Native Plants 101

What exactly is a native plant? Native plants are those that have occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. So, in other words, they were here first!

Why plant natives? Natives provide food and shelter for a diversity of insects, birds, and other wildlife. They thrive in the places that match their growing conditions, which means less watering and maintenance, and less pest problems that require the application of harmful chemicals. Native plants also help manage rain water runoff and maintain healthy soils as their root systems are deep and keep the soil from becoming compacted.

Want to plant natives, but you’re not sure where to start? The National Wildlife Federation has a handy “Native Plant Finder“on their website. Just enter your zip code, and plants native to your area will appear! From there, it’s a matter of selecting those that fit your growing conditions (i.e., wet/dry soil, sun/shade, etc.).

The Indiana Native Plant Society website has a wealth of information on native (and invasive) plants.

USDA’s plant website,, has fact sheets, and various means to search (characteristics, growth habit, invasive, state, etc.) for suitable plants. Photos are provided.

Many Indiana plants also grow in Missouri, and the Missouri Plants site is an excellent source of photos. The site offers a variety of means to search for a plant: flower color and leaf arrangement, scientific name, common name, and family.

Monarch caterpillar on native butterfly milkweed.

Where to purchase natives

McCoy’s Nursery
8911 IN-62
Charlestown, IN 47111
(812) 256-4769

Dropseed Native Plant Nursery
1205 S. Buckeye Ln.
Goshen, KY 40026
(502) 439-9033

Cardno Native Plant Nursery
128 Sunset Dr.
Walkerton, IN 46574
(574) 586-2412

Old Thyme Loghouse Gardens
8207 Old State Rd. 3
Otisco, IN 47163
(812) 256-7971

Prairie Moon Nursery
32115 Prairie Ln.
Winona, MN 55987
(866) 417-8156

Spence Restoration Nursery
2220 East Fuson Rd.
Muncie, IN 47302

What about those “cultivars”?

Cultivar, or cultivated variety, is the result of selective breeding of two plant species by humans. They are developed to accent certain characteristics such as striking flower color; shorter, bushier form; colored or variegated leaves, winter hardiness; and improved disease resistance. These qualities make them easier to incorporate into home landscape designs.

Are native cultivars as beneficial to the environment as the native species they are cultivated from? 

Maybe, maybe not.

Pollinators are generally attracted to a plant by its flower color, size, leaf color, nectar, etc. If those qualities are reduced or modified, then pollinators may not visit the plants as they would the native species, or may have to work harder to get what they need from the plant (nectar, food). Lowered disease and insect resistance are other concerns with cultivars.

Research continues on the native vs. cultivar front, but as a homeowner, you would be well-advised to do some research on a cultivated variety before introducing it into your landscape.