Indiana’s diverse ecology provides the ideal environment for a wide variety of native plants. The sand dunes in the north, the prairies in the west, woodlands in the south and wetlands scattered throughout the state contain different plant species suited to each distinct ecosystem. Mimicking the environments of the state with plants in the home landscape creates food and habitats for animals and birds, limits the need for watering and preserves Indiana’s natural history.
The prairies of Indiana contain many well-known wildflowers. Purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan varieties, butterfly weed and goldenrod all grow naturally in Indiana. Native prairie grasses include Indian grass and switchgrass. The prairie plants perform best in full sun, and they require little maintenance. Many are perennials, coming back every year, but the annuals often self-seed and provide years of enjoyment.
Indiana has vast areas of eastern woodlands. In the heart of the hills and dense woods, shade-loving plants thrive. Wild ginger, columbine, wild geranium, Virginia bluebell and May apple grace the woodlands of Indiana with their foliage and flowers. Also found in the woods are ferns, such as maidenhair and Christmas fern. Along the edges of the woods in the partial shade, bergamot, joe-pye weed, wild sweet William and spiderwort grow in abundance. Many of the native shrubs grow here as well, including elderberry, chokeberry, dogwood and witch hazel.
The wetlands found in many parts of the state, host large populations of waterfowl. Plants grow along the sunny borders of the water. Cardinal flower, dwarf crested iris, swamp rose mallow and marsh milkweed provide color and height to the wetland landscape. The wetland plants make beneficial additions to the landscape as downspout gardens and around water features.
The sand dunes in Indiana, located along Lake Michigan and part of the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, contain more than 1,100 flowering plant and fern species. Many of the plants overlap into other regions—especially the prairies and wetlands. Indian paintbrush, Pitcher’s thistle, evening primrose and Jack-in-the-pulpit flourish in the dunes. Because 30 percent of Indiana’s threatened, rare and endangered plant species grow naturally in the dunes, cultivating these plants plays an important role in conservation.