Award Winning Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic

Gold Medal Plants from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

From By Peggy Anne Montgomery

| Published 07/25/2014

In 1978 the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society developed a precious resource for home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike - Gold Medal Plants. It is a fabulous reference listing plants that have been thoroughly tested by nursery professionals. It really does take the guesswork out of buying plants. The selection committee reads like a Who’s Who of Mid-Atlantic horticulture. Much to my delight, I found that they call out native plants in their lists of special attributes. Gold Medal Plant Award Committee Chair, Steve Mostardi, of Mostardi’s Nursery said that whether or not a plant is native plays an increasingly important role in the selection process and that the interest in native plants is growing. Since native plants have evolved in the Mid-Atlantic’s ecosystem it’s no surprise that so many of the Gold Medal winners are native plants and their cultivars. Enjoy browsing through the list and thank you PHS for this marvelous resource.


October Skies Aster

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium October Skies

‘October Skies’ is a wonderful selection of our native aster with superior qualities. Dark blue flowers with yellow centers are a butterfly favorite.  Deer resistant and drought tolerant once established.


‘Jeana’ garden phlox

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’

This phlox is a stand out in the summer perennial garden. This phlox is extremely popular with both gardeners and butterflies due to its profuse, fragrant lavender-pink flowers. It is favored for its resistance to powdery mildew.


‘Hot Lips’ pink turtlehead

Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’

A great plant for a partially shaded, moist area of the garden, especially in rain gardens and pond edges. The deep pink flowers are sought after by butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer resistant.



Red Sprite Winter Berry Holly

Ilex verticillata Red Sprite

‘Red Sprite’ grows to be 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. This native low-growing, rounded shrub puts on one of the best displays of bright red fruits in the winter. Small white flowers in early summer provide nectar for pollinators and the fruit attracts songbirds.


Autumn Bride Heuchera

Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’

‘Autumn Bride’ has lime-green foliage and forms a dense mound, excellent groundcover. Long plumes of white flowers bloom in August providing nectar for hummingbirds and pollinators. Thrives in most garden situations and is deer resistant and drought tolerant.



Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens Major Wheeler

‘Major Wheeler’ is a native honeysuckle vine with lush foliage and coral-red flowers from late spring through summer. The flowers attract a variety of wildlife, including hummingbirds and butterflies. Extremely disease-resistant.


Northwind Switchgrass

Panicum virgatum Northwind

‘Northwind’ is an outstanding selection of the native switchgrass with 5- to 7-foot-tall, upright, olive-green foliage that stands out as a vertical accent in any garden. Provides excellent cover and food for ducks, upland game birds, songbirds and small mammals.



Christmas fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

This native fern adapts to both dry and moist wooded slopes, banks, and ravines. Growing in fountain-like clumps to 2 feet tall, it features leathery, lance-shaped, evergreen fronds. This deer- resistant evergreen fern offers winter interest for any landscape.


American fringe tree

Chionanthus virginicus

American fringe tree satisfies three current popular consumer demands – compact size, infrequent bug or disease trouble, and native to the United States. In a home landscape, it will reach 12 to 20 feet tall at maturity.

Blue Star

Amsonia hubrichtii

This species is truly distinctive and extraordinary, with clusters of powder-blue flowers in April and May. It grows to a height and width of 2 to 3 feet. In the fall, its golden-orange color rivals the best trees and shrubs. Additionally, it is deer and disease resistant. ‘Blue Star’ was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2011.



Black Tupelo Tree

Nyssa sylvatica Wildfire

‘Wildfire’ has spectacular red-tipped new growth, and is one of the most stunning autumn foliage choices. It is a heavy nectar producer that attracts all kinds of pollinators. The small black fruit makes this tree an amazing native selection for birds.



