Cultivate your knack for finding native substitutes!
Liriope (Liriope muscari), also called lily turf, widely planted, has tough as nails foliage, requires little care and can withstand pet and foot traffic, salt, and heat. Liriope is also considered semi-evergreen in many areas meaning it will not die back completely in winter. It grows well in full sun to shaded areas. Add those purple flowers that appear in late summer and you can see why it is commonly planted. You can find it everywhere from parking lots to our front walkways and garden beds.
Liriopes are native to Asia. I have heard and read it is beginning to be found in natural areas which may indicate it can be invasive. The good news: there are lots of native substitutes.
When looking for a native plant substitute, I try to identify the traits of the ornamental plant I like and want to replace. Is it the bloom? Or perhaps it is the shape, texture or function?
Sometimes, you can find a native plant that is a perfect, one for one substitute. The native has all of the attributes of the ornamental plant. Choosing a native dogwood (Cornus Florida) over the ornamental Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) is a good example of what I think of as a one for one substitute. Both have white flowers in spring, red seed pods in late summer and fiery fall foliage color and the graceful shape of an understory tree year round. This is such an easy substitution.
There may not always be that perfect one for one substitute though. This is where your creativity comes in! Scout for your particular needs. Let’s look at possible substitutes for liriope.
Low maintenance plants with strappy foliage
Perhaps you like liriope because you can plant it and forget it. It requires virtually no maintenance. Some people cut it back once in spring to allow the fresh new growth to come through. Really, though, that's not necessary. It will grow just fine without the cutback. The 'strappy' foliage looks good most of the year.
If this is the attribute you treasure, try substituting one of these native carex. These also do no require any cutback. They are best suited for partial sun or dappled shade situations. Blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) is an almost evergreen sedge that grows well in average soils from shade to partial sun. The more sun it gets, the more water it needs. Plantain leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea), also called seersucker sedge, is another easy to grow semi-evergreen sedge.
Plants with purple blooms
Maybe you are taken in by the perfect looking purple blooms in very late summer when we could all use some flower power. If you are looking for purple blooms in August shade, you might try lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) or one of the many native asters (Aster). While not purple, pink turtlehead (Chelone glabra) provides a wash of pink color in shade in late August.
Many times, liriope is planted as a simple ground cover to add color and prevent weeds from growing. These native ground covers also serve as very effective 'living mulches.'
If you are looking for a semi-evergreen ground cover, consider green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) or native pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens). A third, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) adds an interesting ground cover for shade only but does die back completely in winter. The unique leaf shape adds textural contrast.
There is room for lots of creativity here as you look for just the right plant to fill your need. Once you start to view plants with this lens, you will find you can identify native substitutes for almost any ornamental plant.
If you have substitutes you favor, please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy substituting!