Five Overlooked Plants In the Landscape

July 2, 2014 by

Calochortus venustus pink Don M. Davis Calochortus venustus, photo by Don M. Davis

Some plants are familiar to almost everyone. But then there are those that, no matter how many great characteristics they have or how easy they are to grow, they never quite catch on.

Here are five underused plants in the landscape that deserve more attention. All are native to the US and none are difficult to grow. If you don’t see them at your local garden center, ask for them by name so they may be vailalbe on your next visit.

Asclepias tuberosa Andrew Erwin Asclepias tuberosa, photo by Andrew Erwin

1. Asclepias tuberosa
Butterfly Weed
I am convinced that the scarcity of this wonderful plant is due to the fact that it has the word weed in its part of its common name. With its beautiful bright orange flower clusters that measure 2-5 inches across, and its long, pointed alternate leaved foliage, I just can’t imagine another reason why this plant is not used more. Native to the eastern and southern US, Asclepias tuberosa grows to 36 inches tall, blooms in late spring and summer, is drought tolerant, and attracts butterflies.

Sanguisorba canadensis Lotus Johnson Sanguisorba canadensis photo by Lotus Johnson

2. Sanguisorba canadensis
American Burnet
Native to the US and Canada, Sanguisorba canadensis grows to 5 ft tall in late summer to early fall bears spiky white flowers. It is a prairie plant that thrives in full sun. It’s native habitat is wet swampy areas and bogs although I have had much success growing this in gardens with moderate moisture. If you like Sanguisorbia canadensis, you might also want to check out it’s close relative Sanguisorbia minor or Salad Burnet. This one is much like Sanguisorbia canadensis but has edible foliage that tastes a little like cucumber and is great in salads. I once installed for a client a blue stone patio that I surrounded on two sides with Sanguisorbia minor.

Spiranthes odorata Don Brown copy Spiranthes odorata also Spiranthes cernua var odorata ‘Chadd’s Ford’, Photo by Don-Brown

3. Spitanthes odorata also Spiranthes cernua var. odorata ‘Chadd’s Ford’
Lady’s Tresses
A member of the orchid family, and unlike the orchids we are used to seeing in garden centers whose roots need air to survive, this is a fully terrestrial plant. Native to boggy areas in the eastern US, this plant grows to about 18 inches. Blooming in late summer to early fall, Spiranthes features spikes of tiny white flowers that spiral up. Hardy to zone 4, this is a wonderful addition to any garden looking for a plant that blooms in the fall, often up until frost. With a wonderful fragrance, this is a true aquatic plant that can be grown in water several inches deep although I have grown it successfully in both my garden and in client’s gardens in areas that receive average moisture.

Mitchella repens Mitchella repens photo by Joshua Mayer

4. Mitchella repens
Partridge Berry
Mitchella repens is a low growing, mat forming evergreen ground cover native to eastern North America that tolerates heavy shade and produces edible fruit. This plant grows only 2 inches tall but up to 12 inches wide. It’s dainty white flowers bloom in spring and are followed by berries that persist into winter. All that and it is hardy to zone 3. What more could you ask of a plant?

Calochurtus Venustus Howard Clark Calochurtus venustus, photo by Howard Clark

5. Calochortus venustus
Mariposa Lily
Native to the Pacific coast and the Sierra Nevada, Calochortus venustus is grown from corms. When it comes to color the flowers, the most variable Calochortus range from red to white, yellow, orange and purple. Calochortus is found in open grasslands and meadows at altitudes up to 8,000 ft. Reaching heights of 12-18 inches, Calochortus blooms in late spring and early summer. They make wonderful cut flowers that have a long vase life.

Do you have a favorite overlooked plant? Please share it with us by commenting below.

  • CC

    the drought tolerant plants look very inviting to try! are any of the plants shown self sowing? thanks

  • LazyGardenerNY

    Interesting selections. Regarding availability, this is a chicken and egg issue. These plants are hard to find at nurseries. So people don’t plant them.

    One important note about milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): it is an important food source for monarch larvae. I have not seen any monarchs this year. But in past years I have found their golden chrysalises on my milkweed. So please plant more of these! They also come in pink.

  • LazyGardenerNY

    Th milkweed seeds like crazy, @CC.

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  • Casa Mariposa

    Orange milkweed is easy to find at most nurseries. I have loads of it in my garden and let it go to seed so I always have seedlings to add to the garden or pass on to friends. I’ve heard of the other plants but rarely see them.

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