The Plant Native

Amsonia

Highlights

These native flowers put on a show twice a year. In the spring, star-shaped blue flowers appear at the top of elegant stalks. (These plants also can go by the common name Bluestar.) In the fall, their leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow. Several species are available, giving different heights and native ranges. Let’s make amsonias a new trend for North American gardens—they’re easy to grow and easy to love. Scroll on for planting tips.

Full Sun – Part Shade
1-4′ tall, depending on species
Flowers in the spring
Amsonia
genus
A photograph of the leaves of native Amsonia plants turning a bright yellow in the fall.
In the fall, Amsonia looks like it's been plugged into a light socket

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Butterfly Weed

Table of Contents

Why is amsonia a secret?

The question we have to ask today is: why do non-native tulips get the late-spring spotlight instead of native amsonias? Both bloom around the same time, but only one puts on a stunning display in the fall. (Tulips look amazing for two weeks, then drop their petals everywhere before withering up into stringy brown leaves, which remind me of hair caught in a shower drain.)

It is a mystery why this stunning native plant is not well known. It’s time for every American on the eastern and southern states to plant some, and fix this in our lifetimes.

A photograph of native Amsonia flower buds emerging from verdant green leaves.
Amsonia buds look interesting, before they open

What are the benefits of planting amsonia?

There are so many benefits to planting native amsonias. Some benefits include:

  • Easy-care: once native Amsonias are established (which usually takes the first year), they thrive with just rain
  • Flowers in the spring, foliage in the fall: as mentioned earlier, this plant offer multi-season interest and lots of visual drama
  • They can be tall—unless you’d like them shorter: Most species get 3-4′ tall. If this is too tall for you, you can cut them to half their height after blooming.
  • Lots of species for north-to-south options: amsonia has multiple species that thrive throughout North America—scroll on to meet your favorites

Types of native amsonia

There are 10+ species of native amsonia that offer resilient beauty for United States gardens. Here are some species you may encounter:

A close-up image of Eastern Bluestar flowers in bloom.
You can see where the common name 'Bluestar' came from

Eastern Bluestar, or Willow Amsonia

Amsonia tabernaemontana

The range of Eastern Bluestar is huge—from Massachusetts to Texas! It thrives in full sun to part sun gardens and flowers in the spring. It gets a little tall—2-4’—if this bothers you, trim back the plant to half its height after it blooms. Thankfully, most local plant nurseries stock this plant.

A close-up photograph of native Fringed Bluestar in bloom.
This amsonia lives hot, southern weather!

Fringed Bluestar, or Texas Amsonia

Amsonia ciliata

Native to the southern United States (from Florida to Texas), this amsonia offers more rounded blue star-flowers and needle-shaped leaves—a striking combo. It also comes with an added bonus: the ability to thrive in hot southern summers. It’s a little shorter (18-24″) and needs well-drained soil to thrive.

Let’s not plant European Bluestar

Planting flowers, shrubs, and trees native to North America is what The Plant Native is all about. Which is why we should steer clear of one amsonia that’s native to Europe: European Bluestar (Amsonia orientalis)Take a moment to check the nursery tag to make sure you’re not planting this bluestar species if you’re planting in North America. You’ll miss out on all the benefits of planting native.

Plant 5+ native amsonias together for maximum impact

Amsonias look best when planted in groups. If you have the space, plant 5+ near each other to help their spring flowers, summer greenery, and fall foliage shine.

If you’re planting Eastern Bluestar, we have a piece of advice…

When planting Eastern Bluestar—get what you need at once

Maybe you’re detail-oriented like we are, and you’ve noticed that some of the amsonia ‘Eastern Bluestar’ pictures here and elsewhere online have slightly different leaf shapes and flowers in different shades of blue. We were skeptical too—is this the same plant?

Leaf shapes and flower colors for Eastern Bluestar can vary widely

Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) has lots of different varieties that are rarely mentioned on plant nursery tags. Plants with needle-like leaves and others with fuller leaves may both be called Eastern Bluestar. Same for flowers that are a light blue or a more bluer-blue—they all might go by the same name. The Flora of North America database notes: 

“[Eastern Bluestar] Amsonia tabernaemontana encompasses a great deal of morphological diversity, particularly in leaf size and shape and sepal indument and length, which is to some extent geographically correlated; therefore, the recogni­tion of varieties seems desirable. However, the varieties are not well differentiated and tend to blend into one another, especially where their ranges overlap.”

It’s a good reminder when buying Eastern Bluestar amsonia to buy what you need all at once. You might find a different variety another season or at another nursery.

Looking for places to buy amsonia? Here are four sourcing ideas:

Amsonia

Where can I find seeds and plants?

Finding native plants can be challenging (we partly blame Marie Antoinette.) To make it easier, we’ve assembled four sourcing ideas.

Native Plant Nurseries

Our list of native nurseries makes finding one a breeze

Online Communities

Local Facebook groups are a great plant source

A photograph of several native Amsonia flowers in bloom, with their bright green leaves giving contrast to the blue flowers.
Eastern Bluestar in its springtime glory

Gardenclips has a nice overview video that shows the plant’s shape and fall color:

What are good pairings for amsonias?

A great rule of thumb when planting a garden is to pick native plants that bloom from spring to fall, so that pollinators always have a treat. Since amsonias are spring bloomers, pick some other great natives that bloom in the summer and fall to plant alongside. Some ideas include:

Native flowers for the summer

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Bee Balm

blazing-star-with-butterflies-native-plant

Blazing Star

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Blue-Eyed Grass

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Butterfly Weed

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Cardinal Flower

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Common Milkweed

Native flowers for the fall

If picking native plants feels overwhelming, try three-color landscaping. Pick three colors (one of which will be blue, since you’re planting amsonias) and stick to that palette. Here’s our guide to Three-Color Native Gardens to make it easy.

And that sums up our love letter to planting native amsonias. These beautiful and striking native flowers have been strangely overlooked in landscaping—let’s change that! Amsonias deliver star-filled flowers in the spring, greenery in the summer, and jaw-dropping foliage in the fall. Plant them in groups of 5+ for the most dramatic display. Since they are perennials, plant once and they will come back year-after-year. Don’t forget to pair with natives that bloom in the summer and fall, so your garden will always be filled with flowers and pollinators. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
04/12/2024
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