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15 Native Shrubs of Kentucky

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


Shrubby St. John's Wort near lake

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


This post will introduce you to 15 native shrubs 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 valuable insights and inspiration for incorporating native shrubs into your outdoor spaces.


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


Native Shrubs of Kentucky


Multiple species of shrubs are native to Kentucky. This list will focus on species typically found at local native plant nurseries. Before purchasing, check for your region in the included infographics to verify a shrub is native to where you live.


For even more information on Kentucky native shrubs, we highly recommend the book "Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky." It's an invaluable source of information. (#Promotion)




1. New Jersey Tea


New Jersey Tea

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) 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 essential plant for wildlife, providing 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 plant info


2. American Hazelnut


American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a deciduous shrub found throughout all regions of Kentucky. It typically grows 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 essential food and habitat for wildlife, including birds and small mammals.


American Hazelnut plant info


3. Carolina Rose


Carolina Rose

Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina) typically grows around 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. It's 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 crucial late-season food for birds and small mammals. It also makes an excellent native replacement for imported rose varieties.


Carolina Rose plant info


4. Ninebark


Ninebark

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a deciduous shrub native to Kentucky's central and eastern regions. It's 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 to 8 feet tall and wide.


Ninebark plant info


5. Witch Hazel


Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) 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. Witch Hazel 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 plant info


6. Buttonbush


Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is an incredibly versatile and attractive deciduous shrub that will enhance any outdoor space. It has unique, spherical flower clusters that attract many pollinators. Its glossy green foliage provides a stunning backdrop for its flowers. Additionally, Buttonbush is an excellent choice for erosion control and wetland restoration, making it a valuable addition to any landscape project.


Buttonbush plant info


7. Winterberry Holly


Winterberry Holly

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) is an excellent choice for adding a splash of color and interest to your landscape during winter. 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 an excellent addition to any garden or natural area.


Winterberry Holly plant info


8. Wild Hydrangea


Wild Hydrangea

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


Wild Hydrangea plant info


9. Shrubby St. John's-Wort


Shrubby St. John's Wort

Shrubby St. John's-Wort (Hypericum prolificum) is a versatile and attractive deciduous shrub that will 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 sun and shade, Shrubby St. John's-Wort is a valuable addition to any garden or landscape.


Shrubby St. John's Wort plant info


10. Arrowwood Viburnum


Arrowwood Viburnum

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) 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 various birds and wildlife. In addition, it's native to all regions of Kentucky, making it a great addition to any landscape project.


Arrowwood Viburnum plant info


11. Carolina Buckthorn


Carolina Buckthorn

Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana) is an excellent choice for adding beauty and functionality to your yard. This deciduous shrub is known for its attractive green foliage and berries that attract a variety of birds and wildlife. In addition, it's tolerant of both sun and shade and adaptable to different soil types. Finally, unlike some buckthorns, it has no thorns on its branches.


Carolina Buckthorn plant info


12. Pussy Willow


Pussy Willow

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) is a charming deciduous shrub 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 pollen sources 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. Using it in our landscaping may eventually spread it back into the wild.


Pussy Willow plant info


13. Steeplebush


Steeplebush

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is a beautiful and hardy deciduous shrub that's perfect for adding a splash of color and texture. It's 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 plant info


14. Roughleaf Dogwood


Roughleaf Dogwood

Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) is a stunning and hardy deciduous shrub perfect for enhancing any outdoor space's natural beauty. It's known for attractive white blooms in the spring, providing nectar for pollinators, and berries that mature in the summer and persist into fall, which are highly sought after by birds.


Roughleaf Dogwood plant info


15. Spicebush


Spicebush

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) 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 lovely red fruit that birds and wildlife love. This low-maintenance shrub is also a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly, making it a valuable addition to any butterfly garden.


Spicebush plant info


Conclusion


Kentucky native shrubs offer many benefits to 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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