Arkansas Native Plants – Shrubs

Know Your Natives – Ozark Mock Orange

Ozark Mock Orange (Philadelphus pubescens) of the Hydrangea (Hydrangeaceae) family, formerly of the Saxifrage (Saxifragaceae) family, is a deciduous shrub with bold, showy, four-petaled white flowers. The genus name is said to honor Ptolemy II Philadelphus, pharaoh of Egypt, 283-246 BC. The specific epithet is Latin for “downy.” The common name “mock orange” refers to the flowers’ similar appearance to those of the true orange (Citrus sinensis). Species distribution in the U.S. is intriguing, with both native and introduced populations: Ozark Mock Orange grows primarily from eastern Oklahoma to Tennessee and sporadically in adjoining states; isolated populations are also to…

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Know Your Natives – Hairy Mock Orange

Hairy Mock Orange (Philadelphus hirsutus) of the Hydrangea (Hydrangeaceae) family, formerly of the Saxifrage (Saxifragaceae) family, is a deciduous shrub with rather large, showy, four-petaled white flowers. The genus name is said to honor Ptolemy II Philadelphus, pharaoh of Egypt (283-246 BC). The specific epithet is Latin for “hairy.” The common name “Mock Orange” refers to the flowers being somewhat similar to those of the true orange (Citrus sinensis). In the U.S., along with a disjunct distribution centered in north-central Arkansas, the species is found principally in an area centered on the Southern Appalachians. In Arkansas, it occurs primarily in…

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Know Your Natives – Winged Sumac

Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum*) of the Cashew (Anacardiaceae) family is a deciduous shrub or small tree that forms clonal colonies from lateral roots. Rhus is the old Greek and Latin name for sumac. The specific epithet, based on an Aztec word, translates as “resinous,” in reference to its sap, or copal, a name given to tree resin. This is a common species throughout much of the U.S., from central Texas, southeastern Nebraska, and central Wisconsin eastward. Alternate common names include Shining Sumac, Dwarf Sumac and Flame-Leaf Sumac. Habitat ranges from full to partial sun on various soils––sandy to rocky, dry…

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Know Your Natives – Carolina Buckthorn

Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana, formerly Rhamnus caroliniana) of the Buckthorn (Rhamnaceae) family is an elegant, thornless (!), deciduous shrub or small tree, with simple shining leaves and red to black berry-like fruits. (The tiny, whitish flowers are easily overlooked.) The genus name originates from the word “frangible” meaning “easily broken.” The specific epithet recognizes that the species was first described from specimens collected in the Carolinas. It occurs primarily from central Texas to central Missouri, east to Virginia and central Florida. In Arkansas, plants are found statewide except for portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Habitats vary, with soils acid…

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Know Your Natives – Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica var. aromatica) of the Sumac (Anacardiaceae) family is a dioecious, low-growing, non-suckering, non-poisonous shrub with tiny yellow flowers that emerge before the leaves. The genus name Rhus is the old Greek and Latin name for sumac. The specific epithet is Latin for “aromatic” or “fragrant,” describing the strong and pleasant scent of the crushed leaves. In the U.S., Fragrant Sumac, at the broader species level, occurs across most of the country, but is generally absent from the Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest, Maine, and the Coastal Southeast. In Arkansas, the species occurs statewide except for portions of…

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Know Your Natives – Two-Wing Silverbell

Two-wing silverbell (Halesia diptera) of the Storax (Styracaceae) family is one of several understory trees in the family with pendant showy white flowers. The genus name recognizes English botanist Stephen Hales who authored Vegetable Staticks* in 1727. The specific epithet is based on Greek words for “two-winged” in reference to fruit structure. In the U.S., two-wing silverbell occurs primarily from southeastern Texas, across Louisiana, southern Mississippi, most of Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and southern Georgia, with scattered occurrences in Arkansas and South Carolina. In Arkansas, it occurs naturally only in Nevada County. Habitat preference is sandy, wet to mesic soils…

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Know Your Natives – Pawpaw

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) of the Custard Apple (Annonaceae) family is a small deciduous understory tree with edible fruit. It is widespread in the deciduous forests of the eastern U.S., from eastern Texas and southeastern Nebraska, east across southern Michigan to the Atlantic Coast from Pennsylvania to northern Florida. In Arkansas it occurs statewide. The genus name is based on the Native American name “assimin.” The specific epithet refers to the number of petals and sepals. The common name “pawpaw” was first used by the English in the 16th century for papaya (Carica papaya) and later used by early American settlers for…

