There are so many native plants that will stop you in your tracks and require lots of Instagram posts. There are native grasses that turn pink-purple and look like a tuft of candy (Purple Muhly Grass, seen above.) Some trees cover their branches and trunk with tiny flowers (redbuds), and another tree hasn’t been spotted in the wild since the 1700s (but you can still plant one in your front yard!) Witch-hazel flowers when basically nothing else does (in the winter or late fall) and Pawpaws make North America’s largest edible fruit. Scroll on to meet some strange, captivating, and beautiful plants native to North America.
Sometimes we make landscaping choices based on color, height, or what looks great in our front yards. And other times—we hear a great story from a gardener or see something truly strange and need to have it in our landscapes.
Here are some native plants to consider purely for storytelling potential or their singularly strange beauty. Listed in alphabetical order, each of these strange, crazy, and beautiful native plants is worth considering.
11 Strange, crazy, and beautiful native plants
Yes, those purple berries are for real. American Beautybushes used to be one of the most prevalent shrubs in the American South. They blossom with small fairy-like clusters of flowers in the spring that turn into electric purple berries in the fall. While the berries are not edible to humans, they are bird favorites. A treat to have in anyone’s yard or landscape!
Have a sunny spot that always has standing water? Buttonbushes are for you. Their Dr. Seuss-like round white orb flowers are also perfect landing spots for butterflies.
Franklin Trees are mythical native trees. They were spotted in the wild of Virginia in the 1700s and have not been seen in nature since! We have them today because the last person to spot one in the 1700s had the foresight to grab some seeds. Every single Franklin Tree today can trace itself back to that single man in American history. AND—they are just gorgeous, flowering trees.
These gorgeous trees blossom in the spring with long, delicate flowers that sway in the breeze like a hand-cut garland of paper. Fringe Trees’ blossoms also smell AMAZING. These are perfect statement trees.
Passionflowers are perhaps the most singularly unique flower in the entire world (email or DM if you have other ideas!) There are many native passionflowers found in North America; most come from the Florida region. These are also butterfly magnets and the host plant for the Gulf Flitterary butterfly.
This is a tree worth piles of American stories. Pawpaw trees make North America’s largest edible fruit. The fruit tastes like a cross between a banana and a pineapple and looks like a mango. They look like they belong in the tropics but are native to almost half of North America—including many very cold places.
Purple Muhly Grass
When you plant them, they look like any other type of grass you may see at a plant nursery. But just wait until the fall. The seed heads turn into frothy, pink-purple sculptures, the tufts swaying in the breeze. They are especially stunning when planted in clumps.
You absolutely read that correctly. This native plant has one of the most badass names in the plant, animal, or people world and it’s gorgeous too. Contrary to its name, it will not protect you from rattlesnakes. It is a tough-as-nails native that can survive drought and full-sun spots. Plant a few and make sure you add a nametag!
This tree is one of the first plants to flower in the spring—often beating daffodils and tulips. And not only that, it puts its tiny flowers in its branches, stems, and trunk. What a commitment to helping the pollinators as they wake up! Redbuds are perfect for front yards or other statement-making spots.
Texas Mountain Laurel
These are gorgeous shrubs that turn into small trees over time. They cover themselves in fistfuls of purple flowers in the spring that smell like GRAPE KOOL-AID. Seriously—dozens of gardeners and gardening books have used that sugary drink as a way to describe Texas Mountain Laurel’s sweet aroma. And guess what? The pollinators love it, too.
If you get the winter or fall sads—this is the tree for you. There are two species of native witch-hazel: one blooms in the dead of winter and the other blooms at the very end of fall. Both bloom with flowers that are joy in physical form. Their yellow explosions of petals look like fireworks on the fourth of July. And they smell good too—you’ll be stopped in your tracks when you walk by one in bloom.
And that’s not all!
There are lots of other strange, wondrous, and worthwhile native plants that are very much worth planting. Some other wondrous natives to consider include:
Thousands of native plants offer resiliency and beauty to our gardens—and save our water bills, especially compared to non-native plants! But sometimes, you just want to pick something for pure fun. These native plants offer strange beauty and/or background stories that help us become better connected to the spaces we live in. Planting native gives us the gorgeous landscapes we all crave for minimal work—especially compared to lawns. Pick some of your favorite strange and beautiful natives and add them to your yard today. Don’t forget to add some nametags to your garden. Happy planting!
- Nelson, Gil. Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens: A Handbook for Gardeners, Homeowners, and Professionals, (2010).
- Harstad, Carolyn. Go Native! Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest. (1999), 209-210.