One of my earliest horticultural memories was watching my grandmother arrange purple berried branches of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) in a vase and place it in the center of her dining room table. These beautiful, native shrubs grew wild in the woods surrounding her home, full of clusters of purple berries in the fall.
I’ll admit that I am not a native plant purist because many non-native plants thrill my gardening soul. My landscape is a combination of many native plants and plants from other countries. A big advantage of indigenous, native plants is that they are extremely hardy and tend to be pest free. To protect pollinating and beneficial insects, I never use insecticides in my garden; I always choose plants with natural pest insect resistance.
Spring bloomers, such as a wide variety of native azaleas (Rhododendron species), fothergilla (Fothergilla major), and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), all fill the air with their wonderful scents and are included in my plant collection.
Other favorites include sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) with its clove-scented, rust-colored flowers and its yellow-flowered cousin, Athens sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’), which has a fragrance similar to apples and bananas. There’s nothing more pleasurable than being outside on a warm spring day with the scent of flowers drifting in the breeze throughout the garden.
Some of my other favorite native shrubs include oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and a number of buckeye species (Aesculus species).
Don’t forget the flowering native trees. Everyone is familiar with our native dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis), and Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). The two-winged silverbell (Halesia diptera), serviceberry (Amelanchier species), grancy greybeard (Chionanthus virginicus), and witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) all flower and add so much to the landscape.
Being familiar with plants’ blooming cycles will help you design a landscape that offers continual bloom throughout the year. If planned properly and the weather cooperates, you can have something in flower year around in South Carolina. For more information on native plants, see HGIC 1852, An Introduction to Native Plants for SC Landscapes and Native Plants for Wildlife: Resources for Home Gardeners.
My plant list goes on and on, but printing space and attention spans do not. To those of us who fall in the plant obsession category, my advice is to not only look to other countries to fulfill our quest for new and exciting plants but also look to our Southeastern native flora right here at our dirt-stained fingertips.