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Using Native Plants for Landscaping

While most of us recognize the value of our native trees to the environment and to the aesthetics and monetary value of our homes, many of us overlook the vegetation beneath the tall overstory trees. The temperate forests of our coast have vertical "layers" of vegetation which form a complex network of wildlife habitat. This is the vegetation where the great majority of our native wildlife rest, feed, hide from predators and raise families. They rely on this understory vegetation for their survival. These vertical layers, which have large numbers of different plant species, can support large numbers of different wildlife species. Basically, the larger the number of plant species (diversity) present, the larger the diversity of wildlife it will support.

When development "simplifies" complex habitats by removal of some of these layers, the ability of these areas to support diverse wildlife species is greatly reduced. Often, development will remove all of the layers of vegetation except for the overstory trees. When this happens, little to no understory remains, and the wildlife is forced to move into adjacent areas which may not be providing all of their needs. If these areas are already developed, the displaced wildlife often becomes "pests" to many people, eating planted vegetation or nesting in chimneys or attics.

Removal of vegetation layers can also increase erosion, increase the potential for flooding and increase ground and adjacent water body temperatures. A forest tree that is left standing after development can suffer greatly when all other vegetation around it is removed: as the humidity around the tree decreases and ground temperature increases, the tree "sweats" more, losing tens of gallons of water per day that may not be replaced by irrigation systems.

The native plants of our lowcountry home have adapted over long periods of time to our climatic conditions. They are drought-tolerant, which means they need minimal irrigation compared to many introduced species, which can help save money and conserve water. Many of our native plants have developed defense systems to prevent grazing by predators, and therefore tend to be resistant to insects and larger animals. This saves money and environmental damage by reducing the need for pesticides or predator exclusion systems. Using native plants in the landscape also help provide our wildlife with habitat and preserve our lowcountry "sense of place".

Native Freshwater Wetland Plants for Lower Bank/Shallow Water Plantings

Soft Rush Juncus effusus
Maidencane Panicum hemitomon
Wild Rice Zizania aquatica
Spikerushes Eleocharis sp.
Woolgrass bulrush Scirpus cyperinus
Rushes Juncus sp.
Flowering Plants
Duck potato Sagittaria latifolia
Golden club Orontium aquaticum
Arrow arum Peltandra virginica
Pickerelweed Pontederia cordata
Lizard's tail Saururus cernuus
Bur-marigolds Bidens sp. (Blooms in Fall)
Blue flag iris Iris virginica
Hooded pitcher plant Sarracenia minor
Yellow fringed orchid Habenaria ciliaris
Yellow canna Canna flaccida
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum
Large marsh pink Sabatia dodecandra
Swamp rose mallow Hibiscus moscheutos
Floating Plants
Watershield Brasenia schreberi
Fragrant water lily Nymphaea odorata
Floating hearts Nymphoides aquatica

Native Plants for Upland Sites (Overstory)

Live oak Quercus virginiana
Laurel oak Quercus laurifolia
Water oak Quercus nigra
Southern red oak Quercus falcata
Southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora
Bald cypress Taxodium distichum
Black gum Nyssa sylvatica
Sweet gum Liquidambar styraciflua
Red maple Acer rubrum
Florida maple Acer barbatum
Hickories, various species Carya spp.
Loblolly pine Pinus taeda
Long leaf pine Pinus palustris
Slash pine Pinus elliottii

Native Plants for Upland Sites (Understory)

Southern red cedar Juniperus silicicola *
Redbay Persea borbonia
Common persimmon Diospyros virginiana
American holly Ilex opaca
Dahoon holly Ilex cassine
Sassafras Sassafras albidum
Sugarberry Celtis laevigata
Loblolly bay Gordonia lasianthus
Cabbage palmetto Sabal palmetto *
Saw palm Serenoa repens *
Wax myrtle Myrica cerifera *
Salt myrtle Baccharus halimifolia *
Yaupon holly Ilex vomitoria *
Sparkleberry Vaccinium arboreum
Fetterbush Lyonia lucida
Inkberry Ilex glabra
Witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana
Passion flower Passiflora incarnata (host plant for zebra longwing butterfly)
Cinnamon fern Osmunda cinnamomea
Cross vine Anisostichus capreolata (hummingbird favorite)
Trumpet vine Campsis radicans (hummingbird favorite)
Yellow Jessamine Gelsemium sempervirens (S.C. state flower)
Mix of wildflowers native to the coastal plain of South Carolina (usually needs full sun)

Native Plants for Salt Marsh Buffers

Black needle rush Juncus roemarianus
Sea ox-eye Borrichia frutescens
Salthay Spartina patens
Those plants listed above followed by an asterisk (*).

Here are some suggestions for native plants that are excellent wildlife plants as well as aesthetically pleasing landscape plants:

In the overstory (tall trees)

  • Live oak - the signature tree of the lowcountry, spreading, nearly evergreen, provides excellent wildlife habitat and food.
  • Black gum - provides berries loved by migrating birds, beautiful red leaf color in the fall.
  • Loblolly bay (Gordonia) - evergreen, provides fragrant white blooms from June through September

In the understory (smaller trees)

  • Redbay - evergreen, provides berries for birds
  • Horse sugar (Common sweetleaf) - evergreen, provides yellow flowers in the early spring.
  • Dahoon holly - evergreen, provides berries for birds
  • Sparkleberry (High bush blueberry) - masses of white flowers loved by honeybees, berries for birds, reddish exfoliating (peeling) bark

In the shrub layer (shrubs)

  • Wax myrtle (Southern bayberry) - evergreen, great buffer plant, provides waxy high energy berries for migrating birds, grows almost anywhere
  • Yaupon holly - evergreen, beautiful red berries for color and birds
  • Saw palms - evergreen, provides berries and great cover for wildlife, fragrant flowers
  • Fetterbush (Lyonia) - evergreen with masses of deep pink to white honey-scented flowers for pollinators

In the herb layer (smaller, non-woody plants)

  • Milkweeds (various species) - bright colored flowers loved by butterflies and other pollinators
  • Passion flower - beautiful, unusual flowers, host to zebra long wing butterfly
  • Cross vine - red, trumpet-shaped flowers, favorites of hummingbirds