14 Illinois Native Plants for Home Landscapes

closeup of Wisteria frutescens plant

Illinois has beautiful native flora that can enhance your garden’s beauty with plants such as columbine, river birch, and creeping juniper. In this article, we bring you 14 Illinois native plants for your home landscape.

Let’s discuss which plants would make the perfect fit for your garden’s sun exposure and landscaping design:

Native Illinois flowers

1. Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

single red flower with a yellow center from a red columbine
Peter Stevens | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Add a pop of red to your spring landscape with wild columbine, a native found throughout Illinois. Growing from thick roots, its upright stems bloom in the spring with orange-red flowers. A great Illinois wildflower for your garden, columbine attracts beneficial pollinators. 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

Sun: Full sun or partial shade

Soil: Clay, silt, or sandy soil that’s well-drained, moist, dry-ish

Duration: Perennial

Fragrance: N/A

Bloom Time: Mid-April to July

Water Needs: Weekly or whenever the soil is completely dry

Mature Height: 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Potential Hazards: Moderately flammable/risk of fire

Maintenance Needs: Low; deadhead blooms as needed, cut back in late summer

2. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

cluster of small pink swamp milkweed
Justin Meissen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Swamp milkweed has dainty flowers that bloom in clusters in a delicate dark pink color. A native Illinois pollinator plant, swamp milkweed attracts various beneficial insects, but the milkweed is especially important to the monarch butterfly. This endangered species has milkweed as its host plant, and the monarch larvae are among the few that can eat milkweed leaves.

Why not use swamp milkweed and other wildflowers to create a butterfly garden?

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Organically rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil

Duration: Perennial

Fragrance: Sweet-smelling

Bloom time: June through August

Water needs: High

Mature height: 2 to 6 feet tall

Potential hazards: Poisonous to humans and animals in large quantities

Maintenance: Low

3. Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea

closeup of Purple prairie clover plant
Matt Lavin | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

A native Illinois prairie plant, purple prairie clover is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also adds nitrogen to your garden soil. The pink, red, or purple flowers bloom from June to September. Purple prairie clover will also attract bees and butterflies, pollinators that are important to your garden.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

Sun: Full sun

Soil: Dry to mesic soil

Duration: Perennial

Fragrance: No noticeable scent

Bloom time: June through September

Water needs: Low

Mature height: 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Potential hazards: N/A

Maintenance: Tolerates drought, and has low maintenance needs.

4. Common mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

closeup of pycnanthemu virginianum-1 plant
Salicyna | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Occurring more frequently in the northern half of Illinois, common mountain mint is found in fens, prairies, and marshes. The white flowers bloom in late summer, adding a touch of white to the bright green foliage.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 7

Sun: Full to part sun

Soil: Moist to mesic soil

Duration: Perennial

Fragrance: Spearmint scent when leaves are crushed

Bloom time: July through September

Water needs: Moderate

Mature height: 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Potential hazards: N/A

Maintenance: Low. It survives drought, but leaves may droop and turn yellow.

5. Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve)

four blooms of smooth blue aster flowers
Joshua Mayer | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

The smooth blue aster is a native plant in northern Illinois and some counties in the central part of the state. Its stems and leaves are green-blueish, while the daisy-like flowers are violet or blue. Its late-season flowering adds interest to your garden until the fall.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8

Sun: Full sun

Soil: Dry soils

Duration: Perennial

Fragrance: No fragrance

Bloom time: July – October

Water needs: Medium

Mature height: 2 to 4 feet tall

Potential hazards: No hazards

Maintenance: Medium

Native trees for Illinois

1. River birch (Betula nigra)

closeup of Betula Nigra plant
F. D. Richards | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The river birch can enrich your home landscape when used as an ornamental. This tree is known for its shedding and curling bark, revealing a pink-brown color. In the fall, the foliage turns into a beautiful yellow. In natural habitats, the river birch is common to bottomland forests in the southernmost part of Illinois and along the Mississippi River.

Hardiness zones: 4 – 9

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: It survives best in moist and acidic conditions, but tolerates drier soils.

