Book Review: Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Upper Midwest 

Book by Jaret C Daniels 

  • Publisher: ‎Adventure Publications, 2020 
  • Paperback‏:‎ 276 pages 
  • ISBN-10: 1591939410 
  • Dimensions: 8” X 10” 
  • Price: $36.59 (Amazon.ca – note, this book is available on Kindle for $16.32); $16.49 (Amazon.com) 

This is, indeed, a beautiful book to add to your collection. The photos are large, sharp and nicely laid out. A brief description of each plant, including its bloom period and its growing conditions, and which groups of insects it’s important to make this book stand out.  

The interesting tables at both the beginning and end of the book are helpful as well. The tables at the front summarize the information on the plant pages, while at the back of the book, tables show which plants are suitable as bird food and or for nesting, and which are good hummingbird plants. Finally there is a section called Larval Host List. All great and useful ideas. But I struggle with 3 things in particular about the book (four, if you count the lack of an index). 
 
The first problem is its organizational scheme – plants are grouped by light requirements: full sun, full sun to partial shade, and partial shade to full shade. In theory this sounds great. Unfortunately, many native plants don’t fall neatly into one of the categories. For instance, another book I recently reviewed on Amazon.ca lists Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine) as a full sun plant. This book puts it into the part shade to full shade section. In fact, both are right as it will do just fine in all the categories. But what exacerbates the problem with this book is that there is no index, so if you want to look up a particular plant, you have to figure out WHERE the author thinks it grows. 
 
The second problem (again, no index makes it worse) is that the book lists the plants in each section in alphabetic order by common name. Using Aquilegia canadensis again as my example, the author calls it Red Columbine, whereas most folk I know call it wild columbine, but it is also known as Canadian columbine, common American columbine, Jack-in-trousers, rock lily, and even as cluckies, depending on where you’re from. This is why native plant gardeners in particular often prefer scientific names. It took me a while to find this plant’s listing in the book because I’ve never known it as red columbine. To be fair, the author is an entomologist (bug person) not a botanist (plant person) so perhaps he was unaware that native plant names can be so different depending on where you live. 
 
My final (and a somewhat minor) complaint is in what otherwise appears to be a useful introduction – under the heading Improving the Soil. Unless you are planting into an abandoned quarry or gravel pit, you probably should not add compost or animal manure as the author recommends. Native plants have evolved the ability to extract nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil profile, and fertilizing them just tends to make the plants tall, leggy and weak-stemmed (I speak from experience, as I made this mistake with the first flower bed I planted with native species – and it took years to use up the excess nutrients in the soil). 
 
However, despite my complaints about the book, I am happy to keep in on my shelf for the sheer beauty of the photography in it. Although it is paperback, I could easily see this as a hard-cover coffee table book, the pictures are that nice. On a snowy winter’s day, it’s a lovely book to browse through while I dream of spring. 

Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Spring is just around the corner, and to help us start dreaming about spring, this month’s Plant of the Month is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom in my garden – Hepatica acutiloba – the Sharp Lobed Hepatica. This tough little perennial stays alive all winter, waiting for the first warm weather, and will often produce flowers before the snow is gone.  

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. Shaun is also the co-author of our new book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. The book is now available to preorder from booksellers and should be on bookshelves by March 1, 2024. The Plant of the Month articles are adapted from the book. 

Common Name: Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Scientific Name: Hepatica acutiloba 

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Liverleaf, Mountain Hepatica 

Plant Description: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is a low, stemless plant with three-lobed basal leaves. Leaves reach 7 cm long and wide on hairy stalks that reach up to 15 cm long. Each lobe is egg shaped with a pointy tip that distinguishes it from Round Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana). A solitary flower is borne at the end of each hairy, leafless flower stalk. Flowers contain five to 12 petals, measure up to 3 cm across, and are backed by three hairy bracts. The flower stalks emerge before new leaf growth. 

