9 Best Native Plants for Baton Rouge

close-up of a pink hibiscus

From sprawling trees with shawls of Spanish moss to lush bayous, Louisiana’s natural landscape is a sight to behold. You can have low-maintenance beauty right in your Baton Rouge backyard by replacing non-native species with native trees, wildflowers, and shrubs.

Advantages of Louisiana native plants:

  • Flood tolerant: Many of these plants grow wild in swamps and marshes, so you don’t have to worry about too much rain.
  • Hardy: Native plants are more resilient to harsh weather and poor soil conditions.
  • Low maintenance: Once established, native plants can mostly take care of themselves and won’t need regular fertilization and watering.

Baton Rouge is in USDA Hardiness Zones 8b and 9a, so we looked for plants that could survive the summer heat as well as some winter frost.

1. Louisiana iris (Iris brevicaulis)

close-up of a purple Louisiana Iris
Michael McCarthy | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

The category of Louisiana iris includes five species: iris brevicaulis, iris fulva, iris giganticaerulea, iris hexagona, and iris nelsonii. The flowers are most commonly dark purple with long petals sat atop a light green stalk. 

They used to grow in impressive stands across the state, but herbicides, development, and saltwater intrusion have led to their dwindling. Louisiana irises grow naturally in swamps and bogs, making them a perfect addition to aquatic features in your garden. 

Because the rhizomes of irises lie so close to the soil surface, placing a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around them is essential. The protective layer prevents a condition called “sunscald” that damages the flowers. During dry periods, water twice weekly. You can’t overwater a Louisiana iris, but it doesn’t need to be constantly soggy to thrive. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: High
  • Soil: Rich, slightly acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 24-36 inches 

2. Gulf coast yucca (Yucca louisianensis)

Gulf coast yucca (Yucca louisianensis)
Larry Allain, U.S. Geological Survey | usgs.gov

Sometimes called Adam’s needle or weak-leaf yucca, this stemless evergreen shrub looks like a bouquet of swordlike leaves. In summer, large columns of white, bell-shaped flowers emerge from the center of the plant. Native in the Southeast, Gulf Coast yucca is most common in Louisiana. 

Yucca plants tolerate a variety of soil types, but don’t let them sit in water. Be careful when caring for your Gulf Coast yucca. Wear gloves and full-coverage clothing to protect yourself from cuts. If you notice mites, apply neem oil. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 7-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial sun
  • Water needs: Low to moderate
  • Soil: Average, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-3 feet; up to 9 feet with flower stalk

3. Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

close-up of golden needles from a bald cypress
Shawn Taylor | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

This list wouldn’t be complete without the official state tree of Louisiana. This pyramidal conifer (meaning it produces cones) can be spotted with its roots planted deep in a marsh and Spanish moss hanging over its branches. Sporting a fluted trunk and feathery, yellowish-green foliage, this tree will turn a lovely shade of orange and cinnamon in the fall. 

The bald cypress is one of the longest living trees in the world — they regularly live at least 600 years. It’s easily grown in average soil, but its preference is moist, sandy, and slightly acidic soils. Chlorosis can occur in soil that’s too alkaline. Because it’s flood-tolerant, feel free to plant it at the bottom of a slope where rainwater might collect. 

  • Plant type: Deciduous tree
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate 
  • Soil: Average, moist, sandy, acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 60-80 feet

4. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

crossvine with yellow and orange blooms
Melissa McMasters | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Native to the southeastern United States, this climbing, woody vine makes a beautiful addition to a trellis in a native garden. Also known as trumpet flower, crossvine blossoms have an attractive yellow interior and deep orange-red exterior. The ruby-throated hummingbird is a big fan of crossvine.

Crossvine tolerates a range of soils, but it prefers soil with organic matter. If you have poor soil, amend it with nutrient-rich compost. It flowers best when it gets six hours of direct sunlight. You won’t have to worry about pests, but the vine itself can become a nuisance if it spreads too much. Pull up any root suckers to keep it in its designated area. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 6-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Average, rich, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 30-50 feet

5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

grouping of bright yellow black-eyed susans
Jim, the Photographer | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Black-eyed Susans are a classic native wildflower. Their large yellow flowers with dark centers are like little bursts of sunshine in your landscape. This is a superb low-maintenance option for a beginner gardener, especially if you’re hoping to attract butterflies. 

