Updated November 7 2022

This nursery is closed - but gardening and growing will continue - as well as writing! Keep in touch by subscribing to my blog. Here's the link. 

This list (presently much shortened, because I sold out of most categories by the end of the 2022 season) will be updated to include all the plants sold at Return of the Native for the past dozen years, so it can be used as a reference on growing conditions and other information. 

The plants are hardy in the Great Lakes area, native to Eastern North America and most native to Ontario. Non-Ontario plants, as determined by the US Department of Agriculture plant database, are indicated with a 'x'. You can find a map of the plant's native range on the USDA database, just enter the plant's Latin or common name. 

Growing methods: No pesticides or non-organic fertilizers, to ensure that plants are safe for pollinators and other insects and therefore safe up the food chain. No peat in the ROTN potting mix, to relieve pressure on the world's dwindling wetlands. The soil-based mix helps your plants accommodate quickly to the natural, non-peat conditions you probably have in your yard, guards against frost penetrating root systems in winter and the roots drying out in the heat of summer. If you purchase a plant that is being grown in a peat-based mix, dump it in water and swirl the root system around to get rid of the mix. Then get your plant started in the soil that you expect it to grow in. A mulch of rotted leaves will be appreciated. 

Helpful reference for lakefront residents and cottagers: Lake Huron Coastal Dune Plants Guide 
Also useful:
-Ontario hardiness zone map (note that microclimates can be created through protective planting and landscaping, allowing for plants to thrive outside their oficial zone).
-Ecozones and Ecoregions
-Keystone plants by Ecoregion

PHOTO CREDIT
Slideshow photography by Anne McArthur
 


Annuals & Biennials



Perennials

Agastache foeniculum - Anise Hyssop
100 cm approx. Our all-round favourite pollinator plant! Highlighted as a top performer by the Xerces Society. Member of the mint family. Bees and butterflies are irresistibly drawn to these pretty blue-purple flower spikes with leaves that smell and taste of anise (delicious in teas, salads and cooking). Grows into effective clumps, not fussy, not aggressive, self-seeds readily. Flowers early and late, in fact it's one of the last plants to stay in flower in fall, providing sustenance for tardy pollinators. Sun, part shade. 9 cm pot $7

Amsonia ciliata - Fringed Bluestar x
50-80 cm Clump-forming perennial with clusters of lovely star-like, pale blue flowers. Blooms in June. Attractive narrow leaves turn gold in fall. Not native to Ontario*, but further south on eastern North American continent. Accommodates to a variety of soils. Sun with some shade. 8.5 cm pot $5 8.5 cm $5

Anemone canadensis - Canada Anemone
See under Groundcovers

Anemone cylindrica - Thimbleweed 
60 - 100 cm. Small white flowers in early summer, with long-lasting thimble-shaped seedheads in summer and fall that burst into fluffy cottony masses for winter interest, and wildlife food and nesting material. Pleasing deeply divided foliage. Does best in poor soil. Drought tolerant. Self-seeds readily. Sun or shade. 1 gal  $6

Antennaria neglecta - Field Pussytoes
See under Groundcovers

Argentina anserina - Silverweed Cinquefoil
See under Groundcovers

Artemisia ludoviciana - White Sage
60-80 cm Also known as Silver Wormwood and Western Mugwort. Aromatic pale grey foliage. Prefers poor soil and dry conditions, grows in shade, can be mowed and used as a ground cover. Can spread aggressively. One of the four medicine plants, used in purification ceremonies (smudging) 9 cm pot $6

Asclepias incarnata - Swamp Milkweed
90-120 cm. Also known as Rose or Red Milkweed. One of several milkweeds native to Ontario, this one is particularly beautiful, with a round cluster of pale and dark pink blooms in June-July. Don't be put off by the "weed" part of its name - it's elegant, it doesn't spread with underground runners and it's a good plant to have, being a host to the Monarch butterfly (its caterpillars feed only on native Milkweed foliage). A wetland plant, it does require some moisture in the soil. Sun. 9 cm pot $7 1 gal pot $9