'Rising Sun' Redbud

 Cercis canadensis 'Rising Sun'

Attracts birds and native bees

‘Rising Sun’ is a novel addition to the native eastern redbud roundup. Small-but-showy rosy orchid flowers climb the naked branches in early spring, attracting bees and butterflies. The distinctive bark is smooth tan with a yellowish cast. Emerging heart-shaped foliage is brilliant tangerine to apricot and reputed to hold its color well into fall, surpassing other gold-leaved redbuds. Heat tolerance, drought resistance, and cold hardiness are other desirable attributes



American Sweetgum

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’

Seed balls attract several bird species, also provides nesting and cover

This is a very narrow low-maintenance cultivar of the underused American Sweetgum tree. Unlike the species, ‘Slender Silhouette’ produces little fruit (those brown spiky orbs) that, when dropped, land only in a small, easily cleaned-up 4’ x 4’ area. Its dark green glossy leaves turn yellow with a tinge of red in the fall. This is a great park and allée tree—or use it almost anywhere a narrow tree is desired. It prefers moist soil and space for root development. Grows 50’H x 4’W. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


Pond Baldcypress

Taxodium distichum var. imbricarium Debonair® ‘Morris’

Seeds are relished by a large number of birds and small mammals, host plant for the baldcyprus sphinx

Particularly beautiful deciduous conifer with interesting green pendulous foliage that strikingly contrasts with its formal, pyramidal habit. The fall color is a beautiful bronze, and the winter silhouette is dramatic. Debonair® flourishes in most landscape situations, especially wet ones. Grows 60’H x 20’W. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


Southern Bush-Honeysuckle

Diervilla sessilifolia Cool Splash™

Especially valuable to honey bees

Native to southeastern U.S., Southern Bush-Honeysuckle is a low-growing deciduous shrub. Vigorous and adaptable, it spreads by suckers into a reliable mass. Tolerant of all light conditions, Cool Splash™ performs best in full sun, where its variegated glossy leaves develop vivid tones of green and cream. Small yellow flowers, borne on new wood, huddle together atop this “toad abode” from June to August. Uses include massing and the perennial border. It grows 2.5’H x 3.5’W and benefits from a moderate spring pruning. Hardy in zones 4 to 7.



Florida Anise

Illicium floridanum 'Halleys Comet'

Provides nesting and cover for birds, frogs and toads

A deer-proof, evergreen, native to the southeastern U.S., Florida Anise produces 4” long dark green leaves (similar to Rhododendron), which emit a strong pleasant fragrance when bruised. Outperforming the species and other cultivars, ‘Halley’s Comet’ exhibits superior characteristics such as improved cold tolerance and faster growth. It’s also a better bloomer, with plenty of larger red star-shaped flowers that bloom in May and can persist into the summer. It thrives in shady, moist, well-drained soil and tolerates part shade; too much sun, though, will cause it to turn yellowish. Grows 6’H x 5’W.


Tom's Compact Summersweet

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta'

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar and many birds and mammals eat the fruit

This superior variety displays darker, glossier leaves and a more compact, denser growth habit than other Clethra alnifolia cultivars. ‘Compacta’ is also hardier and more floriferous. A native to South Eastern U.S., it’s also low-maintenance and moderately deer-resistant. Uses include the foundation, border, in mass, the shady container, and the naturalized garden. It’s best planted in part sun but it’s tolerant of all light conditions. ‘Compacta’ grows about 3.5’H x 4’W and prefers well-drained organic soil.



Fragrant Sumac

Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low'

Berries provide food for small animals and birds, also attracts butterflies

A dense, wide-spreading, groundcover with attractive aromatic, glossy-green foliage that turns amazing shades of reds and oranges in fall. Small, yellow flowers (panicles) appear in early spring followed by wildlife attracting, hairy red fruit, in fall. ‘Gro-Low’ is a native, eco-friendly, low-maintenance plant exhibiting drought and urban tolerance and high deer resistance. Use it as a ground cover, to stabilize embankments and in most other hard-to-cover areas.



Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana, 'Jim Wilson' Moonglow™

Attracts birds, nectar attracts beneficial insects

Retaining most of its leaves throughout a normal Mid-Atlantic winter, this almost-evergreen native Magnolia was selected for its fast growth, cold hardiness, and lush dark green foliage. The unique upright habit of ‘Jim Wilson’ is enhanced by beautiful creamy-white flowers in late spring. These 2-3” long-lasting blooms lace the air with a pleasant lemony scent. Pest-resistance and adaptability to wet sites, characteristics shared by the well-respected species, add to the versatility of Moonglow™. It prefers acid soil and a part-sun location.



Sumac, Staghorn

Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes®

Provides nesting and shelter for birds

This unique Sumac has purplish-pink stems displaying exotic cut-leaf foliage. Changing with each season, Tiger Eyes® starts out chartreuse in the spring, turns bright yellow in the summer, and eventually turns scarlet-orange in the fall. Tiger Eyes® is more compact than the species and is not considered invasive. It prefers well-drained soil but adapts well to poor soils and urban situations, exhibiting good pollution tolerance. It’s great for the foundation, as a specimen, in mass, or in containers. A native to North America, this Sumac grows about 6’ high x 6’ wide in full or part sun. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.



Oak, Pin

Quercus palustris 'Pringreen' Green Pillar®

Attracts songbirds, water birds, ground birds and mammals

This is a narrow, columnar (fastigiate) cultivar of our native Pin Oak. Glossy green leaves in spring and summer give way to a nice maroon and red fall display. Green Pillar® is a popular choice for areas requiring a narrow, well-mannered shade tree. Use as a park or specimen tree, in small gardens, or as a street tree. It prefers full sun and grows 50’ H x 15’ W. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Wisteria, American

Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls'

Attracts butterflies and is a host plant for several species of butterflies as well

This North American native is a delightful alternative to its invasive Asian cousins. Slightly fragrant lavender-blue 5” flowers cover this twining vine in May and June. ‘Amethyst Falls’ is a superior selection with recurring blooms through August. Tough and adaptable, it’s suitable for urban gardens—great on a trellis or arbor, over fences, and in containers. It grows to about 15 feet prune as desired in early spring. Plant it in full or part sun. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.



Carolina Allspice

Calycanthus floridus 'Michael Lindsey'

Great cover and nesting site for birds

A unique native deciduous shrub with neat, attractive foliage. Green in spring and summer, it turns a striking yellow in the fall. Distinct, very fragrant flowers bloom in May and June; the scent of fruit lures you to its reddish-brown 2” flowers. No serious pest or disease problems. Use as a specimen plant or in the shrub border. Adaptable to many soils and all light conditions. Grows to 7’ H x 7’ W. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Holly, Winterberry

Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’

Attracts birds and butterflies

Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ is a branch sport of Ilex verticillata Winter Red®. It has jazzy orange-yellow berries from September through December. This native does best in the boggy shrub border. Use a male pollinator such as ‘Southern Gentleman’ or ‘Apollo’. Grows 7’ H x 7’ W, in full sun or part-shade and moist well-drained acidic soils. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Jasmine, Carolina

Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’

Attracts hummingbirds and spicebush swallowtail butterflies among others

‘Margarita’ is a fine-textured evergreen vine with a twining growth habit. It produces fragrant yellow trumpet-shaped flowers from late March into April. ‘Margarita’ grows almost anywhere, with characteristics such as drought-tolerance, deer-resistance, and soil adaptability. This native will scramble up or cascade over obstacles, creating a mass of living color. Plant in sun or part-shade. Grows to 12’ high x 6’ wide. Hardy in zones 5b to 8.



