Native Plants of the Midwest

Book Review 1

Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden

By Alan Branhagan

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Timber Press, 2016
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 440 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1604695935
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 8.5” X11”
  • Price: $44.47 (; $38.97 (

This big and beautiful text is the Midwest’s answer to Donald Leopold’s Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation (Timber Press, 2005). The large format, hardcover volume is a comprehensive encyclopedia of garden-worthy native plants of the region. Unlike Leopold’s book, this one appears to have photos of every plant listed (my one major beef with Native Plants of the Northeast). And unlike Branhagen’s other book on the topic – The Native Plant Primer (Timber Press, 2020) – this book lists species alphabetically by scientific name – a much more logical way to do it than by common name, as common names often vary from region to region.

A fairly lengthy (approximately 80 page) introduction discusses the importance of native plants in the landscape as well as in the garden, and includes chapters on plant selection and on garden design.

The book is then divided into 12 sections of “Plant Profiles” – Shade Trees, Evergreen Trees, through Shrubs and Vines to Perennials, Bulbs and finally Annuals and Biennials. He even breaks down the Perennials into Prairie, Woodland and Wetland Perennials. Most of the plant profiles contain a short paragraph (or occasionally 2 paragraphs) about the plant. It then provides a paragraph on How to Grow which describes general soil and moisture needs, another on Landscape Use and another on Ornamental Attributes. A few contain a paragraph on Related Plants as well. Each plant description includes one photo of a general characteristic – whether that be an overall view of the plant, a picture of its fruit, or a shot of the flower.

Overall this is a great book for the gardener who wants to explore the world of native plants, and as a beautiful picture book, I would give it 5 stars. But as a valuable tool for gardeners, I only give it 4 stars for one major problem that I see.

The author devotes a section in the introduction to talk about plant hardiness zones and heat zones, and then provides a table at the back of the book that defines these zones, but not one single plant description includes what zones it will grow in. The Midwest is a very large expanse of geography and climate, and there are many plants that grow in the north that won’t survive the summer heat of the south, and likewise southern plants that won’t tolerate the freezing temperatures of the northern parts of the region. In addition, soils and microclimates will further impact where the plants grew before humans began drastically modifying the landscape. Native plant gardeners, more than other gardening enthusiasts, are very interested in whether a plant is actually native to where they live. No range maps are provided. And even though the author includes a map delineating the Midwest, subdivided into ecoregions, and another that breaks the Midwest into 4 sections (Upper, Lower, Eastern and Western), there is only a very general indication in the How to Grow section of the plant descriptions as to which areas the plants were native to. I would have much preferred a clear range map for each plant.

If you’re looking for a beautiful coffee table book that will give you some ideas about native plants, this one provides a pretty comprehensive list of choices. Because of what I see as a serious flaw as far as plant ranges go, I couldn’t give it 5 stars, but I would give it a 4.5/5.

This book is available on Amazon.