UGA Extension Office

Native Plant Garden


What are Native Plants and Why They Matter

What is a Native Plant?

There are many definitions for native plants. Several references say native plants are those that grow naturally in a particular region without direct or indirect human intervention. Other references place a historical timeline on native plants, saying they are plants that were present in a particular area prior to European settlement of that area. Others say they are plants that have inhabited a particular region for thousands of years. Even the federal government published an "official" definition in the Federal Register, defining native plants as those that are "naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States."

Before the development of the nursery industry, native plants were the only choice for landscape plantings. Early settlers transplanted dogwood, redbud, oak-leaf hydrangea and other plants with appealing qualities from the woods into their landscapes. Today, nurseries and garden centers offer a wide variety of native plants, and some even specialize in native plants exclusively.

Why Native Plants Matter?

There are many benefits to conserving and planting native plant species.  Below we list a few.

Low maintenance:
A certain degree of maintenance is needed to grow landscape plants,  However, when considering non-native/introduced ornamental plants from outside of Georgia, native plants require less routine maintenance (pruning, fertilization, etc.). 

Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn. 

Healthy Places for People:
Lawns and the heavily managed landscapes often need increased rates of fertilizers and pesticides then their native counterparts.  require profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are not only helping the ecosystem, but you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community. 

Conserving Water:
Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water.

In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefit as well. A colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the iconic monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species to complete their lifecycles.  Without these native plants, many other insect populations would suffer which would impact those animals dependent on them for their food sources.  Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They also provide protective shelter and food sources for our native mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.  So, as you can see, maintaining a balanced ecosystem is perhaps the most compelling argument to add native plants to the landscape.

Selecting the Right Native Plant for Your Space

1.   Audubon Website:  Enter your 5-digit zip code to use Audubon’s native plants database.  Explore the best plants for birds in your area and to find local resources with links to more information. By entering your email address, you'll receive an emailed list of the native plants you've selected, get additional tips on creating your bird-friendly habitat, and help us keep track of your contributions to our efforts to get 1 million native plants for birds in the ground.

2.   Plant Native Website:  A "starter" list of native plants for Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. It is intended for residential or commercial landscapers who want to create attractive and varied native landscapes.

3.   Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Website: Welcome to the Native Plants Database where you can explore the wealth of native plants in North America. Use the options below to search over 13,000 native plants by scientific name, common name, or plants family.

Demonstration Gardens/Arboretums in Bibb County

1.   Connect to Protect Garden at Rose Hill Cemetery:  Connect to Protect is a UGA program that combines beautiful public displays of native plants with educational materials to foster an understanding of the role that native plants play in maintaining biodiversity in urban and suburban landscapes of Georgia.  The garden is located at 10071 Riverside Drive, Macon 31201, at the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery

2.   Waddell Barnes Botanical Gardens at Middle Georgia State University:  The garden is located at 100 University Parkway, Macon 31206

3.   Wesleyan College Arboretum:  The arboretum comprises 104 acres of mixed pine and hardwood forest and lies within the boundaries of Wesleyan's suburban Rivoli campus.  The arboretum is located at 4760 Forsyth Road, Macon 31210

4.   Native Plant Garden at the Museum of Arts and Sciences: The native plant garden, a project of local Master Gardener Extension Volunteers, started in the 1990’s as a trial garden on the campus of Wesleyan College.  When campus expansion was imminent, the group worked collaboratively with the Museum to move the garden to the top of the Sweet Gum trail.  The garden is located at 4182 Forsyth Road, Macon 31210

Native Plant Nurseries

State Botanical Garden of Georgia Website:  Provides a list of businesses that source native plants, native plant sales held by museums/societies and recommendations for Georgia seeds and Prairie resources,

Native Plant Resources

1.   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.

2.   Native Ferns, Moss & Grasses

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

3.   Native Trees, Shrubs & Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

4.   New England Wildflower Society Guide: Growing & Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

5.   Georgia Native Plant Society:

6.   Audubon:

7.   University of Georgia Extension:

9.   Doug Tallamy Website: