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5 Virginia Native Plants with Gorgeous Fall Colors

Staghorn sumac. Photo by Tom Potterfield,

Viburnum nudum. Photo by Flickr user mwms1916,

Blueberry bushes in fall. Photo by Katy Silberger,

Sourwood tree. Photo by Steve Kiser,
When we think of fall foliage, there are two plants that always come to mind: The burning bush (Eyonymous alatus compactus) and Bradford pear. Unfortunately, these once-venerated plants, although beautiful, are now becoming a problem in our native woodlands. They both have a bad tendency to naturalize, taking over large territories and choking out native species. There are a few native plants, however, that can put on just as good of a show and support a sustainable landscape at the same time. 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) typically grows as a shrub or small tree - multi-stemmed, forming a cluster. It has a very coarse stem, and it is best used toward the back of a perennial border - ideally with a number of shorter plants in front of it.

But no matter how you plant it, Staghorn sumac is always sure to please in the fall with its deep reds and burnt oranges. And when the bright foliage is gone, it produces striking fruit stalks that can be enjoyed through the winter.

Several native species of viburnum are also fantastic choices for fall foliage lovers. One I'll mention here is the possum haw viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur'). It has great fall color and, as a bonus, produces fabulous white flowers in the summer.

Plus, both species have beautiful berries that will persist - especially the double file viburnum - into the early winter. Either species will be suited perfectly for use in hedges or as an anchor plant in your borders.

Blueberry, native in Virginia as Vaccineum angustifolium or lowbush blueberry, is beginning to get some of the credit and recognition it deserves as an ornamental plant, rather than a simple agricultural crop. Blueberry bushes have gorgeous flowers that maintain a dense, uniform, and compact shape, they take to shearing and pruning quite well, and, last but not least, they have outstanding fall color. Even just a few blueberry bushes will add a beautiful display of rosy crimson to your home landscape.

As a side note, there are a number of improved varieties, such as Brunswick, that fit into the Virginian climate and landscape just as well as our native species.

Let's talk about a few native trees. The black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica.) is a native species with excellent fall color, and it has historically been underused in the landscape. They have a very uniform shape and can grow as large as a maple or oak. They do have a habit of producing a small fruit that can be a little messy, so it's best to plant them away from patios or other trafficked areas. The upside is that the fruit is adored by birds.

The sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) is another small native that produces brilliant fall colors. Aside from its beauty in autumn, the sourwood is also famous for the monofloral honey made using its blossoms.

While the trees typically have an irregular form, their fall color is outstanding. They are a great small tree for backyard planting and can be used in much the same manner as a flowering dogwood.

Take some time to plant these species in your home landscape and you’ll have beautiful fall foliage from native species for years to come!
This entry was posted in Native Plants and tagged in andrew cutright, greensward, staghorn sumac, sourwood tree, fall is for planting, virginia native plants, lowbush blueberry, possum haw viburnum, black gum tree.

Andrew Cutright is a landscape architect and sustainable landscaping specialist. His business, Greensward LLC, serves clients throughout Northern Virginia, building and maintaining a variety of exterior architectural home features. Andrew holds two degrees from Virginia Tech: a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and Master of Science in Landscape Architecture. 

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