This year, I added the native plant Canadian ginger as a ground cover to my yard. Today, I would like to show you one way you could find other native plants that would naturally go with it.
To do this, I am going to go to a trusted resource on native plants in my area, The fourth edition of Plants of the Chicago Region.
I picked up this encyclopedia of native plants for my area this Spring at a Natural landscaping seminar I attended. This is on the shelf of every ecologist, as well as native plant geek in my area.
How valuable is that native plant?
A nice feature of this book is that it gives a Coefficient of Conservatism (C value) for each plant. This is basically a rating from one to ten. With a one being common weed plants that are found everywhere and add nothing to the local ecology. A ten indicates a rare plant that is only found in undisturbed natural areas.
If I was looking to recreate or work towards restoring my site to a specific natural area, I would define that area 1st and go from there to find the plants that I should be using.
I am not looking to restore an ecosystem here, I just want to find some native plants that will look good, grow well and maybe be helpful to my local wildlife.
One way to use Plants of the Chicago Region
I am going to instead look up my plant, the Canadian Ginger (Asarum canadense) and find what plants are associated with it. By using plants that naturally grow together in the wild, I can be assured that they will look natural together as well as require the same general care (i.e. water).
I look up Canadian ginger by it’s Latin name and find it on page 128.
If you look at the entry for each plant the C value will be at the end. As you can see, the C value of Canadian Ginger is a 7. This means this plant is pretty rare to find in natural areas. By planting it, I will be helping to restore a little bit of the natural diversity of my local plants.
Different plants can grow in different environments
As I read the description of where this plant grows in my area, I see the 1st area it describes where it is abundant is in floodplain woods. This is good as my yard backs to a creek with floodplain throughout it. Unfortunately, the creek is way back there.
My yard, however, is actually pretty dry. To use a technical definition, I would call it Mesic-Dry. Basically this means it is a little bit on the dry side. Certainly not a wetland.
I continue to read through the description of Canadian ginger untill I get to the section where it describes what it associates with in more upland, mesic areas.
Native trees that grow with Canadian Ginger
Here are the trees and shrubs that it lists:
- Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) C3,
- American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana virginiana) C8,
- Black cherry (Prunus serotina) C1,
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) C3,
- Red Oak (Quercus rubra) C7,
- America linden (Tilia americana) C5,
I am not really looking for more trees to add, so I will ignore these. If I wasn’t, I see that adding either an American hornbeam or a Red Oak would be two good choices if I was only looking at their C values.
Native herbacious plants that grow with Canadian Ginger
Here are the non woody plants it mentions as associated with Canadian ginger in dryer upland habitats:
- Jack in the Pulpit (Ariseama triphyllum) C4, – Does poorly in heavy clay soils. I could add a few here and there to give them a try, but since I really am not that enamored by this plant. I will skip it.
- Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) C2, – Nice spring ephemeral. Both the flowers and foliage fade away by mid-summer. Nice small complement to Virginia Bluebells I already have. Will add to my shopping list.
- False Mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides) C8, – Not really that interesting looking to me.
- Goose grass (Galium aparine) – No thank you to this weed!
- Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) C4, – Nice native, although can look a bit worn out at the end of summer. I actually planted about five of these this spring and only one is limping along. I am not sure if the rabbits took them out or what. They just disappeared. Will try them again, but will use bigger plants this time.
- Wild Sweet William (Phlox divaricata) C5, – Rabbits love which may be a problem in my yard.
- Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) C4, – Spring wildflower that often goes dormant in Summer. The umbrella shaped bold textured leaf is very nice. I will try to find a spot to give these a try.
- Jacobs ladder (Polemonium reptans) C5, – This plant wants rich moist soil. This does not exactly describe my yard.
- False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) C3, Nice and easy slow spreader, it will need some water in the summer, but no more than the Canadian ginger. Very similar to my non native variegated Solomon’s seal. Sounds like a good one to include.
- Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) C7, – Gets up to 3 feet tall. Many insects feed on the leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots of Golden rods. These insects are a source of food to many woodland songbirds. This one is much less weedy than Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis ). This looks like an interesting choice for a taller perennial plant for a big bed where I won’t mind if it spreads a bit.
- Common yellow violet (Viola pubescens) C5 – This 6 inch tall Violet does not spread by runners or vigrously self seed like some other Violets, but will spread slowly by seed if it has ideal growing conditions (Moist soil and part shade). The caterpillars of several Fritillary butterflies and moths feed on the foliage of Violet. Sounds like a winner to at least try in a wetter spot of my yard!
Finding plants that naturally associate with each other is one way to build a plant palette for a natural style landscape. There are other ways. One way is to identify a specific natural area type you would like to take inspiration from.
To see how to do this, you can see my posts on Land Cover Viewer for identifying natural areas and Plants for your Nature Inspired Garden: How to Find.