Dropseeds Native Landscapes LI

Contributed By: Anthony Marinello, DropseedsNativeLandscapesLI.com

Dropseed Native Landscapes is a native plant nursery offering a full range of locally grown native plants. They offer the option to shop in-person at local Farmers Markets as well by mail-order, providing local delivery for larger orders. Sign up for their newsletter to stay up to date with their latest offerings, locations, and sales.

Species Spotlight:

Look to the native flowering herbaceous and woody native plants that support the many unique (and oftentimes specialist) native pollinators that call our island home!


Oak Scrub

Long Island is home to many unique plant communities. One such community is the Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens of western Suffolk County. Nestled between the Hempstead Plains to the Northwest and the Pitch Pine-Oak Forests to the East, this community is also known as the Oak Brush Plains. This ecosystem is characterized by an open canopy of Pitch Pines and an understory of Scrub Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) and Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Quercus prinoides) followed by a myriad of other acidic soil-loving species.

These Oaks thrive in thin, rocky, and sandy soils in full sun and are some of the smallest Oak species – remaining under 20′ tall, with Dwarf Chinkapin Oak more often under 12′. They can grow as multi-stemmed shrubs or single-trunked trees and, as with other Oaks, they host over 520 species of caterpillar making them a living songbird feeder. Scrub Oak’s acorns are very high in tannin and are often avoided by most wildlife, earning it the name of Bear Oak, while Dwarf Chinkapin Oak has some of the lowest tannin levels of any Oak are readily consumed by wildlife.

Bear Oak, Quercus ilicifolia

Scrub Oak, or Bear Oak, is a small, shrub-like, deciduous tree in the red oak group. It is monoecious; separate male and female catkins appear on the same tree. Its smooth leaves have 3-7 bristle-tipped lobes. Fall foliage is reddish-purple. Biennial acorns are bitter and are eaten sparingly by wildlife. It provides nesting space, cover, and shelter for wildlife. Oaks are host to numerous insects, which in turn provide food for birds. Scrub Oak is a host plant for butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars), including Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo) and Eastern Buckmoth (Hemileuca maia).

Dwarf Chinkapin Oak, Quercus prinoides

Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is one of the best native shrub oaks. It begins producing acorns at a young age, often when only three or four years old. Unlike many oaks, once it starts bearing, it has a good crop almost every year. Its acorns are also less bitter and more palatable to wildlife than those of most other oaks. Sulfur-yellow catkins in spring. Chocolate acorns late summer. This is a tough plant that tolerates drought and poor soils well. Can be grown as a large shrub or pruned into a small tree. Best grown in full sun.


Sweet Crabapple

Sweet Crabapple
(Malus coronaria)

Did you know that we have a Crabapple native to Long Island?! In fact, Sweet Crabapple, is the Northeast’s ONLY native Crabapple, while its relative Prairie Crabapple (Malus ioensis) is found in Parts of NJ and the Midwest. Like its domesticated cousins, these trees produce vibrant displays of blossoms each spring and its fruits are edible and nutritious.

In the wild, Sweet Crabapple can be found growing as thickets in old pastures, successional fields, and forest edges. You may also find dying individuals growing in young successional forests as they are shaded out by taller trees. Crabapple thickets provide nesting sites, shelter, and food for wildlife such as birds and small mammals. It also hosts over 300 species of caterpillar, which in turn support our nesting songbirds, and is recognized as being of special importance to native bees including Bumblebees.

In cultivation, Sweet Crabapple is often planted as a small ornamental accent tree or as hedgerows on farmland. Like other members of the Malus genus, this species is capable of acting as a cross-pollinator for domestic varieties and makes a great choice for doing so – requiring little care from the grower.

Height: 15-30′ Width: 20-30′. Attracts: Bees, Butterflies, Small Mammals, Songbirds. Flower: Pink/White. Bloom Time: May.  Sun: Full Sun. Soil: Clay, Loam, Sand. Moisture: Moist, Average, Drought Tolerant. Fruit: Ripens Sept-Oct. Note: Keep away from Eastern Red Cedar due to Cedar-Apple Rust


American Plum

American Plum
(Prunus americana)

The American Plum is the lesser-known cousin of the Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) and one of seven species of Prunus that call Long Island home. Like other members of the Rosaceae family, this species has large, showy blooms in the spring followed by edible fruits.

In the wild, American Plums can be found growing as thickets in prairies, old pastures, successional fields, and forest edges. It can also be found as an understory tree within young successional forests. American Plum thickets provide nesting sites, shelter, and food for wildlife such as birds and small mammals. It also hosts over 450 species of caterpillar, which in turn support our nesting songbirds, and is recognized as being of special importance to native bees including Bumblebees.

In cultivation, American Plum is often planted as a small ornamental shrub or accent tree or is used as hedgerows on farmland. It is also grown specifically for fruit harvest, offering delicious plums for eating. This species readily hybridizes with other wild plums and is capable of acting as a cross-pollinator for domestic varieties.