In the Garden: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often flowering before the trees above have leafed out. Best planted in big clumps to add a delicate, cheerful statement to a shade garden. It’s slow to establish, but it will quickly become one of the plants you most look forward to in the spring. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full shade to part shade 

Soil Type: Well-drained, semi-rich calcareous soil with a neutral pH 

Moisture: Moist to medium 

Height: 15 cm 

Spread: 10–15 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May 

Colour: White (pink, purple) 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous or mixed woods, often in calcareous soils 

Wildlife Value: Early pollen source for native bees 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: None 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9 

Propagation: Seeds should be sown immediately or stored moist (damp sphagnum moss works well), as they will not tolerate drying out. If starting indoors, they will benefit from 30 days of cold, moist stratification. Plants will not bloom until three years old or more. Plants may be divided in the fall, but it is important to make sure you do not break the leaves off as they are needed to keep this evergreen plant alive through the winter. Plant so the leaf buds are just at the soil surface, then mulch lightly. Divisions, however, are slow to increase. When dividing a clump, it is best to leave two to three buds in each division. 

Additional Info: Deer and rabbit resistant; it will tolerate somewhat dry conditions, but too much sun will damage the leaf edges. 

Native Range: 

The Versatile Fern 

They don’t have big showy flowers (or even tiny inconspicuous flowers), they don’t feed pollinators or even rabbits (usually), and only a few seem to be host to some moth caterpillars, but it is my firm belief that every native plant garden should have ferns.  

There are native ferns for just about every garden condition in the Southern Great Lakes region. After all, according to the Peterson Field Guide to Ferns of Northeastern and Central North America, “some 11,000 different species of ferns and fern relatives… occupy every corner of Earth, from mountaintops to deserts to coastal swamps.” That book covers over 100 species that are mostly native to our region. There WILL be a fern that will grow in your garden. 

In this month’s article I will take a look at some of the ferns I have in my own garden in southwestern Ontario (as well as a couple I don’t have) and I will discuss why I like them. I have at least 18 species of ferns in my gardens – I have had more in the past, but lost a few over the last couple of years due to changing conditions in my yard. 

My Top 10 Ferns 

The following ferns are ones that just about anyone can grow in their gardens. They tolerate a wide range of soil moisture and/or light requirements and are long lived. (The plants are listed alphabetically by scientific name.) 

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) – If you have a moist, humusy, full-shade garden, there are few ferns that add as much delicate beauty as the clump forming Maidenhair Fern. Also known as the Northern Maidenhair Fern, the Five Fingered Maidenhair Fern or simply the Five Fingered Fern, these ferns will tolerate some sun, providing they are kept moist. 

This deciduous fern has black, shiny stems that reach up from a creeping rootstock to form a horseshoe-shaped semi-circle of horizontal bright green fronds. Maidenhair Ferns can get up to 3’ tall, but more commonly tops out around 18-24”. This is, apparently, one of the most sought-after native ferns at garden centres, and for good reason. An excellent choice for a full shade rain garden or bog garden, it regularly gets oohs and aahs from visitors to my yard. My only wish is that it would spread a little more aggressively – it seems to take forever. 

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) – A gorgeous 2-3’ tall fern that gets as wide as it is tall, Lady ferns provide a delicate lacy look to the flower bed. This fern prefers dappled shade and moist to mesic conditions in any loose loamy soil, but will tolerate a fair amount of morning sun and I have seen it growing in full shade in forests.  

I have a robust specimen that anchors the corner in a shady garden. Small offsets form at the base, allowing this fern to spread – albeit VERY slowly. My specimen is close to 15 years old and is less than 2’ across at the base, but its full bushy nature makes it look much larger.  

Bulblet Fern (Crystopteris bulbifera) – If I had to pick just one fern to grow in my garden, it would be this one.  In early spring, the bright red stalks are very showy. The fronds will get quite long (up to 30”), but they tend to flop over and, in my garden at least, seldom get higher than 12-18”. They do work well in planters, though, providing a lovely cascading effect.  

The plant gets its name from the tiny “bulblets” that grow on the underside of the fronds (in addition to the typical sori – groups of spores – that are found in ferns). These bulblets fall to the ground where, if the conditions are suitable, a new fern will spring up. 

Bulblet Ferns – which have a number of common names including Bulblet Bladder Fern, Bulblet Fragile Fern, and Berry Bladder Fern – are a garden winner in many regards. In a low, moist area of my yard, these tiny ferns grow in full sun and maintain a reddish brown tinge throughout the summer. But I also have them growing in full shade in an old claw-foot bathtub, where I never water them and even in the driest years they have stayed green and fresh looking all summer long.   

Crested Wood Fern (Dryopteris cristata) – New in my garden this past year, I’m loving the delicate look of this little (1-2’) clumping fern. It prefers part to full shade, but will even grow in full sun if sufficiently moist. It spreads slowly by short creeping rhizomes and, given sufficient time, can produce a nice, dense groundcover. 

This fern is considered semi-evergreen as the fertile fronds tend to collapse during the winter, but the sterile fronds remain green all winter long. Also known as Buckler Fern, Crested Shield Fern, or Narrow Swamp Fern, this is a good choice for loam to clay soils.  

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) – At up to 4’ tall when mature, this fern is super easy to grow in clay to sandy loam, full shade to mostly sun (with sufficient moisture) – though dappled shade is best – and dry to seasonally wet soil. In very dry soils, such as under a Sugar Maple tree, it may go dormant partway through the summer. It tolerates flooding in the spring so is ideal for that low spot where the snow meltwater collects.   

It is a slow but persistent spreader and may not be suitable for small gardens. Ideal companion plants are Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Trilliums, and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), all of which bloom then begin to fade away just as the Ostrich Fern begins to fill out. Oh, and the unopened fronds are the edible fiddleheads you can find in specialty grocers in the spring. 

For me, a key identifying feature is the badminton shuttlecock (“birdie”) form of the plant.  

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) – Sensitive Ferns are not particularly drought tolerant but they will do OK in average garden soils as long as they aren’t allowed to get too dry. They do prefer consistent moisture. Their strength, though, is that they tolerate full shade to full sun, though they may turn yellow without a bit of protection from the afternoon sun. In my garden, these ferns rarely get taller than 2-3’, though the literature suggests they will get up to 4’ tall. They tolerate most soil types, from sandy loam to clay. 

They will form dense colonies but don’t spread as quickly as Ostrich Ferns and make a great ground cover in moist, partly shaded areas. Their woody-like fertile fronds persist through the winter and provide interest in the garden year-round. They get the moniker “Sensitive” because they are very sensitive to frost. 

Royal Fern (Osmunda spectabilis formerly O. regalis, the latter name now reserved for the European species) – Royal fern is one of the tallest ferns we have, reaching up to 6’ in rich, moist to wet soils in full to part shade. It can even take periods of standing water.  It very wet conditions, it will even tolerate full sun.  

I’ve been growing this in less than ideal conditions for the past 5 years and my plants rarely get over 3’ tall, but this past summer I built a mini artificial wetland and moved some to that area. I’m hoping it will take off next year in its new home. 

The leaflets of Royal Fern look a bit like a locust tree or a vetch, and its size makes it more shrub-like than what we typically think of a fern. Fronds typically turn yellow to brown in autumn. Spores are located in brown, tassel-like, fertile clusters at the tips of the fronds, thus giving rise to the additional common name of flowering fern for this plant. Osmunda fiber used in the potting of orchids comes from the fibrous roots of these ferns. 

Smooth Cliffbrake (Pellaea glabella) – Difficult to find, and very fussy about its growing conditions, but if you have large limestone rocks in a lightly shaded area (or full sun, if moist), these tough little ferns are worth seeking out. They are a very small fern, only getting from 1” to 15” tall, but they will grow out of seemingly soil-less rock so they don’t have to worry about competition.  

They are found on limestone cliffs in full sun to part shade. In appropriate conditions, this hardy little fern is evergreen, but here in my southwestern Ontario garden, growing on a dry “escarpment”, it turns brown and looks completely dead in the winter – though the fronds remain. With the first mild wet weather, the fern perks right back up and turns green again. The same thing happens during a summer drought. More than once I was sure the fern was dead, and then a nice rainy day brings it right back to life. It is an extremely slow grower. 

A close cousin, Purple Cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea), can be differentiated as it has a hairy stem instead of a smooth one. It is also much rarer (considered vulnerable in Ontario and imperiled in Michigan). 

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) – This long-lived (15 years, or more), medium sized fern (18-24”) is one of only a handful of native ferns that is evergreen – retaining its shiny green leaves right through to the spring. They do flatten down in the winter, but still provide shelter for small birds and mammals, and nesting materials in the spring.  