Conoclinium coelestinum - Blue Mist x
70-90 cm Native to points south and west of the Great Lakes* - USDA map. Blooms in September, with beautiful flat-top clusters of delicate powder-blue flowers that look like Ageratum. Closely related to the white-flowered Bonesets (Eupatorium spp.), and sometimes referred to as Eupatorium coelestinum. Good cut flower, rain garden plant. It is an aggressive spreader so containment is advised. Full sun to light shade. 8.5 cm pot $5

Eupatorium perfoliatum - Boneset
100-160 cm Showy clusters of white flowers that are delightfully fragrant, plant near a path to enjoy the scent. Leaves are "perfoliated," meaning they clasp the stem. This made it a folk remedy, based on the idea that a poultice of this plant could help broken bones knit together. Blooms July-October. Excellent pollinator plant. Full sun to part shade. Said to prefer moisture but does well in dry conditions. 1 gal pot $8

Fragaria virginiana - Wild Strawberry
See under groundcovers

Helianthus giganteus - Giant Sunflower
2 m. A dramatic narrow-leaved perennial sunflower with numerous pale yellow flowers on reddish stems, July-October. Likes full sun, moist ground. Use in naturalizing, not in perennial beds, as it spreads and self-seeds aggressively. Like Jerusalem artichokes, produces edible tubers (but fewer and smaller). From Heather Holm’s Bees: 'Sunflowers have a high wildlife value as they support many species of specialist bees, several moth and butterfly species and produce seeds sought after by songbirds.' 1 gal pot $7

Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal Flower
60 cm Glorious spikes of scarlet flowers from July-September. The best red! Picky about where it will grow. Needs moisture and sun or part sun. Pollinated by hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. 10 cm pot $7


Monarda fistulosa - Wild Bergamot Beebalm
60-120 cm Soft mauve flowers, sweetly scented, attractive to pollinators - bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. A Xerces Society favourite. Easy to grow, flowers all summer long, aromatic foliage, self-seeds nicely, drought tolerant, will grow in sun or shade. If crowded, downy mildew will apear on the leaves. Good air circulation solves the problem. Can't decide which is nicest, Oswego Tea or Wild Bergamot; best to grow both. 9 cm pot $7

Packera paupercula - Balsam Ragwort

35 cm Bright yellow daisy-like flowers with recessed petals grow from a basal rosette. This is a plant found in the Carden Alvar in challenging conditions of little soil, intense drought and seasonal flooding. Also said to prefer moist sandy soil and full or partial sun. Also to be ideal for rock gardens and xeriscaping. 8.5'' pot $5

Physostegia virginiana - Obedient Plant

100-130 cm Mauve or white flower spikes. So named because the flowers can be bent into position and will stay that way for a while. Another name is False Dragonhead. An underrated plant that is very effective at the back of the border and is always buzzing with pollinators - hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, etc. Sun to part-sun. Spreads but easy to control as it is shallow-rooted. 9 cm pot $7

Phytolacca americana - American Pokeweed
120-200 cm Pokeweed has been called bold - it's a description that fits. Lovely racemes of small white flowers blooming July-August, followed by bunches of dark purple berries, stems red or tinged with red, huge oval leaves and a long taproot. Author Lorraine Johnson lists it as one of her favourites. The flowers are visited by a variety of pollinators, the berries are high value for birds and some mammals. Part sun, moist soil are best, but this tough plant flourishes in a variety of conditions. 1 gal pot $8

Pycnanthemum virginianum - Virginia Mountain Mint
30 to 90 cm - A nectar plant that attracts abloom from July to September). A moderate spreader. Full to partial sun, moist to average soil. $5-$6

