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Native Plant Resource: Essential Native Trees & Shrubs of the Eastern United States

A resource for beginners and experts alike!

Cover of Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States

If you are looking to boost the ecological value of your garden, as scientists tell us is critical, trees and shrubs are excellent places to start because of the large number of insects these larger plants support. A blueberry shrub supports 288 species of butterflies and moths. A birch tree supports 413 butterflies and moths and an oak, over 500! The young caterpillars of those butterflies and moths need these plants to survive; and birds need those caterpillars in droves to feed their young.

Oh where to start though? A book I turn to again and again is the Essential Native Trees and Shrubs of the Eastern United States. I treasure this resource for two reasons. It is the most comprehensive resource I know of. This book shows you a very complete array of shrubs and trees from which you can choose. Second, the photographs are excellent. They are accurate and give you a sense of the plant without glamorizing it. The plant you grow in your garden will be what you saw in the book.

I had the chance to talk with author Ginger Woolridge on a recent Friday afternoon and it was easy to see why the book is so valuable. The reason for the book? She and fellow author, well known horticulturalist Tony Dove, were chatting about liabilities in the landscape and concluded "there was nothing out there and we knew it was needed!" Indeed.

Ginger grew up in western Pennsylvania where strip mining was common. She gained an appreciation for lusher landscapes and ultimately became a landscape architect with lots of professional detours along the way. Now living and gardening in Annapolis, Ginger is working and advocating for better landscapes every day. She is also contending with ivy, just like many of us.

It's clear someone who gardens enthusiastically wrote this book. You can search for trees and shrubs by landscape trait and by site conditions -- but not just the typical "dry shade" or "moist sun" locations. Trees for beneath utility lines? Trees for irrigated rooftop gardens? Covered. Tony and Ginger have organized the book to make it user friendly for real life situations. They also include suggestions for companion plants.

scale drawing of sumac essential native trees and shrubs for the Eastern United States

I really like the scale drawings too. Seriously, this is well done!

Figuring Ginger has given this topic more thought than most, I was wondering what her favorite tree and shrub might be. Without missing a beat, she identified the Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum). Pale green foliage in spring, white flowers in mid-summer, brilliant reds in fall and pale yellow peppercorns giving the tree great winter form make this a tree for all seasons. Ginger says this tree does best in full sun and moist acidic, well drained soils. Ginger says it usually grows to 25-30’.

Her favorite shrub -- fothergilla. Fothergilla shines in spring, summer and fall. Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) grows about 4 feet high and wide. Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major) grows 6 to 10 feet high. Both grow in sun to part shade and in most any soil. The white flowers in spring burst open mid-spring. Fall brings a fantastic palette of fiery oranges and reds.

Ginger is careful to note the regional reach of the book. "Our eastern woodland extends west of the Mississippi (further west is mostly too dry) and throughout the east with the exception of the Florida peninsula (too warm)." The book covers far more than just the Chesapeake watershed. The descriptions of the trees and shrubs, though, tell you the native range of each.

Whether you borrow a friend's copy, borrow from the library or purchase your own, I think you will find it essential.

Thank you for Gardening for the Chesapeake!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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