A forest floor inhabitant, it prefers moist, full shade, but will tolerate dappled sunlight if kept moist. They don’t do well in heavy clay soils, but they don’t mind pretty much any other soils, including average garden soil where a weekly watering will keep them green and healthy. Once established, they will tolerate periods of drought and would make a good filler plant in a shady rain garden. 

Easily recognizable in the winter (because it’s evergreen), a simple way to recognize Christmas Fern in the summer is the “thumb” on the individual leaflet (see image below). 

Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris) – This low growing (6-12”), sun loving fern is great in a bog garden, a rain garden, or any other place where it can be kept moist (though it doesn’t like standing water). The delicate leaves can form dense mats, which help to provide necessary cool shade for the roots of things like Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium reginae). This fern prefers rich, acidic, sandy loam but will survive in just about any garden soil, as long as it is moist. For a fern that is so delicate looking, it really is a tough plant. Other names for this fern are Marsh Shield Fern, Northern Marsh Fern and Eastern Marsh Fern.  

It is very similar to New York Fern (formerly Thelypteris noveboracensis, now known as Amauropelta noveboracensis), which can tolerate a bit drier conditions and would make a good substitute. Keep in mind, though, that New York Fern can become a dominant understory species and may out-compete the seedlings of certain tree species. The seedlings of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) are especially vulnerable, as the fern releases an allelopathic phenol which can kill them. 

Honorable Mention 

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) – Cinnamon Fern has gorgeous fall colour, prefers part to full shade and will tolerate full sun if it is in standing water. It will grow in most soil types, including muck, and can get almost as tall as its cousin, the Royal Fern. This is a great pond or bog plant. 

I don’t include it in my top ten ferns simply because I have not had great success keeping it alive. I’m on my third attempt to grow Cinnamon Fern and I may have to move it to a wetter area than where I have it now. But it is quite gorgeous – especially in the fall.  

Ferns for More Experienced Gardeners 

The ferns in this section really aren’t for beginners. That’s because they are a little fussier on their growing conditions, and/or they are very aggressive spreaders. But if you have the space and/or the appropriate conditions and/or the experience and want to try something interesting, these are, in my opinion, some lovely ferns to add.  

Hay Scented Fern (Sitobolium punctilobulum) – A beautiful fern for large areas, it is an aggressive spreader that gets 1-3’ tall and gives off a scent of crushed hay in late summer.. Prefers light shade and moist to mesic soils but will grow in a wide range of conditions. 

Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) – Full to part sun, drought tolerant once established, this very aggressive spreader is not suitable for small spaces. However, it is so tough that I have read that it will actually thrive in the dry shade under sugar maples (but I haven’t tried it – yet). As I’ve seen it growing along roadsides in sandy soils, it might make a good plant for a Hell Strip (boulevard) garden. It gets up to 4’ tall. 

Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) – I’ve tried to grow this rare (it is classified as “vulnerable” in Ontario), very unusual looking fern twice, in two different locations, but couldn’t keep it alive past the first year. A friend, however, has it growing beautifully in his yard. It wants part to full shade in rich, moist but well drained soil.  

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) – This extremely delicate looking fern grows in full to part shade in rich, moist, well drained soils, and rocky terrain. I’ve seen it growing in crevices in limestone alvars with virtually no soil at all. It is small, about 6” tall, and is evergreen.  

Book Review: The Prairie in Seed: Identifying Seed-Bearing Prairie Plants in the Upper Midwest 

By Dave Williams 

  • Publisher: ‎University od Iowa Press, 2010 
  • Paperback‏:‎ 140 pages 
  • ISBN-10: 1609384091 
  • Dimensions: 6” X 9” 
  • Price: $55.24 (Amazon.ca – note, this book is available on Kindle for $16.99); $17.00 (Amazon.com) 

This book is not available from Amazon.ca, directly, but through a 3rd party vendor – hence the absolutely ridiculous price on Amazon.ca. But if you’re happy with the Kindle version, or you have an American address you can order from Amazon.com, then this book is worth considering. 

An excellent guide to identifying many native prairie plants in seed. A great addition to The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest (see my previous review of this excellent book by the same author at https://nativeplantgardener.ca/book-review-the-tallgrass-prairie-center-guide-to-seed-and-seedling-identification-in-the-upper-midwest/).  

