11 Best Native Plants for Little Rock

Plants in little rock

Whether you prefer the scenic, fresh air of Pinnacle Mountain or a bustling Friday night downtown, the best place in Little Rock can be your own backyard. Turn your garden into a personal paradise with these 11 plants that are native to the Little Rock area.

Benefits of a Arkansas native species

  • Colorful: You might think the prettiest flowers are exotic, but North American wildflowers are naturally vibrant in order to attract the attention of pollinators like butterflies, bees, and birds.
  • Low-maintenance: Native shrubs, vines, and flowers have spent centuries adapting to the Arkansas landscape. As a result, they can usually survive on rainfall alone and don’t require fertilizer. 
  • Hardier: Native plants are more resilient to harsh weather. That means they can survive temperature fluctuations, wet springs, and hot, humid summers. 

Little Rock is in USDA Hardiness Zones 7b and 8a. That makes heat tolerant plants a great choice. Every home is different, though, and it’s important to get to know your backyard’s microclimate. If your landscape faces south, for example, sunshine will be more intense. 

Best native plants for Little Rock

1. Blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

HelgaKa | Pixabay

Aptly named for its blue, star-shaped flowers, blue star’s clusters of twinkling blooms will light up your landscape like the night sky. Delicate flowers grow atop gorgeous, willow-shaped foliage that provides a lovely fall color, as well. 

Blue star attracts many long-tongued insects including hummingbird moths, butterflies, and carpenter bees. Once established, this plant can tolerate short periods of drought, but it prefers to be kept consistently moist. If grown in part shade, this plant can be prone to flopping and may need to be staked. 

Plant type: Flower

Hardiness zones: 3-11

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Water needs: Moderate to high

Soil: Sand, loam, clay, moist

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 1-3 feet

2. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

American beautyberry
Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0

If a cluster of striking purple berries has ever caught your eye in the woods, you’ve probably passed by an American beautyberry. Although this shrub’s light green foliage is a little mundane, its berries are a showstopper with color as vibrant as grape-flavored candy (though they won’t taste like a pack of Nerds, these berries are edible, too). 

These shrubs need some sunlight, but will be fine with variegated shade. The beautyberry loves soil rich in clay or organic matter like you’d find on a forest floor. Keep this plant relatively moist, particularly if you plant it in a sunny spot. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch will help with water retention.

Plant type: Shrub

Hardiness zones: 6-10

Sun: Full to partial shade

Water needs: High

Soil: Moist, clay, organic

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 3-6 feet

3. Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Sweetbay magnolia
Chesapeake Bay Program | Flickr

An icon of hot climates, the sweetbay magnolia is a small evergreen tree with standout blossoms. The large white flowers open from March to April like a lotus and emit a sweet, lemony fragrance. This tree prefers acidic soil, and yellowing leaves are a sign the ground is too alkaline. 

As it gets established, this tree needs deep waterings and annual feedings. Once it’s settled, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out for more than a few days, and water it more during warmer weather. Finally, point your lawn mower so debris flies away from the tree, not toward it; Magnolia trees are easily injured, which leaves them vulnerable to disease.

Plant type: Tree

Hardiness zones: 4-10

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Water needs: High

Soil: Moist, rich, acidic

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 10-35 feet

4. Tickseed (Coreopsis)

manseok Kim | Pixabay

For a burst of sunshine, consider tickseed. These small, lemon-yellow flowers are perfect for a low-maintenance cutting garden too, and bloom from early summer to fall. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, and goldfinches are all big fans of this plant’s black seeds, so you’ll be helping your local ecosystem while creating a cheery outdoor space. 

As long as the plant’s not sitting in soggy soil all the time, it’s not particular about the ground it’s planted in. Don’t plant it at the bottom of a hill, and if you have very clay-heavy soil, amend it with compost to improve the drainage. Water early in the morning so tickseed’s leaves can dry out when the sun rises.

Plant type: Flower

Hardiness zones: 2-11

Sun: Full sun

Water needs: Moderate

Soil: Sandy, well-draining

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 2-4 feet

5. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly weed
Wikimedia | CC-BY-SA-2.5

Beginner gardeners, look no further. Butterfly weed, also known as butterfly milkweed, is an easy-to-grow plant with vibrant marigold and tiger-orange flowers that bloom all summer long. True to its name, butterflies can’t get enough of this plant. Before long, you’ll have plenty of new flying friends to watch from your window. 

If you want quick blooms, transplanting is your best bet; otherwise, butterfly weed can take two to three years to flower when grown from seed. It handles drought and poor soil. If you notice aphids (small, pear-shaped insects), knock them off by spraying them with a hose. 

Plant type: Flower

Hardiness zones: 3-9

Sun: Full sun

Water needs: Low to medium

Soil: Poor, dry to medium, well-draining

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 1-2.5 feet

6. Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis)

Marginal wood fern
Distant Hill | Flickr

Marginal wood fern, native to Arkansas, is the perfect plant to fill the shady spots of your landscape with blue-green, twice-cut fronds that spill out like a fountain. This fern will stay verdant year-round, providing lush winter interest for your landscape.

Like most ferns, the marginal wood fern prefers conditions that mimic the forest. This means rich, moist soils with a pH of less than 6.8 and plenty of shade (in fact, it can tolerate full shade). Deer and rabbits will stay away from this plant.

