A wide variety of plants flourish in the Erb Family Science Garden – most of them are native to Michigan.

What plants are considered native?

Plants that were here before Europeans settled in Michigan in the 1700’s are considered native. Native plants evolved here for thousands of years creating complex ecological relationships with other plants, animals, and ecosystems.

Plants that arrived after European settlement are considered “naturalized.” If a naturalized non-native plant grows aggressively, it is considered invasive and can have devastating effects on native plant and animal populations.

FACT: About 30% of Michigan’s 2600 plant species are exotic species introduced in the last 100 years.

Native Plants in the Garden

Before Michigan was settled, our landscape was made up of a mosaic of natural communities, forests, wetlands and pockets of prairie. Much of these ecosystems have long since been drained, farmed, logged and developed with pavement or turf grass.

While the large-scale ecological restoration of these populated areas is not feasible, home gardeners can beautify their yards and help wildlife by establishing native plants at their home – creating “mini” nature sanctuaries. These native gardens create biodiversity in the backyard – helping pollinators and wildlife, reducing pollution, and improving water quality.

To investigate which ecosystem may be appropriate to model in your yard, visit the Michigan Natural Features Inventory’s natural communities page.

Maps of the pre-settlement vegetation of Michigan are also available; these maps show the type of ecosystems that were in your area during the time of European settlement.

You can include Michigan native plants as individual specimens in your garden; planting native plants does not require full-scale restoration work. A beautiful flower, interesting texture, or spectacular fall color will enliven your garden.

Whether you tuck an individual native plant in the garden or create a woodland, meadow, savanna, prairie or wetland in your home landscape. Your first step is to study the conditions in your yard: soil type, sunlight, moisture, climate and topography – to make the right plant choices.

The Erb Family Science Garden brochure provides many details on the size, growing conditions and characteristics of the native plants to aid in your research. By using the guide you can view the individual specimens.

Click here for our resources page.

Native Plants afford many benefits to the home gardener:

  • Offer beautiful plant choices that have cultural, edible and medicinal values.
  • Provide wildlife habitat and sustain Michigan ecosystems by offering food, cover and space for pollinators, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
  • Require minimal maintenance once established – they are adapted to Michigan’s climate and soil, and do not require fertilizers or pesticides to thrive.
  • Create a sense of place unique to Michigan – when you plant natives you preserve biodiversity and sustain the natural heritage of the Great Lakes region in your own backyard!
  • Have incredible, deep root systems that aid rainwater infiltration and minimize erosion, which helps prevent polluted storm water runoff from entering nearby rivers and streams.

Latest Plant Lists & Zones

Zone 1: Dry Upland

  • American Cranberry Viburnum ‘Baileyi’
  • Arrowwood Viburnum
  • Bearberry
  • Bristleleaf Sedge
  • Compass Plant
  • Indian Blue Grass
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Sweet Fern

Zone 2: Shrub Edge

  • American Cranberry Viburnum ‘Wentworth’
  • Black Chokeberry
  • Black Gum Tree
  • Creeping Juniper
  • Red Chokeberry

Zone 3: Meadow

  • Blazing Star
  • Joe-pye Weed
  • New England Aster
  • Prairie Rose

Zone 4: Shrub Edge

  • Allegheny Serviceberry
  • Blackhaw Viburnum
  • Shrubby Cinquefoil

Zone 5: Woodland

  • Bellwort
  • Bloodroot
  • Bulblet Fern
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Foamflower
  • Great White Trillium
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Paw Paw Tree
  • Sharp-lobed Hepatica
  • Royal Fern
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • Spicebush
  • Tall Meadowrue
  • Tulip Tree
  • Thimbleberry

Zone 6: Northern Woodland

  • American Larch
  • Blue Lobelia
  • Canadian Hemlock
  • Coralberry
  • Christmas Fern
  • Cinnamon Fern
  • Mayapple
  • White Baneberry

Zone 7: Shrub Edge

  • American Filbert
  • Bladdernut
  • Early Meadowrue
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Gray Dogwood
  • Interrupted Fern
  • Michigan Holly
  • Ostrich Fern
  • Redbud
  • Sensitive Fern
  • Shrubby St. John’s Wort
  • Wild Geranium

Zone 8: Woodland

  • Barren Strawberry
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  • Red-osier Dogwood
  • Wild Ginger

A comprehensive manual to the garden was developed by the Cranbrook Upper School Winter 2011 Botany class. Click here to download the manual.