Foliage: Deciduous

Bloom time: April to May

Water needs: Moderate to high

Mature height: Grows up to 40 to 70 feet tall and 40 to 60 feet wide

Potential hazards: N/A

Maintenance: Moderate

2. Box elder (Acer negundo)

closeup of Box elder plant
Matt Lavin | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Box elder is found throughout Illinois and is a perfect native tree for central Illinois homes. The light-brown bark becomes more and more creased as the tree matures. Opt for a male tree, as they are less messy than female ones. With toothed, bright green leaves, box elder is frequently mistaken for poison ivy.

Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Moist clay soil

Foliage: Deciduous

Bloom time: April and May

Water needs: Moderate

Mature height: 60 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Potential hazards: N/A

Maintenance: Low

Native vines for Illinois

1. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

closeup of virginia creeper with red leaves and a stem

The Virginia creeper is a perennial woody vine from the same family as the grape. Its red and purple shades add a beautiful hue to the fall landscape. You can use this vine on a vertical screen or a trellis, or let it grow freely on slopes.

Hardiness zones: 3-10

Sun: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Well-drained, moderately moist soil

Foliage: Deciduous

Bloom time: Spring and summer

Water needs: Moderate

Mature height: 30 to 60 feet long and 5 feet to 10 feet wide

Potential hazards: It is highly poisonous to humans, and eating its fruit can even be fatal. It also is highly flammable and should not be planted near your home.

Maintenance: Average. It needs no support to climb but if left unchecked, it can ruin painted walls and damage gutters, wires, and other structures around the home.

2. Moonseed (Menispermum canadense)

closeup of Menispermum canadense plant
Randy Nonenmacher | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Named after its crescent moon-shaped seeds, the moonseed is an Illinois native shade plant. This woody vine grows in woodlands all over Illinois. It climbs by twining its way up in nearby vegetation, but if left with no support, it spreads horizontally, forming a ground cover. 

Hardiness zones: 5-8

Sun: Partial shade

Soil: Moist, loam soil

Foliage: Deciduous

Bloom time: Late spring to early summer

Water needs: High

Mature height: 8 to 20 inches long

Potential hazards: Highly poisonous; if eaten, can cause fatalities

Maintenance: Moderate

3. American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)

American Wisteria flower, with lilac petals
Ezra S F / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

This Illinois native climbing plant has fragrant purple flowers. A host plant for butterflies, its nectar attracts various beneficial pollinators, making it a great addition to a pollinator garden. What about adding it to a rock wall for a vertical element in your landscape?

Hardiness zones: 5-9

Sun: Prefers full sun but can survive in partial shade

Soil: Well-drained, moist, and acidic soil 

Foliage: Deciduous

Bloom time: April to May

Water needs: Moderate

Mature height: 15 to 40 feet tall and 4 to 8 feet wide

Potential hazards: Contains saponin, which is toxic to humans, cats, dogs, and horses.

Maintenance: Moderate

Native ground cover plants for Illinois

1. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) with green leaves and red berries
User:Tigerente | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Bearberry “bears” its name for being a favorite among bears. This plant is in fact a shrub, but it has a prostrate growing habit that makes it perfect for ground cover. In the summer, its fruits add a nice visual element to its green foliage. And although these berries are also suitable for consumption, they are not very tasty for humans. Let’s leave it to the bears.

USDA hardiness zone: 2 to 6

Sun: Full sun or partial shade

Soil: Sandy, acidic; can be dry or moist but no standing water

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Evergreen

Fragrance: Autumn leaves/pine

Bloom time: Early spring to early summer

Water needs: Low

Mature height: 2 to 8 inches tall

Potential hazards: Arbutin in foliage hinders melanin production/can lighten skin

Maintenance: Low; tolerant of drought, salt, and pollution.

2. Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

Creeping juniper as groundcover in a landscape bed
David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Creeping juniper’s native range is restricted to sandy habitats around Lake Michigan, in northeastern Illinois. Although naturally occurring in sandy soil, this low-growing shrub is known for its versatility, adapting to various soil types. 

