Native Shrubs for the Upper Midwest

I’m continuing the series of posts of native plant lists that Sue Sweeney started for Southern New England. This list is for the Upper Midwest region.
Links to Sue’s Posts:
Native Shrubs for Southern New England
Native Trees for Southern New England

Many of the following shrubs overlap in range and I’ve indicated those as follows:
SNE = Also native to Southern New England

Lead Plant ~ Amorpha canescens

A native of dry to mesic prairies.
Flowers from late June into August.
Height: 2-5 ft

A good candidate for any dry, sandy to loamy soil in full sun.
Nice grey foliage comprised of many small leaflets.

Native to the Dakotas south to the Texas border and eastwards to Missouri and Indiana.


Dwarf False Indigo ~ Amorpha nana

Found in open mesic to dry prairies in moister locations than Lead Plant.
Flowers in late May to the end of June.
Height: 3 ft

Harder to find for sale, Lead Plant is more readily available.

Native to western Minnesota and Iowa and the Dakotas.


Black Chokeberry ~ Aronia melanocarpa

Flowers from early May through end of June.
Very showy clusters of 5 parted flowers.
Foliage is dark green and glossy.
Height: 4-7 ft

Pendulous fruit (pome) in late summer. Native to acidic wetlands with sandy soils.
This is often confused with invasive European Buckthorn.
Native to eastern North America, from Minnesota south to Tennessee and eastwards.

New Jersey Tea ~ Ceanothus americanus

Another prairie native of open, dry or sandy sites.
Flowers from July to August.
Height: 3-5 ft

Slow growing and is browsed by rabbits.
I have it growing on my dry, sunny gravel hillside where it does really well.

Native to eastern North America from Minnesota south to Texas and eastwards.


Buttonbush ~ Cephalanthus occidentalis   SNE

Native to sunny riparian areas with seasonal flooding.
It therefore likes moist soils. Spreads by layering.
Height: 6-15 ft

Flowers from late June until August.
Beautiful round white flower clusters that look like exploding stars.

Native to eastern North America, Texas and Mexico.


Sweet-fern ~ Comptonia peregrina   SNE

A native of dry sandy sites. Spreads by rhizomes.

Flowers from early May to end of July.
The foliage is extremely fragrant and attractive resembling fern fronds.
Height: 1-3 ft

Native to northeastern North America from Minnesota and Wisconsin east to Nova Scotia and south to Virginia.


Silky Dogwood ~ Cornus amomum  SNE

Found on the edges of wetlands in partially shaded to sunny locations. Likes moist, loamy soils that aren’t too acidic.

Flowers from June until late July.
Easy to propagate from softwood cuttings.

Native to eastern North America from Minnesota south to Oklahoma and eastwards.


Gray Dogwood ~ Cornus racemosa

Found at the edges of woodlands in partial shade. Often colonizes disturbed sites by clonal suckering.
Tolerant of dry to moist sites so very adaptable.

Height: 6-15 ft

Flowers in early June through July. White fruit form in late August.
Native to eastern North America from the Dakotas and Minnesota south to eastern Texas and eastwards.


Round Leaved Dogwood ~ Cornus rugosa

A locally common native shrub here in the Twin Cities.
Found in woodland understories in medium to dry soils.

Flowers from June until the end of July.

Multi-stemmed plant with a more open, somewhat horizontal branching habit.

Native to northeastern North America from Minnesota south to Iowa and eastwards.


American Hazelnut ~ Corylus americana  SNE

One of my favorites. American Hazelnut flowers before leaf set in early spring. The bright yellow, pollen-filled male catkins hang from the bare branches and dangle in the wind. The tiny female flowers are harder to spot, look for the bright red stigmas.
Flowers from early April to May. Height: 6-15 ft
A native shrub of woodland understories, in medium to dry sites. Spreads by rhizomes forming a suckering multi-stemmed cluster. Edible hazelnuts develop in late August and are sought out by many mammals. Native to eastern North America from the Dakotas south to Arkansas and eastwards.

Prairie Wild Rose ~ Rosa arkansana

Found in open, sunny prairies or on the edges of woodlands.
Dry to mesic soils.
Flowers from June to the beginning of August.

Height: 1-3 ft
Spreads by rhizomes forming small colonies. Birds love the rose hips.
Native to central North America from Alberta east to Michigan and southwards.

American Elderberry ~ Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis SNE

A native of moist sites on the edges of wetlands and riparian areas in full to partial sun.
Flowers from July to August, large, flat white flower clusters.
Birds love the large purple fruit.

Height: 6-12 ft.
Native to all of eastern US and southern part of eastern Canadian provinces.
Red Elderberry ~ Sambucus racemosa
Red Elderberry flowers much earlier than the American, in April through May. One of the first native shrubs to leaf out in the spring.
The white flowers are conical in shape, and the resulting fruit is bright red forming by early August.
Unlike the American Elderberry, Red Elderberry is an understory native of woodlands, liking medium to dry sites.
Native to western North America from Alaska south to northern California and in the midwest from Minnesota east to Newfoundland and south to Virginia.

Downy Arrowwood Viburnum ~ Viburnum rafinesquianum

A native of woodland understories in sandy to loamy soils.
Tolerant of a lot of shade, it also occurs on the edges of woodlands.
Beautiful bright red to maroon fall foliage color.
Flowers in late May to July. Similar to the eastern V. dentatum in appearance.

Height: 2-8 ft
Native to the upper midwest from Saskatchewan south to Missouri and eastwards.

Red Osier Dogwood ~ Cornus sericea
American High Bush Cranberry ~ Viburnum trilobum  SNE
Snowberry ~ Symphoricarpos albus
Silver Buffaloberry ~ Shepherdia argentea
Winterberry ~ Ilex verticillata  SNE

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  1. Sue Sweeney says

    Heather – Wonderful! and thanks very much for the buckthorn v. chokeberry comparison. Nice to see that we share some good friends, like the American hazelnut, buttonbush, and silky dogwood.

  2. Hawk says

    Thanks for this – even if some of these can’t grow as far south as I live, it’s still wonderful to see how many choices the native gardener has no matter where they are :)

  3. says

    Hey Heather – great job. Last year at this time, I was stymied with what to replace the invasive honeysuckle, buckthorn, and multiflora rose with. No longer. With all the shrubs you and others have presented, seems like there is no end to the possibilities. Thanks,

    Hal Mann recently posted..The Pony has Arrived

  4. says

    Glad this was re-posted on Twitter today. I’ve just started investigating native replacements for existing shrubbery in my landscape and to rehab a portion of the yard that’s been neglected for too long. This information will be very handy when I get to the plant selection phase of my plans!

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