Plant type: Evergreen fern

Hardiness zones: 3-8

Sun: Partial shade to full shade

Water needs: Moderate

Soil: Average, well-draining, moist, humusy, acidic

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 1.5-2 feet

7. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan
5892437 | Pixabay

After a few months of chilly weather, it’s a pleasure to see reminders of sunshine popping up in early summer to fall like black-eyed Susans. The yellow, daisy-like flowers bloom the first year you plant them, so they can function as an annual or perennial.

An especially low-maintenance native flower, black-eyed Susans prefer full sun and well-draining soil, but they’ll tolerate heat and drought. Butterflies love this wildflower’s nectar so consider planting as a container plant in a window box to enjoy the show.

Plant type: Flower

Hardiness zones:  3-9

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Water needs: Moderate

Soil: Average, well-draining acidic

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 1-3 feet

8. Netleaf leather flower (Clematis reticulata)

Netleaf leather flower
Mary Keim | Flickr

The netleaf leather flower is a climbing vine in the buttercup family. Oval leaves feature visible, textured veins (giving it the term reticulata). Large purple and white, bell-shaped blossoms appear in May and June. After the whimsical flowers are gone, cream-colored, showy seed heads take their place. 

Netleaf leather flower will thrive in most garden settings. Twine it around a trellis or a fence, preferably somewhere with a bit of shade. Once established, Arkansas rainfall will be enough to sustain this plant. 

Plant type: Vine

Hardiness zones: 6a-9b

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Water needs: Low

Soil: Average, sand

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 8-10 feet

9. Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)

John Lee | Pixabay

With more than 10,000 varieties, the azalea is the most commonly planted shrub in Arkansas. The stunning blooms add a swath of eye-catching color to the border of your yard and can draw attention to hardscaping features you want to spotlight. Choose your planting site carefully; native azaleas need afternoon shade to thrive.

When planting, score the root ball to help the roots spread out. Spread 2-3 inches of organic mulch around the base of the plant to maintain moisture. You can use compost as mulch which also increases soil drainage and maintains a slightly acidic soil pH. 

Plant type: Deciduous shrub

Hardiness zones: 5-9

Sun: Partial shade

Water needs: Moderate

Soil: Well-draining, acidic (4.5-6.0 pH)

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 4-6 feet

10. Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Solomon’s seal
Takaharu Misawa | Solomon’s seal adds an elegant touch to a shaded garden. Arched stems produce neat lines of greenish-white flowers in the shape of small bells. After the blooming season in the spring, blue berries appear in fall.

Dappled morning light and afternoon shade are perfect for Solomon’s seal. Leave fallen leaves on the ground as they’ll form a nutrient-rich humus that will feed the plant and keep moisture in (this is a good tip for most woodland plants). Combine Solomon’s seal with a low-lying shade-tolerant plant like hostas. 

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

Hardiness zones: 3-7

Sun: Partial shade to shade

Water needs: Low to moderate

Soil: Moist, rich, acidic

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 2-5 feet

11. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum)

Florida anise
Tom Potterfield | Flickr

An uncommon but smart choice for a home garden, the Florida anise is a fast-growing shrub great for sprucing up a shaded area. Long, olive-green leaves retain their color throughout winter. In April, interesting, star-shaped flowers appear like maroon-pigmented pinwheels. The foliage, when crushed, has a licorice-like smell, while the flowers have a fishy aroma. 

Florida anise does not like to dry out. Water it regularly and mulch several feet around its base to retain moisture. Prune as it’s getting established to keep it in shape. You might need to cut away root suckers to avoid it spreading. Finally, this plant is deer-resistant due to its mild toxicity.  

Plant type: Evergreen shrub

Hardiness zones: 7-10

Sun: Partial shade to full shade

Water needs: High

Soil: Moist, well-draining, rich, loam

Duration: Perennial

Mature height: 6-12 feet

Tips for a successful native garden

Picking out your beautiful native vines, shrubs, and flowers is only the start. Keeping them healthy is the next challenge. Every plant has specific needs, so be sure to read the package’s instructions and talk to your local nursery employee, but these tips will help you get off on the right foot.

  • Irrigation: Arkansas has an average of 50 inches of rainfall per year, much of which is concentrated in the spring. Note which plants can tolerate periods of drought because those plants probably won’t need supplemental watering after they’re established. New plants need at least an inch of water a week.
  • Fertilization: Native plants generally don’t need fertilization. However, getting a soil test from your local extension office is always a good idea to see if your ground is nutrient deficient. A topdressing of compost will infuse the soil with fuel and improve its drainage and texture. 
  • Pest control: It can be tempting to take extreme measures to protect your new plants from insects and break out a broad-spectrum pesticide. However, part of the joy of native gardening is contributing positively to your local ecosystem. There are plenty of organic pest control options like neem oil available. 

Our most important piece of advice is to take time to enjoy your native garden. It can be a beautiful place to gather with family and friends, unwind after a long day, and reconnect with the natural world. 

Kickstart your garden with a pro

You don’t have to start your native garden alone. A Lawn Love landscaping team can help you design the perfect, environmentally-friendly backyard from start to finish. After installation, they can assist with maintenance so you don’t have to deal with troubling pests or disease on your own.

Main photo credit: Bernard Spragg | Flickr

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.