What to Plant? Taking Cues From Local Wetland Plant Communities

As I previously wrote in the posts linked below, the easiest way to create a successful native landscape is to replicate your local plant community. If you’re unfamiliar with the plant communities in your area, plan a visit to a local park or remnant to observe what is growing together and in what conditions. If you are new to the area – find a naturalist or sign up for nature walk at the local nature center.

Related Posts:
What to Plant? Taking Cues From Local Woodland Plant Communities
What to Plant? Taking Cues From Local Prairie Plant Communities

I have been admiring a local prairie and wetland restoration that was started by our city about 15 years ago. Although there is ongoing invasive plant management (reed canary grass, purple loosestrife and buckthorn in particular), the area showcases a diversity of species for both upland, lowland and wetland plant communities.


The photo above shows the wonderful transition from lowland to upland plants. In the foreground (along with a few cattails), is a huge mass of Swamp Milk Weed (Asclepias incarnata). Pink flowering Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) is at the edge of the moistest part in the middle and behind and uphill of the Joe Pye Weed are a mix of prairie grasses.

A few more species along the edge of the trail in the moist low lying area. Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Swamp Vervain (Verbena hastata) with its purple candelabra type blooms and Brown Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).









Off the trail in another part of this restoration is a big stand of Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). A 10 foot tall perennial native that gets very high ratings for wildlife value. Named for the large leaves that clasp the stems and hold water. Birds, squirrels and insects all drink water from the Cup Plant leaves. Due to its size, it also provides cover for birds and wildlife. Lastly, the gold finches will spend hours in the fall picking the sunflower sized seeds from the spent blooms.

I don’t have any lowland moist areas in my yard, but I have been able to utilize some wetland marginal natives in the rain garden we installed by our driveway.





The garden is about 40 feet long and 12 feet at its widest point. It was formerly paved (part of the driveway), five years ago we removed the pavement and created a bowl-shaped garden with a berm on the back. The garden collects all the water runoff from our cul-de-sac.



Unfortunately this spring, it collected a lot more than water. The silt fencing was inadequate for the house construction next door and our rain garden filled up with sediment.




Because the garden became so clogged with sediment, water and mud pooled on our driveway all spring.

The landscape next door has finally been sodded and paved (a story for another post) but it means that we will have to redo this garden in the next year or two since it’s collecting even more water runoff from the location of the new driveway next door.

Despite the sediment runoff, the garden looks pretty good. Many of the species from the park are included in this rain garden. We planted Cup Plant (yellow flowers) at the back along the berm to provide a tall backdrop. Where the majority of the water flows into the garden we have Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum). Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is in the foreground on the right.

The tall white flowering species is Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia atriplicifolia) which provides structure and interest. In the drier parts at the back we planted some upland prairie grasses and forbs including Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Side Oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) and False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides).

If you have a pond, creek or low lying moist area in your landscape, be sure to take advantage of all the wonderful wetland marginal native species that grow locally.

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  1. Sue Sweeney says

    In CT, we have two beetles that are doing a good job at controlling the purple loosestrife, do you have them yet?

  2. Sue Sweeney says

    And I should have said this: beautiful garden! Who could possibly want foreign nonsense when you could have this?

  3. says

    I often say that people with wet areas are the luckiest people because they can have all these cool things. I do love the first picture showing the transition from from plant community to the next based on conditions (here moisture).

    Your rain garden is just gorgeous – a feast for the eyes as well as the insects and birds.
    Ellen Honeycutt recently posted..A New Favorite – Bushy St. John’s Wort


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