Scrophularia marilandica - Eastern Figwort
60-200 cm Also known as Late Figwort or Carpenter’s Square (the latter name comes from its squared-off stem). A tall plant with broad panicles of tiny dark red cup-like flowers that bloom from July through October, its exceptionally abundant nectar makes it highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees and other pollinators. Because it becomes a high-traffic area for insects, I'd advise locating it in a spot where people aren't going to brush up against it. Figworts are given a special rating by the Xerces Society.Accommodates to a range of soils, including sand. Sun or shade, but does better in sun. 1 gal pot $7

Silphium perfoliatum - Cup Plant
2 to 2.5 m One of the tallest native perennials.. Showy yellow daisy-type flowers from July-October. Drought-tolerant. Leaves clasp the stem to make a cup that holds rainwater for several days where it is used by songbirds, butterflies and other insects. Develops deep roots. Accommodates to a variety of soils. Sun. 1 gal $7

Solidago canadensis - Canada Goldenrod
1.5 m Goldenrods are the number one herbaceous plant in terms of the number of pollinators they support - so finding the right spot for this species will enhance the ecological value of of your garden. Ragweed, a native that flowers at the same time, is the one responsible for people's allergies, although Goldenrod, being conspicuous, gets unfairly blamed. Canada Goldenrod has large branching heads of tiny yellow flowers. One of the most common Goldenrod species in Ontario, it spreads aggressively and creates a riot of colour in summer and fall. Great for naturalizing. Not advised for small gardens where plants are required to play nicely. 1 gal $7

Solidago flexicaulis - Zigzag Goldenrod

45-90 cm Another shade-loving goldenrod - yellow flowers on a zig-zag stem in September-October. Moist soils from sand to loam - forest floor conditions. Important source of nectar for many insects. Spreads by underground rhizomes, forming a mass in the woodland garden. 8.5-cm pot $5

Solidago rugosa - Rough-stemmed Goldenrod
Up to 1.5m Also called Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod. A central stem bearing panicles of bright yellow flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Bird enjoy the seeds. Full to part sun, accommodates to most soils, even gravelly ones, but some moisture is required. 1 gal $7

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - New England Aster 
90-150 cm Also known as Michaelmas Daisy - the essential fall flower, much loved by pollinators feeding up before winter. Drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant. Blooms from September to October. Sun or shade. A lovely purple to offset the yellows of many fall-flowering plants. Accommodates to a variety of soils. 1 gal $7

Tiarella cordifolia - Heartleaf Foamflower 
See under groundcovers

Tradescantia ohiensis - Ohio Spiderwort 
120 cm Very attractive to bees and other pollinators. Lovely blue three-petalled flowers with showy yellow stamens open early morning, closed by afternoon. Lance-like foliage. At its best in June and early July, but continues flowering through summer and into fall, albeit less intensely. Caution: Develops a spreading fibrous root system that is hard to dig up - so plant it where it is to stay; it also self-seeds and spreads vigorously. Good for a prairie planting, erosion control and bank stabilization. Most at home in full sun and well-drained  sandy soil, but adapts easily to part shade and a full range of soil conditions. 10 cm pot $7 1 gal pot $8

Vernonia gigantea - Tall Ironweed
160 cm plus or minus. An impressive addition to the summer / fall garden. Clusters of small fluffy, deep purple, composite flowers - August to October - attract pollinators. Tall stems bearing attractive tawny-golden seedheads remain standing all winter and are a resource for birds. Grows in damp in the wild but still flourishes in dry soil. Pamper it with a mulch of rotted leaf litter. 8.5 cm pot $5

Grasses & Sedges

Andropogon gerardii - Big Bluestem 
140-180 m. One of the dominant species of the North American tallgrass prairie prior to settlement. Highly ornamental with grey-green foliage turning bronze-red in autumn. Appearing in August, the inflorescences consist of three-pronged purplish spikelets from which depend pretty contrasting yellow anthers and resemble (some say) a turkey’s foot, giving it one of its alternative names, Turkeyfoot. Deeply rooted, forms a dense clump. A high-protein forage species, also being considered as potential feedstock for ethanol production. Songbirds eat the seeds, grasshopppers, katydids and other insects eat the foliage. Drought-tolerant. Full sun to part shade, accommodates to a wide variety of soils. 8.5 cm pot $6

