedside reading because of its unwieldy size and dry, point-form style. It is a manual, after all. But by skipping to the Landscape Value listing I am often rewarded with an entertaining insight based on Dirr’s experience with these plants over a considerable period of time. (It can take years, even decades, to learn about how woody plants adapt and grow.)

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Blazing Star Summer 2004

Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)

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Blazing Star Spring 2004

Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum or Camptosorus rhizophyllus)

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