 Height: 15-25′ Width: 15-25′. Attracts: Bees, Butterflies, Small Mammals, Songbirds. Bloom Time: March. Sun: Full Sun-Part Shade. Soil: Clay, Loam, Sand. Moisture: Dry, Average, Drought Tolerant. Uses: Hedgerow, Screen.


Sand Serviceberry

Amelanchier sanguinea

Amelanchier sanguinea  is also known as Sand Serviceberry, Roundleaf Serviceberry or Red-twig Serviceberry. Early spring flowers are a favorite for pollinators, and birds love the fruits that ripen around June. Year-round interest is complete with the bright fall colors and smooth gray bark that can be admired throughout winter.


Edible, Ornamental, High Wildlife Value

Black Chokeberry is a widely adaptable shrub to 6′ tall.  White flowers in May attract a myriad of pollinators and butterflies and are followed by black fruit in the fall that persist into winter, supporting song birds.  Chokeberry is edible and is named because of the puckeringly high astringency of the berries which are best eaten as jams or juice.  Chokeberries exhibit beautiful burgundy fall foliage and are a great native substitution for invasive Burning Bush. While it prefers full sun it grows well in light shade.  This adaptable native shrub is tolerant of moist and dry soils as well as salt. It is also deer resistant and will regrow quickly if browsed.  Most effective in masses, within a mixed border, or as a hedge.


              Rosebay/Great Laurel                  Rhododendron maximum

Our Native Rhododendron

Rosebay Rhododendron is our common, native evergreen rhododendron that grows to tree-like proportions 12-15 feet tall. Flowers range from pink to white and bloom in the summer (June-July). This is a fairly slow growing shrub and large shrubs can be half a century old or more. Preference is for cool summer climates, shade and rich, acidic, well-drained soil.

Attracts, pollinators, butterflies, and hummingbirds

Sheep Laurel, Kalmia angustifolia

Blooms Late Spring and Fall

Long lasting flowers envelope each stem of this Kalmia species. Attracts pollinators and butterflies. Larval host for the Brown Elfin butterfly.

Sheep Laurel blooms are pink in color and are displayed in the late spring through the early parts of summer. Re-blooming of this species is common in the autumn.

Plants spread moderately by rhizomes and form a dense 12 to 18 inch high ground cover. Slender grayish green foliage surrounds the stems and is evergreen in milder climates.

Full sun to partial shade is preferred for prolific flowering. The plants will perform well in full shade as well. Plants will grow in a wide variety of soil types.

Foliage is toxic and will not be browsed by deer or rabbits.


Purple Milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens

A Milkweed for Sun or Part Shade

One of the most sought after Milkweeds for the garden, this species is equally at home in full sun as it is in dappled shade. While it is similar looking to Common Milkweed, it’s blooms are much showier, ranging from light pink to dark purple. A long bloomer, Purple Milkweed will produce flowers for about a month between May and July.

It enjoys moist-average soil conditions, and can even handle wet soil if grown in full sun, although many gardeners opt to grow this plant in dry shade. Its long taproot also helps during times of drought. This plant spreads via underground rhizomes, but is not as aggressive as Common Milkweed and will slowly spread to form dense colonies in time.

As with other Milkweed species, this plant is used as a host for larval Monarch Butterflies and has a mildly toxic sap which gives it some deer and rabbit resistance. Besides Monarch Butterflies, this plant is also loved by pollinators as well as hummingbirds.

A Long Island native, this species is considered Threatened in New York State.


Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata

The “Other” Butterfly Weed

Long Island is home to twelve different species of Milkweeds but most people are only familiar with about three: Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, and Swamp Milkweed. This is due to the great work of conservation groups putting out the word that Milkweed is vital to the survival of the increasingly imperiled Monarch Butterfly. Unfortunately Common Milkweed is often too aggressive for the home garden, but luckily Butterfly Weed and Swamp Milkweed are well behaved and widely available in the trade. In fact, Butterfly Weed was designated the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2017, which really put this low-maintenance genus at the top of the list for creating an ornamental perennial garden bed.

But again, there are twelve different species native to the Island and we are still only utilizing two if we factor in the popularity of Swamp Milkweed as a landscape plant as well. This is where Whorled Milkweed comes in as a fantastic third option for use within the home landscape. The species epithet “verticillata” literally means “whorled” in Latin and describes the growth pattern of the narrow leaves that cover the stems. This species is another well behaved clumping perennial, remaining under 3′ tall – often only growing 1-2.5′. It requires the same conditions as the more familiar Butterfly Weed, thriving on neglect under full sun within dry, sandy soil. In fact, it makes a great companion for Butterfly Weed, as well as grasses such as Purple Love Grass, Side-Oats Grama, and Little Bluestem.

Whorled Milkweed emerges around the same time as Butterfly Weed but doesn’t bloom until Butterfly Weed is already forming seed pods. This means that you can extend your bloom period for Asclepias loving insects within your garden. Where Butterfly Weed will bloom June-July, Whorled Milkweed will follow in August, being topped with clusters of tiny white pearl-like flowers. The leaves of this species are also more tender than traditional Milkweed and observations within my own garden seem to show that caterpillars do prefer to feast on this plant at this time of the year over the other species, whose leaves at this point in the growing season are often quite tough and weathered, unless having been previously cut back.