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Know Your Natives – Ninebark

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)* of the Rose (Rosaceae) family is a large shrub which bears tight clusters of small white flowers. The genus name, from Greek words for “bladder” and “fruit,” refers to the inflated carpels of the fruit. The specific epithet, from Latin, compares the leaves to those of Viburnum opulus. Ninebark is widespread in the eastern U.S., occurring principally from Minnesota to Maine, south to Arkansas, Alabama, and the Carolinas. (A disjunct population occurs in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.) The only species of the genus in Arkansas, it grows in our Interior Highlands. Habitat preference is dry to moist,…

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Know Your Natives – Deerberry

Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) of the Heath (Ericaceae) family is a medium-sized deciduous shrub that has small bell-shaped flowers with flared corolla lobes. The species occurs from east Texas and Oklahoma, northeast to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide except for some portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The genus name is obscure but presumably derives from the Latin vaccinus, of cows. The specific epithet is a reference to the plant’s distinctive, prominent stamens. Preferred habitat is sunny to partly shaded sites that have well-drained, sandy to rocky, acidic soils, such as dry ridges, glade margins, and…

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Know Your Natives – Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) of the Madder or Coffee (Rubiaceae) family is a deciduous wetland shrub with many small radiating flowers packed into tight spherical heads. It occurs across a large area of the eastern U.S. from the Big Bend area of Texas, northeastward into southeastern Minnesota, and east to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. There are also disjunct populations in portions of Arizona and California. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. The genus name is from Greek words for “head” and “flower.” The specific epithet, from Latin, translates to “of the West.” Other common names include button-willow and honey-bells. Preferred habitat…

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Know Your Natives – Scarlet Rose Mallow

Scarlet rose mallow or swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) of the Mallow or Cotton (Malvaceae) family is a tall herbaceous perennial with large, spectacular, scarlet (rarely white) flowers. The genus name is an old Greek name for “mallow”. The specific epithet is Latin for “scarlet”. The species occurs in scattered areas of the Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia. In Arkansas it is a plant of conservation concern, occurring presumably naturally only in Lafayette County, but known escaped in several others. Natural habitat consists of sunny to lightly shaded areas of fresh-water swamps, marshes and drainages. Scarlet rose mallow has a…

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Know Your Natives – Shrubby St. John’s-wort

Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Hypericum prolificum) of the St. John’s-wort (Hypericaceae) family is a short-lived, deciduous shrub with spectacular bright yellow flowers. The genus name originates from Greek words for “above” and “picture,” from the practice of placing flowers above a wall-mounted picture to discourage evil spirits on St. John’s feast day. The specific epithet, meaning “many,” is perhaps a reference to the plant’s numerous stamens. The species occurs from eastern Texas to Minnesota, thence east to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, although rarely encountered along the outer coastal plains. In Arkansas, it occurs throughout most of the state, except for…

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Know Your Natives – Red Buckeye

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia var. pavia*) of the recently expanded Soapberry (Sapindaceae) family–it now includes the maples from the former Aceraceae as well as the buckeyes and horse-chestnuts previously classified in the Hippocastanaceae–has large, showy red inflorescences in early spring. The genus name, a classical name for an oak tree, is based on the Latin for “edible acorn”; however, red buckeye’s nut-like seeds are poisonous. The specific epithet honors Petrus Pavius, a 16th-century Dutch botanist. In the U.S., this species occurs principally from south-central Texas to southern Illinois, east to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide…

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Know Your Natives – Downy Serviceberry

Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) of the Rose (Rosaceae) family is a small tree or large shrub that produces showy white flowers very early in spring. The genus name likely originates from a common name of the type species of the genus, Amelanchier ovalis, a European species. The specific epithet translates to “tree-like”. Downy serviceberry is the most widespread species of the genus in North America, found throughout the eastern U.S. from Texas to Minnesota and thence east and south to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In Arkansas, where it is the only native Amelanchier, downy serviceberry occurs statewide except for…

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Know Your Natives – American Holly

American holly (Ilex opaca var. opaca*) of the Holly (Aquifoliaceae) family is a broad-leaf evergreen tree frequently used for Christmas decorations. In the U.S., it occurs from Texas to Illinois east to Massachusetts and thence south and east to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The genus name comes from scientific name for holm oak (Quercus ilex), which has broad evergreen leaves. The specific epithet “opaca” is a Latin word meaning dull or opaque (referring to the leaves), not glossy or transparent, in contrast to European species. In Arkansas, American holly is found throughout much of roughly the southeastern two-thirds of…

