Native Plants: Recommended Books & Websites

What are native plants? and Why do we care about planting more of them?

This page includes some essential resources and many native plant reference guides. There are many more great books about working with native plants in the Gardening & Ecology section.

The Must Read Book: Do It!

  • Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens
    Douglas W. Tallamy. Timber Press, 2007.
    This book is a must-read for anyone interested in gardening, the importance of biodiversity, or the future of life on this planet. It also includes detailed data about native plants that serve as hosts to many different species of butterflies and showy moths.

Great Reference Books

  • Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation
    Donald J. Leopold. Timber Press, 2005.
    This focuses on native plants for the northeastern United States and covers the gamut— trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, grasses, and ferns— all in one volume. Leopold's introduction is eloquent as it puts native plant gardening in context. If you can only afford only one book on natives as a reference, this is a great choice.
  • The groundbreaking trio of books from Bill Cullina on the native plants of North America:
    These books are detailed and beautiful, with good color photographs to help familiarize us with each genus. Bill Cullina is a true authority on native plants, and he writes with clarity and character. Now out of print, they can still be purchased at a price... or hopefully found at your local library.
    • Native Ferns, Moss & Grasses
      William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.
    • Native Trees, Shrubs & Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants
      William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
    • New England Wildflower Society Guide: Growing & Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
  • Native Trees for North American Landscapes
    Guy Sternberg with Jim Wilson. Timber Press, 2004.
    A detailed treatise on more than 100 tree species native to the United States east of the Continental Divide, with a short chapter on each. It is especially helpful in its discussion of each species' characteristics and ecological niche.
  • Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History
    Carol Gracie. Princeton University Press, 2012.
    This book covers thirty northeastern wildflower species, with a detailed chapter and extensive photos of each. It is a great resource for understanding these species— along with their pollinators, reproductive habits, and ecosystem relationships.

More Valuable Books Worthy of Attention

  • American Plants for American Gardens
    Edith A. Roberts and Elsa Rehmann. Foreard by Darrel Morrison. University of Georgia Press, 1996.
    This wonderful book discusses plant communities, such as "The Juniper Hillside," "The Oak Woods," "The Stream-side" and many more. First published serially in 1929 in "House Beautiful" magazine,this historical treasure reminds us that native plants were once mainstream in American life. Morrison's introduction paints a rich and valuable context.
  • Mighty Giants: An American Chestnut Anthology
    Edited by Chris Bolgiano and Glenn Novak. The American Chestnut Foundation, 2007.
    Everything you could possibly want to know about this species, including current efforts to nurture its return.
  • Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants
    C. Collston Burrell. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2011.
    Although the native alternatives listed are national in scope, many of them are eastern U.S. species— making this book useful for thinking about natives to replace some invasive species. Out of print but can be had for a price.
  • Wild Orchids Across North America: A Botanical Travelogue
    Philip E. Keenan. Timber Press, 1998; Paperback issued 2005 .
    A great book for learning about the approximately 145 species of North American orchids that inhabit temperate zones. Many of these are indigenous to New England and the eastern United States, making this a relevant resource for our region.

Botanical Detail: For the Fully Committed

  • The Vascular Plants of Massachusetts: A County Checklist (First Revision)
    Melissa Dow Cullina, Bryan Connolly, Bruce Sorrie and Paul Somers. Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, 2011.
    This is just what the title says— a listing of all the native and naturalized plants growing in Massachusetts, with a county by county check list showing where they are found and whether they are native or introduced. If you want to choose plants native to your exact location or are doing ecological restoration, this is an essential resource.

Native Plant Databases

  • Go Botany: New England Wild Flower Society Database
    Includes more than 3,000 native and naturalized plants of New England, so this site helpful for identifying most of the species you might encounter in Massachusetts, whether native or not. The Simple Key helps non-botanists ID about 1,200 of the species in a very accessible way. The Full Key includes all species in the database and uses a traditional botanical dichotomous key and detailed botanical references.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Native Plants Database
    Explore the wealth of more than 8.000 native plant species found across North America. Search by scientific or common name or choose a family of plants to explore. The combination search allows you to put in a variety of plant characteristics to help ID any particular species. Good database for getting lots of information on plants native to the United States.
  • Martha's Vineyard Plant Selection Guide
    Developed by the Polly Hill Arboretum, this regionally specific guide is useful for choosing native plants appropriate to conditions on Martha's Vineyard and associated regions in southeastern Massachusetts. It includes trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, and perennials. The large number of selection criteria make it especially helpful.