New Jersey is one of the smallest states but also one of the most geographically diverse. Conservationists working to restore New Jersey’s native plant life along “greenways” have a rich and varied native plant life to utilize in the effort. Northern highlands, ridge and Piedmont areas sit in USDA hardiness zone 6b, and the agriculturally productive coastal plain enjoys the long growing season of zone 7a.
Northwest New Jersey includes the ridges, valleys and highlands of ancient mountains where the watersheds of the Delaware, Lower Hudson, Raritan and Passaic rivers meet and dozens of lakes dot the uplands. Sugar maples, ash, oak and pine trees thrive at the highest elevations. River, yellow and black birch populate “riparian buffers” between forests and waterways. The Native Plant Society of New Jersey lists native plants by county. Upland county lists include Allegheny vine, purple false foxglove, meadow garlic, serviceberries, purplestem angelica, jack-in-the-pulpit, spreading dogbane, wild sarsaparilla, Canadian wild ginger, spleenworts, yellow marsh marigold, scarlet Indian paintbrush, blue cohosh, New Jersey tea, American bittersweet and wild basil. Ferns include common lady fern, grape ferns and sweet fern. Upland bentgrass, big bluestem, foxtail sedge, water sedge, Bebb’s sedge and crested sedge are native to upland areas.
The Piedmont stretches across the middle of the state in the watershed areas of the Passaic, Raritan and Millstone rivers. The Rutgers University Extension lists birch, ash and oak as the most numerous tree species; ironwood, dogwoods and smooth alder grow in the understory. Chokeberries, Northern bayberry and swamp azalea grow well, too. The Native Plant Society of New Jersey adds Atlantic white cedar to prominent trees. Herbs and forbs include jack-in-the-pulpit, Canadian wild ginger, assorted milkweeds, devil’s beggartick, American searocket, cuckoo flower, St. Johnswort, hollies and wetland plants such as Canadian waterweed, marsh bellflower, cardinal flower, American white water lily and swamp doghobble. Some ferns are Northern maidenhair fern, Carolina mosquito fern, rattlesnake fern and various wood ferns. Coastal sedge, northern long sedge, salt grass and New Jersey rush are listed among grasses and sedges.
The Southern portion of New Jersey enjoys a milder climate due to the warm Atlantic. Rivers crisscross the area, emptying into the Atlantic, Delaware Bay and the Delaware River. The large area in the center of the coastal plain, called the Pine Barrens, has sandy, acidic soil--the perfect ground for pines. The Rutgers extension lists pitch, loblolly, Virginia (also called Jersey pine), shortleaf and pond varieties in the Pine Barrens. Atlantic white and red cedars grow across the coastal plain. White pines grow along the western border of the state. Oaks make up the second largest group of trees; scarlet, willow, chestnut, red and black oaks grow across the area. Swamp white oak and Southern red oak grow in the west. Georgian Court University has documented a list of native flora for the area. Pink lady-slipper orchids, swamp magnolia, Indian pipe, white water lily, pitcher plant, star flower, pinesap and three species of sundew fill bogs and woodland floors. Bracken fern and curly-grass ferns grow here. American cranberry, sassafras and highbush blueberry shrubs prosper. The Native Plant Society of New Jersey also lists seaside amaranth, American beachgrass, pine barren sand reed and Arctic reed grass and prickly bog sedge as grasses and sedges found in the marshes, bogs and estuaries found along the lengthy coastline.