Five Overlooked Plants In the Landscape

July 2, 2014 by

Calochortus venustus pink Don M. DavisCalochortus 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, 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 available on your next visit.

Asclepias tuberosa Andrew ErwinAsclepias 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 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 are drought-tolerant and attract butterflies.

Sanguisorba canadensis Lotus JohnsonSanguisorba 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 and bears spiky white flowers. It is a prairie plant that thrives in full sun. Its 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 its 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 copySpiranthes 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, but unlike other 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 repensMitchella 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. Its 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 ClarkCalochurtus 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 the color of 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.


  1. CC said:

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

    — July 3, 2014 @ 08:13

  2. LazyGardenerNY said:

    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.

    — July 3, 2014 @ 09:40

  3. LazyGardenerNY said:

    Th milkweed seeds like crazy, @CC.

    — July 3, 2014 @ 09:43

  4. Five Overlooked Plants In the Landscape Pingback said:

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    — July 3, 2014 @ 15:40

  5. Casa Mariposa said:

    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.

    — July 5, 2014 @ 14:56

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