Clearly laid out in sections defined by the shape of the plant in seed (e.g.solitary seed heads, seeds in follicles, etc.) with clear outline sketches of the typical shape shown at the beginning of each section. 

Each plant is first identified in flower, with a clear photo, then in seed, also with a clear photo, and finally a description of the best seed harvesting technique is given for each plant. There is also a photo with a scale bar of the seed. 

At the back of the book are clear sketches of leaf arrangements, shapes and margins as definitions. There are also 3 extremely useful tables at the back of the book that elaborate on the information for each plant (with both the scientific and common names given): Table 1 is Initial Flowering and Ripening Times indicating early, mid or late part of each month that you can expect flowers, then ripe seeds; Table 2 indicates Initial Ripening Time and Duration after Ripening; and Table 3 describes the Average Number of Seeds per Stalk. 

The book is so well done that my only complaint is that there are only 73 species identified. I sincerely hope the author is working on volume 2 to cover another 80 species or so. And although the book covers plants of the US Midwest, many of the plants are also found here in the southern Great Lakes region. 

American Spikenard 

As I write this in mid-January, I sit and dream about my spring, summer and fall gardens and one of the plants that always brings a smile to my face is my American Spikenard – Aralia racemosa. This large-leaved, shade tolerant plant produces masses of burgundy coloured, edible berries in late summer, early fall that are a favourite of the birds (I find them delicious, too, but the birds usually beat me to them). The plants can get up to 5’ (150 cm) tall, but in ideal conditions can get even bigger. Each fall they die off and re-emerge in the spring like a phoenix. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature.) 

Common Name: Spikenard 

Scientific Name: Aralia racemosa 

Family: Araliaceae (Ginseng Family) 

Alternate Common Names: American Spikenard, Hungry Root, Indian Root, Life of Man, Old Man’s Root, Pettymorrel, Small Spikenard, Spiceberry, Spignet 

Plant Description: The smooth, maroon-coloured stems of Spikenard hold a few large (up to 60 cm long) compound leaves that are made up of many smaller leaflets, each measuring about 14 cm long. Leaflets are heart shaped at the base, sharply toothed, and abruptly taper to a pointed tip. Spikenard often grows wider than it is tall. Large, tapered flower clusters are made up of many tiny, stalked flowers. Individual flowers are under 1 cm across with five triangular petals. Flower stalks are covered in many fine hairs. Flowers give way to dense, hanging clusters of dark-red-to-purple fruit, 0.5 cm in diameter. 

In the Garden: Spikenard is a large, spreading perennial that gives the appearance of a shrub but dies back to the ground every year. It is valued in gardens for its lush leaves, ability to tolerate deep shade and its attractive broad form. The summer flowers bloom at a time when not much else is blooming in shade gardens. The dark red berries look like little jewels but don’t stick around long as they are a favourite food of many songbirds. Excellent as a specimen or in small groups. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Part shade to full shade 

Soil Type: Fertile, humus-rich loams, but tolerates a wide range of soils including rocky and clay ones 

Moisture: Wet to medium 

Height: 90–150 cm 

Spread: 120 cm 

Bloom Period: (Jun), Jul, (Aug) 

Colour: White 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N): Y – ripening from mid August to early September (in southern Ontario) 

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich, usually moist beech-maple and hemlock-hardwood forests, especially along edges and clearings and in cedar swamps 

Wildlife Value: The berries of Aralia spp. are eaten by woodland songbirds and some small mammals 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: None 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8 

Propagation: Sow seeds immediately or keep moist. Germination is enhanced with scarification, either in a mild sulphuric acid or by rubbing with sandpaper. Cold, moist stratification may help germination, but artificial stratification seems to be hit-and-miss with these seeds. Easiest propagation is to divide old rootstocks when the plants go dormant in the fall, though plants may be slow to bloom after being disturbed. Plants may also be started from root cuttings. 

Additional Info: Plants will slowly spread over time by self-seeding and creeping rhizomes to form thickets. 

Edibility: Although I don’t usually comment on the edibility of garden plants, I will make an exception in this case. The ripe 4-6 mm diameter fruit has a very pleasant taste and can be used to make juice, fruit leathers, jellies, etc. Each berry does contain several seeds, so when you eat them raw (I find them quite delicious) you’ll be spitting out seeds. The root can be used in soups and imparts a spicy, anise-like flavouring (it has been used as a substitute for Wild Sarsaparilla – Aralia nudicaulis – to make root beer) and the young shoot tips can be cooked as a vegetable or used to flavour soups. 