Whorled Milkweed truly is a plant that everyone should have within their native gardens as it is not only low maintenance but thrives on neglect under proper conditions. Adding diversity of Asclepias species within your gardens will only encourage more Butterflies to utilize the space you have provided and increase the likelihood that you will be hosting more Caterpillars for years to come.


               Sugarcane Plumegrass               Saccharum giganteum

Native Sugarcane?!

The Sugarcane Plumegrass is one of the largest native grasses to the east coast. Found from Southern New jersey to Florida in coastal, wet ditches and meadows. This species is considered extirpated from Long Island. Grows from 6 to 10 feet tall with metallic pink/red flowering plumes that fade to a dusky fluffy cloud in the winter. This plant colonizes to form large grassy thickets so use with caution. Great for soil stabilization.

Sugarcane Plumegrass is a showy, tall grass, which grows best in wet areas in full sun. Clusters of coppery-rose flowers bloom in October, followed by fluffy, peach-colored seed heads. Fall foliage color is brown with shades of red and purple. Use Sugarcane Plumegrass as an accent plant, or plant in masses. It is a good grass for rain gardens. Sugarcane Plumegrass is difficult to find commercially and stock is extremely limited.

Sugarcane Plumegrass is an excellent alternative to the over-utilized, and often invasive, introduced species of Miscanthus.


Wood Lily, Lillium philadelphicum

A Native Lily for Dry Sun

Lilies are a favorite of many gardeners around the world. Unfortunately, the varieties most often grown in the home landscape are exotic species from far off-lands such as East Asia. Meanwhile, we have three different species native to Long Island that are often overlooked. This includes the rich-colored Canada Lily (L. canadense), the spectacle that is Turk’s Cap Lily (L. superbum), and jewel-like Wood Lily (L. philadelphicum). Also known as Prairie Lily, this species is actually the most widespread lily in North America but has become increasingly rare in the Northeast due to deer pressure and habitat loss.

This wildflower only grows from 1-3 feet tall and can be found growing in Prairies, Pine Barrens, and Savannas. Unlike its taller relatives, this species prefer dry soil, and makes a great addition to a short-grass planting. A summer bloomer, small but showy cup-shaped flowers open skyward in July, which is another defining trait among native lilies. This species is a favorite of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds and is pollinated by Swallowtail Butterflies in the Northeast. Self-infertile, cross-pollination requires two different specimens. A great addition to any butterfly garden, meadows, and prairies.


Turk’s Cap Lily
Lilium superbum

Native Wildflower

Turks Cap Lily is one of three native to Long Island! It gets its common name from the flower’s similarities to a Turkish Fez while its species epithet originates with its superb ornamentation. This is America’s largest lily, reaching heights of up to 8 feet tall, but more often 4-6′. It also is most likely the most floriferous native lily, holding the record of 40 flowers on a single plant! Turk’s Cap Lilies look similar to everyone’s favorite, the Asiatic Tiger Lily but are a beautiful native alternative. Prefers consistently moist soil in full sun to part shade but can be adaptable. Attracts hummingbirds and naturalizes with time.


Golden Groundsel, Packera aurea

Flowers in Sun and Shade

This week’s focus is for all of you who garden in the shade, particularly along the North Shore and East End regions. Woodland gardens can actually be more productive than meadows due to the high insect-hosting capabilities of our native trees. As productive as these trees are, many gardeners have trouble colonizing the space beneath them, or at least finding a species that can provide that bright burst of color given the limited sunlight available. Enter Golden Groundsel.

Also known as Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea is a powerhouse when it comes to early spring blooms. While not a true ephemeral, this species often blooms early in the year, producing flowers as early as March and as late as August. It is a welcomed source of nectar and pollen for early-emergent pollinators. Golden Groundsel is also highly adaptable, being able to grow in Full Sun to Full Shade. It prefers consistent moisture if planted in Full Sun and can handle dryer conditions with increased Shade.

The real beauty of this species is not the individual plant’s flowers, but its ability to naturalize via rhizomes, enabling it to create beautiful drifts and colonies of attractive semi-evergreen foliage and bright yellow flowers. While some sources may list this species as “aggressive” under ideal conditions, that is exactly why you need this plant. It is ideal for planting en masse, filling large areas within a woodland garden and behaving as a live-mulch by preserving the soil and preventing erosion and compaction. It is also the go-to species to combat the invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which has become ubiquitous on Long Island. Groundsel’s quick-spreading growth-habit is able to out-compete Garlic Mustard and is often planted once the latter has been removed to prevent recolonization of this nasty invasive.

Gardening Tip: Plant Golden Groundsel with White Wood Aster (Aster divaricata), Thin-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus), Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), and Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) for a beautiful and diverse woodland landscape.

Save Native Plants…Remove Invasive Species