Carex muskingumensis - Muskingum Sedge
40-100 cm. Also known as Palm Sedge. Native to the Great Lakes region. Beautiful form and lovely glossy green foliage which branches out from the main stem, resembling palm fronds. Native to wooded lowlands. Prefers moist soil and will grow in shallow water. Full sun sun to part shade. Spreads. 1 gal $8

Chasmanthium latifolium - Northern Sea Oats x 
60-150 cm Also called Uniola latifolia or River Oats. Not native to Ontario but to points south of the Great Lakes." A lovely grass with arching panicles of flat drooping spikelets in late summer that start a light green and turn a purplish bronze in fall. Great in dried flower arrangements. Leave foliage in place over winter to add interest and protect crowns from cold. Self-seeds and can spread vigorously by underground rhizomes, which makes it useful to stabilize banks and prevent soil erosion. Host plant of the Pepper and Salt Skipper butterfly. Prefers partial shade, moist conditions. 8.5 cm pot $5

Elymus hystrix - Eastern Bottlebrush Grass

60 to 120 cm Sometimes called (erroneously) Hystrix patula. A clump-forming woodland native that looks great in the shade garden. Attractive seedheads resembling bottlebrushes appear from July onwards, Can be used in dried arrangements. Medium to loam soil. Part to full shade. 1/2 gal $7

Elymus canadensis - Canada Wild Rye
1.2 m A native grass that grows in riparian woodlands, many types of forest, lakeside sand dunes, and tallgrass prairie. Arching stems are weighted by the nodding, whiskery inflorescences that appear in August. Can be used for stabilizing eroded areas. Seeds feed birds. Full to part sun. Accommodates to a variety of soil conditions. 1 gal $8

Hierochloe odorata - Sweetgrass
Aromatic grass, grows to about 20 cm (8 inches), spreads vigorously through underground rhizomes. One of the four medicine plants, used in North American indigenous purification ceremonies (smudging).8.5 cm pot $5

Sorghastrum nutans - Indian Grass
100-140 cm A dramatically beautiful tallgrass prairie plant, with bronze spikelets in June from which tiny golden flowers depend. Deep-rooted, clump-forming, great fall colour and continuing winter interest. Major wildlife value - various species of grasshopper (an important food for many songbirds) feed on the foliage. Birds consume the seeds and use the foliage for nesting material and cover. Host plant to the Pepper and Salt Skipper butterfly. Sun. Accommodates to a variety of soils. 10 cm pot $8

Pond Plants

Acorus americanus - Sweetflag 
30-90 cm A pond plant with a curious pale yellow flower. The straplike leaves are aromatic, the root is favoured by muskrats. Part shade, moist to wet soil. 1 gal pot $8

Caltha palustris - Marsh Marigold
60 cm One of the first wildflowers to bloom in spring, a conspicuous and showy yellow. Not a true marigold, which is related to the Aster family, but a member of the ranunculus spp (buttercups). Full sun to shade, moist soil or even shallow standing water. 8.5 cm pot $5

Ferns

Cystopteris bulbifera - Bulblet Fern
60 cm Graceful rock-loving fern that will also grow in average soil in part sun / part shade. Round bulblets form on the light green fronds and can fall to grow into a new plant. 10 cm pot $7

Groundcovers

Apios americana - Hopniss 
Also known as Groundnut. Twining, herbaceous vine with wonderfully ornate wisteria-like maroon flowers, Tubers and seedpods are edible by humans. It grows in moist low sites and thickets. As a garden ornamental or food crop, its tubers enlarge and become numerous and are said to compare favourably with potatoes. Also said to cause an allergic reaction in a minority of people. Cooking thoroughly seems to be the key. The root system fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Sun with some light shade, moist conditions, and loamy, gravelly, or sandy soil containing some organic matter. 1/2 gal pot with vine and 2-3 tubers - $5, 5 or more pots @ $4 each. More info: Wildflowers-and-Weeds.com 