Drought- and deer-resistant, creeping juniper is perfect for rock gardens. It has interesting foliage that resembles scales and gets a purple hue during winter. 

USDA hardiness zone: 3-9

Sun: Full sun

Soil: Well-drained, sandy or rocky, and acidic to neutral soil

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Evergreen

Fragrance: Sweet and tangy fragrance

Bloom time: Creeping juniper has no flowers, only cones that bloom in late spring and summer.

Water needs: Low

Mature height: 6 inches to 1.5 feet tall and 4 to 20 feet wide

Potential hazards: N/A

Maintenance: Low

Native bushes for Illinois

1. Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

closeup of Red buckeye plant
Eric Hunt | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

A native plant of southern Illinois, the red buckeye is actually difficult to find in wild landscapes. A member of the maple family, its tubular flowers add a beautiful pop of red to your spring landscape. They also attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. In the fall, the leaves turn red, adding fall interest. 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Sun: Full to partial sun

Soil: Well-drained, tolerates a wide variety of soil types

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: None

Bloom Time: Mid-spring to summer

Water Needs: Low to moderate

Mature Height: 6 to 24 feet tall

Potential Hazards: Seeds, leaves, and sprouts are toxic to both humans and animals when ingested

Maintenance Needs: Low

2. Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

Downy serviceberry with white flowers
Salicyna | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Occasionally found in river banks, swamp edges, and woodlands in Illinois, the downy serviceberry adapts well to different soil conditions. In the spring, white flowers bloom with long petals and exude a faint fragrance. It provides great fall color to your garden. 

And why not use this shrub in your landscape as an ornamental, understory tree, or border? See our article on how to landscape with shrubs for more ideas.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Can be cultivated in clay, sandy, or loamy soil. Prefers moist, well-drained soil 

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: A faint fragrance that some can find unpleasant

Bloom Time: Spring

Water Needs: Low to average

Mature Height: 10 to 30 feet tall

Potential Hazards: N/A

Maintenance Needs: Low

Native plants for northern Illinois

illinois plant hardiness zone map

Most of northern Illinois is in hardiness zone 5a or 5b, with some areas, like Chicago, in 6a. Generally speaking, it is the coldest region of the state. Some plants that work well in the area are:

  • Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
  • Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
  • Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
  • Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Native plants for central Illinois

Central Illinois comprises hardiness zones 6a and 6b, with minimum winter averages of -10 to -5 F and -5 to 0 F. Some native plants for central Illinois are:

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Butterweed (Packera glabella)
  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Doll’s eyes (Actaea pachypoda)

Native plants for southern Illinois

Southern Illinois is the warmest part of the state, comprising mostly zones 6b and 7a (and a small area in Pulaski County in zone 7b). Some native plants for southern Illinois are: 

  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Purple-headed sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum)
  • Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Other Illinois resources

If you’d like to learn more about lawn care in Illinois, we have other pieces that will help you achieve the best lawn in the neighborhood:

FAQ about Illinois native plants

Why choose native plants?

Native plants require less fertilizing, pesticides, and herbicides than non-native species. Additionally, native plants have great environmental value: They have an intricate beneficial relationship with the local wildlife, providing it with food and shelter. 

Where to buy Illinois native plants?

You can buy native plants in trusted nurseries. The Illinois Native Plant Society has a native plant nurseries list where you can find the best seeds for your garden.

What is Illinois’ USDA hardiness zone?

Illinois comprises the USDA hardiness zones 5a to 7b. Knowing your hardiness zone is crucial to choosing plants that will adapt and thrive in your area.

Find a pro near you

If you’d like a helping hand on your routine lawn care tasks, contact an Illinois lawn care pro. That way, you won’t have to worry about your lawn: Just leave it to a competent pro so you can focus your time and effort on your landscaping project.

Main Image Credit: David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Teresa Joaquim

A psychologist by training, Teresa is a creative writer with a background in scientific research. With a passion for art and a deep connection with nature, she enjoys leisurely visits to the park and listening to music while admiring the beauty of local flowers and the native landscape.