Cross Vine

Bignonia capreolata ‘Dragon Lady’

An early nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds

‘Dragon Lady’ is an exceptional evergreen self-clinging vine with dark green leaves that turn purple in winter. Attractive reddish trumpet-shaped flowers decorate the plant in June and July. ‘Dragon Lady’ is hardier and more floriferous than the species its distinctive characteristics include drought-resistance, wet-site tolerance, and attractiveness to hummingbirds and butterflies. It has no serious pest problems. Prune this native after flowering as needed. Grows 30' high x 30’ wide in part or full sun. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


Magnolia, Southern

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’

Attracts birds and mammals for food and shelter

‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a pyramidal evergreen Southern Magnolia with glossy dark-green leaves. The lemon-scented large white flowers bloom in late spring. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is recognized for its densely pyramidal growth habit and unsurpassed cold hardiness. An envied prize with no serious pest problems. It matures to about 35’ H x 20’ W. Plant in full or part sun. Hardy in zones 5b to 8.


Pine, Upright Eastern White

Pinus strobus ‘Fastigiata’

Attracts birds and mammals for food and shelter

Upright Eastern White Pine is an upright form of white pine that lacks the rigid appearance of most columnar plant forms. Soft evergreen needles adorn the ascending branches of this tree. Fast growing to about 50’ high x 20’ wide in 25 years, this pine is ideal for screening. Lower branches persist into maturity. Plant in full sun in all but alkaline soils. Hardy in zones 3-7.



Ninebark, Eastern

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

Attracts birds and is considered to have special value to native bees and honey bees

‘Diablo’ also known in the trade as Monlo and Diabolo™, this is an extremely hardy deciduous shrub with an upright spreading habit and decorative peeling bark. Showy pinkish-white flowers bloom May through June. This native has interesting purple foliage in summer and red fruit in autumn. It is ideal for mass plantings. It grows 5-10’ H by 5-10’ W prune it to control height. Plant it in full or part sun. Hardy in zones 2 to 7.



Holly, American

Ilex opaca

 Attracts birds and butterflies

American Holly is a large shrub or tree, generally pyramidal, with alternating spiny evergreen leaves. In October, this native produces red berry-like fruit that persists into winter. (Some cultivars have yellow or orange fruit.) The species has achieved Gold Medal status due to its cold hardiness, its tolerance of pollution, drought, and moderately wet sites, and its resistance to deer browsing. These traits, along with the availability of numerous superior cultivars (‘Old Heavy Berry’, ‘Jersey Princess’, ‘Satyr Hill’, and ‘Jersey Knight’ [male]) sets opaca above other holly species of similar characteristics. A nearby male pollinator is necessary for fruit production. Planted in acid, moist, well-drained soil, it will tolerate any light conditions but prefers full sun and protection from wind. Hardy from zones 5 to 8.


Hydrangea, Smooth

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Attracts butterflies like the hydrangea sphinx

‘Annabelle’ is a deciduous shrub that grows to 3’ to 5’ tall and 3’ to 5’ wide. The large white flower clusters of ‘Annabelle’ (up to 1’ across) reward you with a long bloom, June through July. This elegant Victorian-like show-off does best in part sun but will tolerate full exposure. ‘Annabelle’ is more compact and has larger flowers than other arborescens types. Plant in well-drained soil and cut it halfway back in spring. Hardy from zones 4 to 9.



Chokeberry, Red

Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima'

Good late winter food source for birds

Jazz up your garden with this large 6’–8’upright shrub that boasts brilliant red fall color as well as lustrous dark green summer foliage. White flowers and red fall berries add to its appeal. Chokeberry will tolerate very wet soil conditions but prefers moist acid soil and full sun. Aronia looks best in a mass planting. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Oak, White

Quercus alba

Supports over 500 species of butterflies and moths

The White Oak is a tree to plant for your grandchildren. It grows slowly to 150’ in the open; its rugged branching habit and attractive bark make it a majestic sight in winter as well as the ultimate shade tree in summer. This mighty native has no serious pests or diseases. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.



