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  • Writer's pictureZac Gnadinger

15 Native Shrubs of Kentucky


shrubby st johns wort near lake

As a state with a diverse range of ecosystems, Kentucky is home to a variety of native plant species, including numerous shrubs.


In this post, we will introduce you to 15 native shrubs that are commonly found in Kentucky, highlighting their unique characteristics and benefits.


Whether you are a nature lover, gardener, or simply curious about the flora of Kentucky, this post will provide you with valuable insights and inspiration for incorporating native shrubs into your outdoor spaces.


Let's get started and explore the beauty and diversity of Kentucky's native shrubs.


Why are Native Shrubs Important?


Due to their ability to support bird populations, native shrubs play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Various bird species utilize native shrubs for both nesting sites as well as food sources.


In fact, over 1,000 species of caterpillar can be found on native shrubs, which 96% of our bird species require to feed their young.


In addition, several native shrubs produce high-fat content berries during the fall and winter, which are essential for migrating and overwintering birds.


Imported shrubs are unable to fill the same role as our native species due to their inability to host caterpillars and lack of high-fat in their berries.


Native Shrubs of Kentucky


There are multiple species of native shrubs that can be found in Kentucky. In this list, we'll focus on species that can typically be found at local native plant nurseries. Before making a purchase, make sure to check for your region in the included infographics to verify a shrub is native to where you live.


1. New Jersey Tea


new jersey tea

New Jersey Tea is known for its small, white, clustered flowers and its historical use as a caffeine-free substitute for black tea during the American Revolution. It is also an important plant for wildlife, as it provides food and habitat for various pollinators and birds. With its adaptability to different soil types, tolerance for dry areas, and low maintenance requirements, New Jersey Tea makes an excellent choice as a landscaping plant.


new jersey tea info


2. American Hazelnut


american hazelnut

American Hazelnut is a deciduous shrub found throughout all regions of Kentucky. It typically grows to be around 10 to 16 feet tall and wide, and is known for its distinctive, toothed leaves and edible nuts that ripen in the fall. American Hazelnut also provides important food and habitat for a variety of wildlife, including birds and small mammals.


american hazelnut info


3. Carolina Rose


carolina rose

Carolina Rose typically grows to be around 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, and is known for its delicate pink flowers that bloom in the spring and summer, followed by bright red hips that persist throughout the fall and winter. These red hips provide important late season food for birds and small mammals. It also makes a great native replacement for imported rose varieties.


carolina rose info


4. Ninebark


ninebark

Ninebark is a deciduous shrub native to the central and eastern regions of Kentucky. It is known for its attractive white or pink flowers, reddish-brown seed pods, and unique peeling bark, which adds an interesting texture to the landscape year-round. It typically grows to be around 5-8 feet tall and wide.


ninebark info


5. Witch Hazel


witch hazel

Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub or small tree known for its distinctive, fragrant, yellow flowers that bloom in late fall and winter. It typically grows to be around 15 to 20 feet tall and wide, and is prized for its medicinal properties, as well as its ornamental value. As one of the latest blooming shrubs of Kentucky, it can be a focal point in the background of a winter garden.


witch hazel info


6. Buttonbush


buttonbush

Buttonbush is an incredibly versatile and attractive deciduous shrub that is sure to enhance any outdoor space. It is prized for its unique, spherical flower clusters that attract a wide range of pollinators, as well as its glossy green foliage that provides a stunning backdrop for the flowers. Additionally, buttonbush is an excellent choice for erosion control and wetland restoration, making it a valuable addition to any landscape project.


buttonbush info


7. Winterberry Holly


winterberry holly

Winterberry Holly is an excellent choice for adding a splash of color and interest to your landscape during the winter months. This deciduous shrub is known for its bright red berries that persist on its bare branches throughout the winter, providing an important food source for birds and other wildlife. With its attractive foliage, striking berries, and versatility in various landscape designs, winterberry holly is a great addition for any garden or natural area.


winterberry holly info


8. Wild Hydrangea


wild hydrangea

Wild hydrangea is a beautiful, hardy deciduous shrub that will add a touch of elegance to any yard. It is known for its large, showy white flower clusters that bloom in the summer, and its attractive, serrated green foliage that turns a beautiful yellow in the fall. Its flowers appear on new growth, so most people trim it to the ground every spring, before it starts that year's growth.


wild hydrangea info


9. Shrubby St. John's-Wort


shrubby st johns wort

Shrubby St. John's-Wort is a versatile and attractive deciduous shrub that is sure to make a statement in any outdoor space. It is known for its bright yellow flowers that bloom in the summer, followed by reddish-brown seed pods that persist on the branches throughout the fall and winter. With its hardiness, adaptability to different soil types, and tolerance for both sun and shade, Shrubby St. John's-Wort is a valuable addition to any garden or landscape.


shrubby st johns wort info


10. Arrowwood Viburnum


arrowwood viburnum

Arrowwood Viburnum is a versatile and attractive deciduous shrub that will enhance any garden. It is prized for its glossy green foliage, striking white flower clusters that bloom in the spring, and blue-black berries that attract a variety of birds and wildlife. It's native to all regions of Kentucky, making it a great addition to any landscape project.


arrowwood viburnum info


11. Carolina Buckthorn


carolina buckthorn

Carolina buckthorn is an excellent choice for adding both beauty and functionality to your yard. This deciduous shrub is known for its attractive green foliage, as well as its berries that attracts a variety of birds and wildlife. Its tolerant of both sun and shade, adaptable to different soil types, and unlike some buckthorns, does not have any thorns on its branches.


carolina buckthorn info


12. Pussy Willow


pussy willow

Pussy willow is a charming deciduous shrub that is perfect for adding a touch of whimsy to a spring garden. It is known for its distinctive, fuzzy gray catkins that bloom in the early spring, providing one of the first sources of pollen and nectar for pollinators. This species has been extirpated (no longer exists in the wild) from Kentucky, but was once native to the Bluegrass region at its southernmost range. By using it in our landscaping, it may one day spread back into the wild.


pussy willow info


13. Steeplebush


steeplebush

Steeplebush is a beautiful and hardy deciduous shrub that's perfect for adding a splash of color and texture. It is known for its attractive pink flower clusters that bloom in the summer, and its soft, fuzzy green foliage that provides a stunning backdrop for the flowers. With its stunning appearance and relatively small size, Steeplebush is an excellent choice for any garden or landscape.


steeplebush info


14. Roughleaf Dogwood


roughleaf dogwood

Roughleaf Dogwood is a stunning and hardy deciduous shrub that is perfect for enhancing the natural beauty of any outdoor space. It is known for its attractive small white blooms in the spring, followed by berries that mature in the summer and persist into fall. The flowers provide nectar for pollinators and the berries are highly sought after by birds.


roughleaf dogwood info


15. Spicebush


spicebush

Spicebush is a versatile and attractive deciduous shrub native to all regions of Kentucky. It is known for its fragrant, yellow flowers that bloom in the early spring, followed by attractive red fruit that is beloved by birds and wildlife. This low-maintenance shrub is also a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly, making it a valuable addition to any butterfly garden.


spicebush info


Conclusion


Kentucky native shrubs offer a wide range of benefits to both local ecosystems and landscaping projects.


From providing essential food and shelter to wildlife, to enhancing the aesthetic appeal of gardens and landscapes, these shrubs are a valuable and versatile addition to any outdoor space.


So, whether you are looking to enhance your garden or contribute to the health of local ecosystems, consider planting one or more of these beautiful and beneficial native shrubs of Kentucky.


Thank you for reading and we hope this post has inspired you to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of our state's flora.

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