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Know Your Natives – Rusty Blackhaw

Rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) of the Arrow-wood (Adoxaceae) family, formerly of the Honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family, is a small deciduous tree or large shrub (referred to as “tree” herein) with a year-round attractive appearance. It occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Kansas to Ohio to Virginia and thence into states along Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. Viburnum is the classical Latin name for this group of plants. The specific epithet means “rusty colored” in reference to the buds and leaf pubescence. Other common names include southern blackhaw, rusty nannyberry and blue haw. It grows in a…

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Know Your Natives – New Jersey Tea

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) of the Buckthorn (Rhamnaceae) Family is a small, deciduous, thorn-free shrub.  The genus name originates from a Greek word for “spiny plant” or a Latin word for “thistle”.  The specific epithet relates to its occurrence in the Americas.  In the U.S., it is found from Texas to Nebraska to Minnesota thence east and south to the coasts.  In Arkansas, the shrub occurs statewide.  Another common name is wild snowball.  Habitat preference is variable, but the species is typically found in dry to well-drained soils of sandy, sunny prairies or rocky slopes and open woodlands.  Leaves…

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Know Your Natives – Ohio Buckeye

Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) of the Soapberry (Sapindaceae) Family, formerly of the Horsechestnut (Hippocastanaceae) family, is a medium to large deciduous tree with opposite, palmately compound leaves. It is native from central Texas to western Pennsylvania and as far north as central Iowa to southern Michigan and south into northern Alabama and the highlands of the northwestern half of Arkansas. Other common names include “American buckeye” and “fetid buckeye”, based on the odor of crushed leaves, bark and twigs. The name “buckeye” relates to the dark, ovoid poisonous seeds that have a lighter colored hilum (scar). Continue reading

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Know Your Natives – Arkansas Yucca

Arkansas yucca (Yucca arkansana) of the Agave (Agavaceae) family, formerly of the Lily (Liliaceae) family, an evergreen shrub, occurs in Texas, Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri and Arkansas.  In Arkansas, it occurs throughout much of the Interior Highlands.  The genus name originates from a misapplication by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 of a common name for cassava (Manihot esculenta), “yuca”, to the plants for which he named and described the genus Yucca.  Arkansas yucca, also called soft-leaf yucca and soapweed, is found in well-drained soils in sunny prairies, glades and rocky hillsides as well as along partially sunny edges of woodlands and thickets. A…

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Know Your Natives – Possumhaw

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is a deciduous shrub or small tree in the holly (Aquifoliaceae) family that bears showy winter fruit.  In the U.S., it is found throughout the Southeast from central Texas to southeastern Kansas, to southern Illinois, east to Maryland, and thence to the coasts.  The species occurs statewide in Arkansas.  The genus name comes from the classical Latin name and later the specific epithet of holm or holly oak (Quercus ilex) which has evergreen holly-like leaves.  Other common names for possumhaw* include winterberry*, deciduous holly and swamp holly.  Possumhaw, frequently seen in fencerows and in the home landscape,…

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Know Your Natives – Beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family, formerly of the Vervain (Verbenaceae) family, is a large deciduous shrub that occurs throughout the Southeastern U.S. from Texas and Oklahoma to southern Missouri and southwestern Kentucky, to Maryland, thence south and east to the coasts.  In Arkansas, it is recorded from across the state but is more sparse in the northernmost Ozark counties.  The genus name comes from Greek meaning “beautiful fruit”.  The specific epithet means “of the Americas”.  It is also called American beautyberry, beautybush and French-mulberry. This plant, with multiple stems growing from the root stock, does well in a wide variety of…

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Carolina rose - Rosa carolina

Know Your Natives – Carolina Rose

Carolina rose (Rosa carolina) of the Rose (Rosaceae) family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Minnesota thence east and south to the borders.  In Arkansas it occurs throughout the state.  The genus name is Latin for “rose.”  The specific epithet refers to the type location for the species–i.e., the specimen based on which this species was first described and named was collected in the Carolinas.  Other common names include “pasture rose” or “low rose.”  Habitats include woods and thickets as well as prairies and glades with various dry to mesic soils.  It does well in partial shade…