Buckeye, Bottlebrush

Aesculus parviflora

 Flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies

This Buckeye is a low-maintenance deer-resistant shrub whose large white summer flowers are set against a bold texture. Growing to 12’ with a width of 15’ in moist soil, it prefers partial shade and acid soil. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Clethra, Summersweet

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds need the nectar and many birds and mammals eat the fruit

‘Ruby Spice’ is a pink-blooming Summersweet that will not fade to white. Grown in moist soil, it will delight gardeners with rich pink flowers in July. ‘Ruby Spice’ tolerates sun or shade. A stoloniferous shrub, growing to 8’ in 10 years, this Clethra works well as a specimen or in mass. No serious pest or disease problems. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Mahonia, Leatherleaf

Mahonia bealei

Flowers attract beneficial insects and birds love the berries

Mahonia bealei is a striking evergreen shrub that adds a bold textural statement to any garden. Deer-resistant, Mahonia will grow to 5’ H x 4’ W in part shade; it prefers a moist well-drained soil. Older plants bloom with chains of yellow flowers followed by blue berries. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.



Redcedar, Eastern

Juniperus virginiana ‘Corcorcor’ Emerald Sentinel™

The fruits are a staple for many birds and small mammals including the cedar waxwing, named for this tree

Emerald Sentinel is a native juniper that is one of the toughest plants available. ‘Emerald Sentinel’ has a dark green needle and is well suited for a tall screen, hedge, or specimen tree. Upright habit growing 25’ H x 8’ W. Pest resistant and tolerant of extreme climatic and soil conditions, it is also a favorite of small songbirds. Hardy in zones 3b to 8.



Holly, Winterberry

Ilex verticillata ‘Scarlett O’Hara’

Berries are eaten by small mammals and nearly 50 species of birds

‘Scarlett O’Hara’, growing to 10’ with a 12’ spread in 10 years, extends garden interest into the winter. An abundance of small clear-red fruit persists through the cold months. Clay-soil tolerance, with no pest or disease problems, makes this an ideal plant for the home garden. ‘Rhett Butler’ is her preferred pollinator. Hardy in zones 3 to 8.



Buckeye, Red

Aesculus pavia

 Attracts butterflies like crazy

Red Buckey is a native Buckeye that blooms in May with red to coral panicles 3”-6” long. With no pest or disease problems, this species is far more resistant to leaf scorch than other Aesculus. Growing to 20’ with a 30’ spread, this is a great tree for residential gardens. Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Hardy from zone 4 to 8.


Holly, Winterberry  

Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’

Attracts birds and butterflies, provides cover and nesting

‘Winter Red’ is a deciduous Winterberry Holly laden with red fruit through the winter. Growing to 10’ with an 8’ spread, ‘Winter Red’ performs best in moist well-drained acidic soils. A male pollinator is necessary try ‘Southern Gentleman’ or ‘Apollo’. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.


Silverbell, Two-winged

Halesia diptera var. magniflora

Provides nesting sites and cover for birds and other wildlife

Two-winged Silverbell grows to 25’-30’ in open, wooded, or full-sun conditions. A heavy and prolonged flowering variety, this Halesia will dazzle you with large white flowers. Plant in the spring in any moist well-drained soil. A real showstopper! Hardy in zones 5 to 8.



Clethra, Dwarf Summersweet

Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird'

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds drink the nectar and many birds and mammals eat the fruit

‘Hummingbird’ is a dwarf Summersweet that displays full-size flowers on a compact 3’ plant. A fragrant, summer-blooming shrub, this American native is deer resistant and is a vigorous spreader. Hardy from zone 4 to zone 8.


Holly, Inkberry

Ilex glabra ‘Densa’

Attracts birds and is considered to have special value to honey bees

Inkberry is an upright and compact Inkberry Holly that tolerates heat, drought, sun, shade, and transplanting without missing a beat. Suited to problem and urban sites, ‘Densa’ grows to 4’ with a 4½’ spread in 9 years. Pest and disease resistant, this broadleaf evergreen is a great alternative to boxwood. Hardy to zone 4 to 8.