You won’t have to wait long after planting black-eyed Susans to enjoy their blooms. You can start seeing flowers the first year after planting. It’s a great border plant that can tolerate heat and drought. 

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-7
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Average, well-draining, acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet

6. Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

close-up of a dark pink hibiscus
manfredrichter | Pixabay

Hibiscus may remind you of Hawai’i, but it’s native to Louisiana, too. This shrubby perennial produces large, showy flowers that range from creamy-white to deep pink. The delicate, open petals add a big pop of color to your backyard. 

Hibiscus can tolerate average soil as long as it doesn’t dry out. It can reach up to 10 feet, but you can prune it back in the spring if you want something more manageable. Plant hibiscus along a garden border or somewhere in view of a window – it will welcome friends like the rose mallow bee, the ruby-throated hummingbird, and the painted lady butterfly. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: High
  • Soil: Average, clay, moist, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 7-10 feet; Dwarf varieties grow to an average of 3 feet

7. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

a single bee resting on white flowers form a Hawthorne tree
Daniela | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Is your yard in need of a little shade but you don’t have space for a huge tree? A hawthorn tree is a great alternative. It only grows 25 to 30 feet tall and sports a dense, rounded crown of low branches perfect for sitting under. With flowers, fruit, and colorful fall foliage, it provides a full four seasons of interest. 

Full sun is best for maximum flowering and fruit-bearing, but it will grow in partial shade, too. It tolerates a range of soils, including heavy clay, and will thrive in well-drained loam. Keep your ears open, because your hawthorn will attract an abundance of songbirds. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-draining, loam, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 25-30 feet

8. Azalea (Rhododendron)

vibrant red azalea flowers
matthew mclalin | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

No neighborhood in the South is complete without a few azalea bushes. These showstopper flowers come in a wide range of colors from white and pink to purple and red. Not only are they vibrant, but blooms can also last all the way from February through May. 

Unlike most of the other plants on this list, azaleas prefer a bit of shade (especially in Zone 9). Excessive moisture can damage them since their root system is so close to the ground, so wait to water until the first few inches of soil feel dry. To improve soil drainage, topdress with compost and sand. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-draining, acidic (4.5-6.0 pH)
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4-6 feet

9. Louisiana phlox (Phlox divaricata)

close-up of pale bluish-purple flowers from Louisiana phlox
Laura Gilchrist | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Also called blue phlox, woodland phlox, and wild sweet William, Louisiana phlox is a perennial wildflower that’s often found on forest floors. It grows in loose clusters of delicate, five-petaled flowers that are commonly a twilight blue to lavender color. The term “phlox” comes from the Greek word meaning “flame,” referring to some varieties’ intense color. 

Louisiana phlox needs some shade to survive. Plant it under an overhang, tree, or other shade structure to ensure its health. The biggest threat to phlox is powdery mildew, which can be controlled by cutting back stems after flowering. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 
  • Sun: Partial shade to full shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Rich, moist, sandy loam, clay loam, slightly acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-12 inches

Tips for native gardening

You’re ready to turn your garden into a pollinator paradise full of native growers — now what? Take your native plant landscape to the next level with these tips. 

  • Build a rain garden: A rain garden is perfect for Louisiana’s water-loving plants. It’s simply an arrangement of plants in a low slope of your yard that tends to collect rainwater. A rain garden utilizes the rainwater and helps filter it so stormwater drains aren’t overwhelmed with polluted water.
  • Swap out pesticides: If you’re hoping to invite beneficial wildlife and help your local ecosystem, swap out pesticides for organic pest control. Integrated Pest Management, neem oil, and beneficial nematodes are just a few options for discouraging pests without the chemical footprint. 
  • Try hydrozone: Hydrozoning is an intuitive way to conserve water and take better care of your plants. It just means grouping plants by their water needs. Place ones that don’t mind sitting in wet soil at the bottom of hills and ones that prefer drier soil at the top of slopes.

When you’re ready to buy your plants, the Baton Rouge Audubon Society put together a list of local nurseries that sell native plants. 

If you’re not sure about DIY-ing this project, don’t worry: You can hire a Lawn Love pro to take care of all the work for you. They’ll handle everything from design to maintenance so you can kick back and enjoy the beauty of your new native landscape.

Main Photo Credit: manfredrichter | Pixabay

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.