Plant This Not That Reference Guide

Plant This, Not That:  

Native Alternatives to Common Landscaping Plants

Presented by Valerie Malaney

We Are Losing the Little Things that Run our World!

How big is the problem?

  • Up to 90% of the Eastern Monarch butterfly population is in decline
  • 40% of our pollinators, including the bees, are in decline
  • 3 billion birds have disappeared in the last 30 years
  • 1 Million Species extinct in the next few decades
  • Deemed the 6th Mass Extinction on the Planet

The Reason We Are Losing Biodiversity

  • Habitat Loss 
      • Over 40 million acres lawn
      • 38% Planet Land- Agriculture
  • Plant Choice
  • Pesticides
    • Neonicotinoids kills butterflies, bees and birds
    • Mosquito spray kills +++
  • Herbicides
    • Like Round-up
  • Light Pollution
  • Invasive Species
  • New Diseases
  • Climate Change Challenges


Traditional Horticulture – Shift to Ecological Horticulture

Tidy, Trendy, Showy Biodiversity, Habitat, Life Sustaining


Let’s Plant!


Native: co-evolved with the local flora and fauna, thus serving ecological services

Non-native: not historically present, brought through human intervention (Another continent, climate, physical separation)

Invasive: introduce via humans and causing harm to natural areas

Aggressive: Native but strong ability to spread rapidly via rhizomes or seed dispersal

Cultivar: Horticultural practice of breeding or cloning for specific traits, patentable  Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’


EcoRegions, not Hardiness Zones

Eastern Temperate Forest     Interlobate Dead Ice Moraine

EPA EcoRegion Maps        EPA EcoRegion Map            

Black Oak Barren  Oakland County Circa 1800

MNFI Communities        MNFI Map

The main plant communities in Macomb Counties are (with links to info about the community)

Additional Examples:

Burning Bush – Euonymus alatus – Invasive

Native:  Euonymus obovatus or atropurpureus, Winterberry/Ilex sp, Red Twig Dogwood/Silky Dogwood/Swida (Cornus sp), Fragrant Sumac/Rhus aromatica, Viburnum sp (Maple leaf, Nannyberry, etc), Chokeberry / Aronia sp, Chokecherry – Prunus

Japanese Barberry – Berberis – Invasive  Barberry Alternatives (

Native: Blueberry/Vaccinium, New Jersey Tea – Ceanothus, Leadplant/Amorpha, Bush Honeysuckle/Diervilla lonicera, Ninebark/Physocarpus

Butterfly Bush – Buddleja – Invasive (no caterpillars)

Native: Ironweed/Vernonia, JoePye/Eutrochium, Buttonbush/Cephalanthus, Milkweed/Asclepias (12 species in MI), Phlox sp (5 species NE)

Native Alternatives to Autumn Olive 

Mistaken Monday:

Go Beyond Beauty Campaign

Landscape Alternatives 2023.pdf (

Invasive/Non-Native                                    Native Alternative

Purple Loosestrife                                           Fireweed

Orange Daylily                                                 Michigan Lily

Yellow Flag Iris                                                 Native Blue Flag Iris/s

Wintercreeper                                                   Partridge berry

Dame’s Rocket                                                 Woodland Phlox

Common St. John’s wort                               Shrubby St John’s wort

Norway Maple                                                   Sugar Maple

Callery Pear                                                        Allegheny Serviceberry

Callery Pear                                                         Chokecherry/Black Cherry

Tree-of-Heaven                                                  Staghorn Sumac

Common Buckthorn                                         Black Chokeberry

Multiflora Rose                                                  Carolina Rose

Invasive Groundcovers to avoid:

Lily of the Valley, Snow on the Mountain, Creeping Jenny, Sweetwoodruff, Forget-me-not, English Ivy, Periwinkle

Native Groundcovers to use instead:

Wild Ginger, Bearberry, Wild Geranium, Fragrant Sumac (low grow cultivar), Wild Strawberry, Canada anemone, Sedges \

Vertical Flower Power!

Native Trees and Shrubs

70’ Black Cherry Tree = 3500 Sqft  flowers

  • American Basswood
  • Elderberry
  • Maples*
  • Willows*
  • Redbud*
  • Tulip Poplar
  • Black/Chokecherry
  • Crabapple
  • Dogwood
  • Catalpa
  • Spicebush*
  • Viburnums

* Flower precedes leaves


Keystone Plants

“Essential members of every landscape.”

Doug Tallamy

University of Delaware

Keystone plants host the most caterpillars.

  • Plants have chemical defenses
  • Plants and insects evolved together
  • Butterfly caterpillars are plant specific
  • Not all plants are equal 

So, if you want more butterflies, give their babies food…

Native Host Plants!


Michigan  Lepidoptera

100+ Butterflies

50+ Skippers

1000+ Moths

Many Different Host Plants!

Caterpillars convert the most plant biomass to animal biomass

Aphids are also important food web insects and are host plant specific!  They are one of the best ways to bring in beneficial insects

Use the 10 Step method!  If you are bothered by holes or insects on plants, take 10 steps back.  If you are no longer bothered, leave it alone.

465 Michigan Native Bee Species 

50% in severe decline

1 in 4 are Imperiled 

(Center for Biological Diversity)

30% are Pollen Specialists

90% are Solitary

70% Ground nest

30% Cavity nest


Pithy Standing Stems more important than “Bee Hotels

Partial List of Plants that Provide the Natural Bee Homes

  • Goldenrods  (Solidago sp.)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea sp.)
  • Milkweed (Asclepias sp.)
  • Blazing Star (Liatris sp)
  • Rose Mallow (Hibiscus sp)
  • Wild Bergamot (Monarda sp)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium sp)
  • Sumacs (Rhus sp)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus sp)
  • Cup Plant (Silphium sp)
  • Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum sp)
  • Boneset (Eupatorium sp)
  • Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia sp)
  • Native Raspberry (Rubus sp)
  • Bunching Grasses…

Plant Recommendations for Soil Sun Conditions


  • DOUG TALLAMY PhD (Founder of the backyard native plant movement)
  • “Nature’s Best Hope” Book
  • “The Nature of Oaks” Book
  • YouTube Channel
  • Put your garden on the map
  • NWF – Native Plant Finder – Zip code
  • Raising Butterflies in the Garden
  • Brenda Dziedzic (Michigan)