Yellowwood, American

Cladrastis kentukea

 Bees and butterflies drink the nectar and birds devour the fruit

American Yellowwood is a North American native plant. When planted in full sun, it is broadly adaptable and long-lived. In late May to early June, 8”-14” long pendulous white flowers adorn this pest-free tree. Prune it in summer to avoid excessive “bleeding.” Hardy from zone 4b to zone 8.



Hawthorn, Green

Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’

Bees and butterflies drink the nectar and birds devour the fruit

‘Winter King’ is resistant to cedar-apple rust and air pollution and tolerates heavy pruning. Masses of white flowers cover the tree each spring, followed in fall by orange-red berries that are larger than those of the species. A great asset to any winter landscape! ‘Winter King’ grows to 30” and attains a rounded habit with age. Plant it in full sun prune during the late winter. It will withstand a broad range of soil types and is hardy in zones 4 to 7.


Magnolia, Southern

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’

This evergreen provides cover and nesting all year long

‘Edith Bogue’ is a hardy evergreen Southern Magnolia that suffers less winter damage than most others of the species. In June and July, the creamy 9”-12” blossoms fill the air with a sweet, lemony fragrance. Lustrous dark-green foliage grows upright along the branches. Plant in full sun to part shade. ‘Edith Bogue’ tolerates some moisture but prefers rich well-drained soil. It can grow to 60’ high and spread to 30’. Hardy in zones 6 to 8.



Viburnum Winterthur

Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’

Attracts songbirds, water birds, shorebirds and small mammals

‘Winterthur’ is in its full glory in autumn. The mix of pink and blue berries set against rich purple foliage makes this shrub a knockout. Creamy white flowers in the spring round out a year of show for this wonderful variety. ‘Winterthur’ will grow in rich, wet, shaded sites as well as in sunny well-drained locations. It grows to about 6’ H. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


Birch, River

Betula nigra ‘Cully’ Heritage®

The seeds attract birds and small mammals

This River Birch is a superior clone with larger, glossier leaves than the species. It is a fast-growing medium-size multistemmed tree, reaching 40’ to 60’, with an oval to rounded habit, nice yellow fall color, and very interesting creamy tan to white peeling bark. Heritage’ is a heat-tolerant native, loving wet sites and resistant to leaf spot disease and the bronze birch borer. Planted as a specimen tree in the border or against the foundation, it prefers partial sun situations but will tolerate full exposure. Hardy from zones 3b to 8.


Fothergilla, Dwarf 

Fothergilla gardenii '‘Blue Mist'

A valuable plant for a wide variety of bees

‘Blue Mist’ matures at 3’ to 4’ with white bottlebrush-shaped flowers and the added attraction of blue-green foliage. ‘Blue Mist’ is easily propagated and will grow in full sun or light shade. Plant in well-drained soil. A great plant for the foundation, it mixes well with dwarf conifers. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.



Hydrangea, Oakleaf

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’

Attracts birds and butterflies

‘Snow Queen’ is sleek and elegant, with its deep-green foliage and panicles of white flowers that bloom through June and July. The old flower heads turn a handsome russet before the final burst of spectacular wine-colored fall foliage. ‘Snow Queen’ will grow to 6’ high with an equal spread and does well in sun or shade. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


Sweetspire, Virginia

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’

Birds and butterflies drink the nectar, also provides cover and nesting 

‘Henry’s Garnet’ is a tough, adaptable native shrub with great contrast from summer to fall. Fragrant long white flowers bloom in late June against green foliage fall foliage is a striking red-purple that lasts well into winter. This Itea grows to 6’ with an 8’ spread and is best planted in slightly cool, moist sites, although it will tolerate dryer sites. Hardy in zones 5 to 8.


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