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Alder - Alnus serrulata

Know Your Natives – Alder

Alder (Alnus serrulata) of the Birch (Betulaceae) family is a deciduous shrub found in the U.S. from Texas to Kansas to Maine and thence east and south to the borders.  This shrub, the only species in the Alnus genus in Arkansas, is found throughout most of the state except for portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.  It grows in a wide variety of moist to wet soils in light shade to partial sun along banks of streams and ponds and bordering sloughs and wetlands.  The genus name is the Latin name for the alder.  The specific epithet refers to the toothed…

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Spicebush - Lindera benzoin

Know Your Natives – Spicebush

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) of the Laurel (Lauraceae) family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Michigan thence east and south. In Arkansas, the species occurs statewide. The genus name recognizes 18th century Swedish botanist, Johann Linder. The specific epithet derives from the Arabic for “aromatic gum.” Other common names include northern spicebush and wild allspice. This deciduous understory shrub, 6 to 10 feet tall and equally wide, with multiple spreading slender stems, forms a dense clump. It prefers full to partial shade in moist to wet, fertile, loamy soils found in wooded bottomlands, floodplains, seeps and on rich…

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Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanus

Know Your Natives – Strawberry Bush

Strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) of the Bittersweet (Celastraceae) family is also known as hearts-a-bursting-with-love, bursting-heart and brook euonymus.  It is found in the eastern U.S. from Texas to Illinois to New York and south to the borders, including throughout most of Arkansas.  Its natural habitat has moderately moist soil and partial shade, such as along streams and rivers and in open woods.  The genus name relates to the spindle tree of Europe which is noted for its useful wood, but is also poisonous; thus, named for mother of the Furies (Euonyme) of Greek mythology.  The common names are descriptive of…

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Know Your Natives: Coralberry

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) of the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle) Family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to South Dakota and Minnesota, eastward to central New England and southward, though it is infrequent to absent throughout much of the East Gulf Coastal and Southern Atlantic Coastal Plains.  In Arkansas it occurs primarily in the northwestern half of the state in the Interior Highlands, with widely scattered occurrences in the West Gulf Coastal and Mississippi Alluvial Plains.  Habitats include moist (but well-drained) to dry woodland openings and borders in partial to full sun, in loamy to sandy soils.  Other common names for coralberry include “Indian currant” as…

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Missouri Gooseberry - Ribes missouriense

Know Your Natives – Missouri Gooseberry

Missouri Gooseberry Missouri Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) is one of four species of gooseberries in Arkansas. Sometimes called currants, the genus is found across most of the northern hemisphere, extending down into South America via the Andes. It is the only genus in the Grossulariaceae (Currant/Gooseberry) family. Missouri gooseberry occurs primarily in the Ozarks and one southwestern county. This species favors cleared lands, disturbed lands, fields and meadows. Arkansas is at the southern edge of this species’ range in North America. The flowers are small and a creamy white color. The ripe fruits are said to dry well and make excellent…

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American Hazelnut - Corylus americana

Know Your Natives – American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a medium to large spreading shrub that produces edible nuts in the fall. The nuts ripen in September and October and are a favorite of small game and birds. As fall progresses male catkins are produced. In mid to late winter the catkins fully expand and shed their pollen. A large, leafless shrub in February with fully grown catkins is a sight! It is found over much of the central and eastern United States north of the Gulf Coast. Arkansas is at the southwestern edge of this species’ range. Article and photographs by…

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Know Your Natives – “Leaves of three, let it be”…usually

We have all heard the advice, “Leaves of three, let it be”.  Two native Arkansas plants, poison-ivy and poison-oak, have three leaflets per leaf and contain urushiol, an oily allergen.  Following direct or indirect contact, many people experience allergic reactions (contact dermatitis) resulting in skin redness, itching, swelling, and blisters, with severity being dependent on an individual’s sensitivity.  Urushiol is water soluble so it can be removed from skin with soapy water, with less or no irritation if done within about 15 minutes. For those hiking or gardening, being able to recognize poison-ivy and poison-oak is important, so that such activities…

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Witch Hazel

Know Your Natives – Ozark Witch Hazel

Ozark (or vernal) witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) of the Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel) Family is a suckering, multi-stemmed, medium-size shrub.  This winter-blooming deciduous shrub favors riparian habitats of mountainous areas of Arkansas, southern Missouri and limited sections of Oklahoma and Texas.  Plants grow 10-12 feet tall.  Leaves are alternate, simple, three to five inches long, ovate to oblong with wavy-toothed margins with leaf bases often wedge-shaped attaching to a short petiole.  New leaves are bronze to reddish purple changing to green above and paler green and often fuzzy below. Clustered flower buds, growing from previous year’s stems, are rounded and stalked…

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