Native Range: native throughout the southern Great Lakes region 

The Rain Garden – Part 2: Plant Choices 

Last month’s article “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, My Garden is Growing” discussed the how and why to build a rain garden. In this month’s article I will share some of my favourite plants that are well suited to rain gardens. These plants can handle both having their feet wet on occasion, sometimes for days on end, yet can also tolerate long periods of dry soil.  

The following plants are listed in alphabetical order by scientific name. Plants with hyperlink are ones that have a complete description on the Plant of the Month pages of this website. 

The Sunny (to partly sunny) Rain Garden 

Perennials 

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – 3′ to 4’ tall, a monarch host plant and an excellent nectar source for butterflies and even hummingbirds. The juice of this wetland milkweed is less milky than that of other species. It tends to bloom twice in a growing season when in gardens. Rare occasional white specimens are found in the wild and these have led to cultivars such as “Ice Ballet.” 

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) – up to 18″ tall, this is one of the first wetland flowers to bloom in spring. Seeds should be sown as soon as they’re ripe and cannot dry out before sowing. Seedlings do not flower until the third year following germination. Plants also reproduce easily by division in early spring as the plants are emerging. 

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) 3′ to 4′ tall, has very distinct, bold leaves with a crinkly texture and the pure white flowers bloom for a long time. Nectar or and pollen of the flowers attracts many kinds of insects and it is a host plant for several moth species. Seeds need light to germinate in the fall, and sow thickly as germination rates are typically low. Stratification for at least 30 days will increase germination percentages. Seeds will last up to 3 three years if stored in the fridge. Boneset can also be propagated by root division in the fall just as they go dormant, or in early spring just as the first shoots appear 

Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) 5′ to 7′ tall, the flowers have a light vanilla fragrance that becomes more intense when crushed. An important food source for butterflies, bumblebees, green metallic sweat bees, and skippers, it is also the host plant for several moth species, including the Ruby Tiger Moth. 

Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) 1′ tall, it is especially valuable to bumble bees, just about the only insect with enough strength to force its way into the closed flower. Plant tends to lean at maturity, so plant among sturdier plants for support. If left undisturbed, plants in optimum growing conditions will naturalize over time into large clumps. 

Water Avens (Geum rivale) 1’ to 2’ tall, the intricate, droopy flowers of Water Avens will add a touch of elegance to your garden and are best enjoyed up close. They provide a long bloom time and turn into ornamental, fluffy seed heads. Water Avens maintains a clumping form and looks its best when planted en masse. The fragrant flowers were once used to flavour ales, and the roots can be boiled to make a chocolate-like drink.  

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) AKA “touch me not”, this plant will get up to 5’ or more in height and will eagerly self-seed and quickly cover moist areas with beauty and wildlife value.  Hummingbirds and butterflies seek nectar, and several native bees (listed by the Xerces society as of special value to bumblebees) collect pollen (it is listed by the Xerces Society as of special value to bumblebees). The juice from Jewelweed stems contains a compound called lawsone, which has shown to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It is said to relieve itching from Poison Ivy, mosquito bites, and Stinging Nettle and has also been used to treat athlete’s foot. 

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) At 2’ to 3’ tall, this is a personal favourite of mine. Seeds require at least 4 months of cold, moist stratification to germinate and will take 2 years till they produce flowers. To propagate vegetatively, the roots can be divided in early summer. 

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) 3′ to 4’ tall, this is a hummingbird magnet in the garden. Although relatively short lived (usually 2-3 years) it can carry on in your garden by dividing it or moving it every year or two. This plant is at its finest when growing with minimal competition in forested wetlands. Note that commercial garden centers often sell cultivars of this plant, that may or may not be as valuable to wildlife as the true species. 

Blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 2’ to 4’ tall, the nectar attracts butterflies and native bees and occasionally hummingbirds. Pinch back the plants to make them bushier. Blue Lobelia will produce offsets around the base that will generate their own roots. These can be removed with a sharp knife in the spring or fall, being careful to retain their roots, and transplanted. These small offsets are delicate, so care should be taken not to bury them under thick mulch. 

Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) 1’ to 3’ tall, adds a wonderful, refined look to wet sites and will spread slowly by rhizomes to take on a bushy look once mature. Its snapdragon-like flowers have a long bloom time, which is great for bees and gardeners alike. The dried seed heads provide great textural interest over the winter months. 

Golden Grounsel (Packera aurea) 1′ to 2’ tall, it puts on a luminous and long-lasting display of golden- yellow flowers in the springtime. It is a robust, bold- textured groundcover that will spread by both rhizomes and seeds. 

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) 3′ to 5′, this is a host plant for Checkerspot and Crescent butterflies and others, and for several moth species. New England Aster has a tendency to become root-bound and will benefit from dividing the plant every 3 to 4 years. Pinching back the stems a few times before mid-July will help to make the plant bushier and eliminate the need for staking. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) up to 5′ tall, it puts on a majestic display of candelabra-shaped flower clusters in mid-summer, filling the garden with accents of violet-blue. It maintains a clumping habit and makes a great structural plant. The rigid stems and seed heads stand tall through the winter to provide excellent seasonal interest. 

Shrubs 

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) 5’ to 10’ tall, this shrub produces a unique white round flower head that is highly attractive to bees and butterflies. It can be pruned back in the spring if necessary. The shrub requires full sun but may tolerate some shade. Otherwise, buttonbush is extremely resilient in all types of temperatures and conditions. It is important to note that the leaves of this plant are toxic to humans. 

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) 3′ to 6’ tall, larval host for Spring Azure butterflies. Blooming for 1 to months, the pollen and nectar attract a wide range of bees, bumblebees, moths and other pollinators. It takes well to pruning after flowers have finished blooming. It does spread by rhizomes and may work better in a larger rain garden. 

The Shady Rain Garden 

Perennials 

Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) 1’ to 2’ tall, propagating these showy yellow orchids from seed is complex. The seeds are extremely small and contain no endosperm (the energy reserves in most other seeds) and cannot survive without a symbiont soil fungus to absorb nutrients for it. Most commercially grown Lady’s Slippers are germinated in the lab in a special medium, or by tissue culture, can take a year or more to germinate, and up to a decade or more before they flower. This is why lady’s slipper orchids are so expensive. If someone is selling you a Cypripedium orchid at a bargain price, chances are it was wild harvested. In the garden, plants that have grown very large (with at least 30 shoots) should be divided to keep the plant healthy. 

Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) 1’ to 2’ tall, is a reliable ground cover that puts on a verdant display of leaves early in the spring. Delicate -looking flower clusters rise above the leaves in late spring to dot the landscape with pastel purple hues. 

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) 2’ to 3’ (occasionally up to 4’) tall, the stunning flowers add fiery red/orange accents to the summer garden, while its whorled leaves add an interesting texture. It has a very elegant look overall and maintains a clumping habit. Pair it with plants of similar height as it does not like competition. It’s slow to establish but well worth the wait. 

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) – see above 

Royal Fern (Osmunda spectabilis formerly O. regalis) 3’ to 6′, it is one of the largest ferns in non-tropical North America. Fronds typically turn yellow to brown in autumn. Spores are located in brown, tassel-like, fertile clusters at the tips of the fronds, thus giving rise to the additional common name of flowering fern for this plant. 

Golden groundsel (Packera aurea) – see above 

Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris) 1’ to 2’ tall, this fern spreads to form a lush green ground cover in moist soil. Although it does well in sunnier rain gardens, it also thrives in moderately dense shade in my gardens.  The Marsh Fern often forms dense colonies of leaves, it provides good cover for the smaller kinds of wildlife.  

Shrubs 

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) 8′ to 20′ tall, it prefers moist, acidic, organically rich soils and will tolerate heavy clay soils. One of the last shrubs to flower. the stem-hugging clusters of fragrant bright yellow flowers, each with four crinkly, ribbon-shaped petals, appear along the branches from October to December. 

Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) 4’ to 15′, this fragrant (spicy) host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly produces beautiful, tiny yellow flowers in the spring and makes a great alternative to the non-native Forsythia. Shrubs are either male or female, and if you’re lucky enough to get a female, you are apt to get bright red, spicy smelling fruit in late summer. In the fall, the leaves are brilliant  yellow.