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18 large leaf plants native to North America

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One of the joys of a garden is the variety of plant shapes and sizes. Large leaf plants can boldly anchor any garden, or they can quietly and gracefully fill large spaces. Keep in mind that these plants can also crowd out other species – both flowers and weeds – so care must be taken when incorporating them into your garden design.

Most large leaf plants available to North American gardeners are non-native – meaning they are not good for local pollinators and other native species. Below are 18 North American natives that can help maintain native species but still make bold statements in your garden.

American skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)

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American skunk cabbage (or western skunk cabbage) has a much milder odor than Symlocarpus fetidus, also a North American native. American skunk cabbage can be found in marshes and bogs from coastal Alaska to northern California and east into the Rockies. It produces graceful, butter-yellow, pulpit-like flowers in mid-spring, attracting pollinators with their musky smell. Its narrow leaves can grow to 3 feet long that, when grown in bunches, can fill a low-lying marshy area.

  • USDA growing zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: wet, boggy, constantly moist soil

Large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)

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As the name suggests, the large-leaved lupine is the largest of North America’s native lupines. A West Coast native, it forms one of the bases for the more common Russell hybrids found in many garden centers. It grows best by streams or in often wet meadows. Clusters of five or more leaves can grow up to 6 inches long and collect dew and rain that birds and insects will drink. Their flowers can vary from purple-blue to white and pink.

  • USDA growing zones: 4 to 8
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: moist, fertile soil

Clintonia (Clintonia spp.)

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Clintonia are long-lived lilies that spread by rhizomes and produce rich, lustrous foliage. When fully grown, they can produce leaves that are 1 foot long and 5 inches wide and can fill a forest area. C. borealis thrives in the northeastern rocky climate, C. umbelluta does well in the forests of the East from New York to Georgia, and C. uniflora is the western cousin of C. borealis.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 9
  • Sun exposure: deep shadow
  • Soil requirements: cool, lime-free soil

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

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Cup plants (or rosin) will naturalize in meadows and prairies. They are large plants that soar to 8 feet with foot-long leaves that catch rainwater and dew for birds and beneficial insects to drink from. Yellow, daisy-like flowers appear in mid-summer, while finches feast on their seeds in autumn. They are native to the Dakotas and south to Oklahoma, but can range as far east as the coast of Georgia.

  • USDA growing zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: sandy, moist soil near streams or in forests

Foam flower (Tiarella spp.)

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Foam flowers are easy-growing spring flowers in the shade. Large-leaved species as T. cordifolia and T. wherryi act as ground cover; their leaves form dense mounds that can stay green through the winter and last for years in the garden. Constantly wet soil will be fatal to them, but they can otherwise tolerate a wide variety of soil types.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 10
  • Sun exposure: part to full shadow
  • Soil requirements: moist, well-draining soil

Fringe cups (Order grandiflora)

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Fringed sepals are hairy and rounded with many lobes. Fringe cup is an evergreen perennial suitable as a ground cover in woodland gardens. This West Coast native will not do well in humid southern climates, but in its natural habitat it will produce subtle but fragrant, creamy, bell-shaped flowers.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 7
  • Sun exposure: part to full shadow
  • Soil requirements: moist, well-draining soil

Wild ginger (Asarum spp.)

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Although not giants, the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger are substantial enough to make a striking ground cover, and the plant is grown more for its leaves than its insignificant flowers.

Wild ginger looks and smells like commercial ginger, Zingiber officinalisbut the two are independent. a. Canadian (zones 3-8) is the most common North American species of wild ginger, but A. shuttleworthii (zones 5-8) produces four-inch-long leaves that are spotted and aromatic. With over 70 species of Asarumnatives can be found throughout North America.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 8
  • Sun exposure: partial or full shade
  • Soil requirements: evenly moist clay or loam soil

Grapes (Vitis spp.)

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Most grapes (V. vinifera) is European in origin, but North America is home to hundreds of native grapes, all with heart-shaped leaves large enough to fill them to make dolmas. V. labrus is the parent of Concord and Catawba grapes, among other varieties. Grapes are prolific climbers that reach 20 feet or more, but they can be trained to grow on a sturdy pergola, fence, or other structure.