Anemone canadensis - Canada Anemone
30-60 cm Charming white flowers, good foliage with deeply cut sharply toothed leaves, blooms from late May through to July. Spreads aggressively! don't plant unless you can give it space to run, or can contain it, like mint. Average soil, sun or shade. 8.5 cm pot $5

Antennaria neglecta - Field Pussytoes

15-30 cm Low growing spreader has white flowers resembling a cat’s paw and grey foliage. Blooms from late April to early June and attracts many pollinators. Host plant for the American Lady butterfly. Prefers full sun, sand or average dry soils. 8.5 cm pot $5

Fragaria virginiana - Wild Strawberry 
5-10 cm A low-growing, spreading groundcover. Accommodates to average soils, from sand to clay to loam. Good pollinator plant, flowers April-June. Sun or shade. Produces tiny fragrant fruit if grown in full sun. Host to the Grizzled Skipper butterfly.  8.5 cm pot $4

Hydrophyllum virginianum - Virginia Waterleaf 
20-50 cm A low-growing woodland plant with clusters of pretty blue (sometimes white) flowers in May and June, deeply divided foliage. Shade or part shade, some moisture preferred. Leaves are said to be edible, raw or cooked, best when picked young. Spreads readily by seed and rhizome. 8.5 cm pot $5

Rubus fragellaris - Northern Dewberry
Trailing vine with stems that run along the ground for 2-5 m. Scattered prickles. Flowers and fruits, so it's said - I have it growing in deep shade where it does neither, but is a pleasing ground cover, somewhat like a strawberry but with more dissected compound leaves. $5 8.5 cm pot

Tiarella cordifolia - Heartleaf Foamflower 
15 cm (5 inches). An attractive woodland groundcover that spreads by runners. White or pale pink flower spikes create a soft cloud-like effect mid-May to early June. Charming maple-shaped leaves offer continuing interest into fall. Shade or part shade. Average soil (prefers moisture but does fine in dry shade). 8.5 cm pot $5

Vines

 

Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia Creeper
Beautiful five-lobed leaves that turn brilliant red in fall. Virginia Creeper is not destructive of masonry and adds a level of cooling insulation in summer. It's good nesting habitat and the berries are a high-quality food for birds. A vigorous grower that does have invasive tendencies – but easy to pull out where not wanted. 1 gal $7

Rubus fragellaris - Northern Dewberry
See under Groundcovers

Shrubs

Cornus sericea - Red Osier Dogwood
1m to 2m Noted for red stems that look great in winter against snow. Clusters of white flowers in spring. White berries. Wildlife value. Excellent for erosion control. Sun. 1 gal $7

Small Trees

Maclura pomifera - Osage Orange x
7-15 m (height may be less in Ontario). Also known as Hedge Apple, for its large knobbly fruit. Grows as a tree or multi-stem shrub, prized by indigenous people for wood that was hard and rot-resistant (used for making bows, which led to its being named bois d’arc by French trappers). The same characteristics – along with ferocious thorns – led to its adoption by settlers as a vigorous hedging plant for confining livestock. It is dioecious, which means male and female trees are needed for fruit to develop seed. This is listed as native south of the Great Lakes* although there is debate, previously discussed. Full sun preferred, average but not acidic soil. 1 gal pot, 20-40cm now $7-9

Shade Trees

Juglans nigra - Black Walnut

30 m A majestic fast-growing tree that will provide you with your own nuts. Valuable timber tree. Grow in full sun and rich, moist soil. Some plants will not grow near it but the list of those that are juglone-tolerant is long and varied and includes most natives. 30-50 cm $7-10

Conifers






x *Note: I am a supporter of assisted migration - which means I favour including plants that are native to further south on the Eastern North American continent. We still need to intensify our efforts to restore the plants that belong in our ecosystems here and now, but we should not take an exclusionary view of natives that may need to move northwards because of changing conditions but be unable to keep pace with the accelerating manmade disaster that is climate change. More details on the theory of assisted migration.