  • USDA growing zones: 4 to 9
  • Sun exposure: full sun or partial shade
  • Soil requirements: rich, moist but well-draining soil

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Powdery Thalia (Thalia dealbata)

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Thalia dealbata is an aquatic plant with elliptical blue-green leaves that can grow to 18 inches long. It is best suited to rain gardens, water gardens, or next to bodies of water, submerged in up to 18 inches of boggy soil. Upright stems up to 6 feet tall will produce small, pollinator-friendly purple flowers that turn into round fruits favored by wildlife.

  • USDA growing zones: 6 to 9
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: poorly drained, clay or clay soil

Royal Fern

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The aptly named king fern can grow up to 6 feet tall, with long fronds that make a strong statement in any garden. Royal ferns do well along stream banks, in marshy areas and in rain gardens. An ancient species, Osmunda Ferns are native to Eurasia and the Americas and date back to the Triassic period, giving your garden a “living fossil” look.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 9
  • Sun exposure: penumbra
  • Soil requirements: constantly moist soil

Sunflower (Helianthus annus)

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Sunflowers are grown primarily for their flowers, of course, but before their flowers open are tall stalks of large, heart-shaped leaves that wave in the wind. As the plants get taller, the leaves get bigger. Sunflowers attract bees with their pollen, then birds and small mammals with their seeds.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 8
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: medium, moist, well-draining soil

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

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Twinleaf plants are slow growing and produce inconspicuous white, cup-shaped flowers no more than an inch wide. It is the large leaves of twin leaves that are characteristic: each pair of leaves are mirror images of each other. Twinleaf plants like alkaline soil, so amend it to raise the pH. Twinleaf continues to grow after flowering, reaching heights of up to 18 inches.

  • USDA growing zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun exposure: shade in summer
  • Soil requirements: moist soil with higher pH

Umbrella leaf (Diphylleia cymosa)

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Umbrella leaf grows to 3 feet tall with leaves 2 feet in width. Clusters of white flowers appear above the leaves and give way to red stems that bear distinctive fruits that can be mistaken for blueberries. The plant is native to eastern North America and can be found along shady waterways.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 7
  • Sun exposure: part sun to shade
  • Soil requirements: any type of moist but well-draining soil, any pH

Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata)

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The umbrella plant is grown for its 2-foot-wide foliage, but has the added benefit of producing clusters of attractive pink or white flowers that appear in spring before the leaves do. It can be found in its native habitat in California and Oregon along upland streams and muddy banks.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 through 7
  • Sun exposure: full shade to full sun
  • Soil requirements: constantly moist to wet soil

Velvet Mallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

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The leaves of velvet mallow have been called “lamb’s ears on a bush” for their grey-green, velvety leaves. Velvet mallow is a hibiscus grown mostly for its dinner plate-sized flowers, but its fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves can be 10 inches long and wide. Also known as Swamp Rose Mallow, its native habitats are the fresh or fallow swamps and banks of the southeastern United States. In the right conditions, it can grow 15 feet tall.

  • USDA growing zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun exposure: full sun
  • Soil requirements: tolerates many types of soil, but moist is best

Vandavens (Geum rivale)

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Aquatic habits thrive in marshy areas throughout the northern half of the continent. Its butterfly-friendly red and orange flowers are its most attractive feature, but its faceted, toothed leaves form clumps, making it a useful ground cover in cool, wet areas.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 7
  • Sun exposure: full or partial sun
  • Soil requirements: moist but well-draining soil of all types

Water leaf (Hydrophyllum spp.)

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Eight species of water lilies are native to North America. Maple leaf water leaf (H. Canadian, pictured) is native to the East Coast and has the largest leaves, making an excellent groundcover or forest floor plant in moist shade gardens. Water leaf spreads slowly by rhizomes. Other species are native to the Midwest, Pacific Coast, or Northwest. All produce insignificant flowers that hide under their large leaves.

  • USDA growing zones: 3 to 7
  • Sun exposure: full or partial shade
  • Soil requirements: rich, constantly moist soil

Wood fern (Dryopteris spp.)

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A genus of about 200 species, tree ferns can be found throughout North America, from the coldest zones to the Gulf Coast. The tallest natives grow up to 4 feet tall, with large, semi-evergreen leaves that can turn a striking orange-red in fall. D. ludoviciana and D. marginalis (pictured) is among the most sought after by gardeners.

  • USDA growing zones: 2 to 9
  • Sun exposure: afternoon shade in warmer climates
  • Soil requirements: moist but well-draining soil of any type