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A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials




Annual: A plant that lives for one year or one growing season.

Beneficial Landscaping: Using different landscaping techniques to achieve all kind of benefits (e.g., decrease of maintenance costs, reduction of stormwater runoff, beautification of the landscape, preservation of endangered species, etc.).

Biennial: A plant that grows from seed and produces leafy growth the first year. In the second year, the plant produces flowers, sets seed and dies.

Biodiversity: A measurement of the number of species and the variety of life and its processes in an area.

Bioengineering: The use of vegetation for civil engineering purposes like slope stabilization, water erosion control, shoreline protection, barriers for noise reduction, etc.

Bog: Found almost exclusively in glaciated depressions, soils are saturated highly acidic, have low nutrient levels, and are saturated throughout the growing season. Vegetation consists of a variety of emergents, carnivorous plants such as sundew and pitcher plants, and shrubs or small trees occurring on consolidated peat. Bogs usually have an area of open water called the "eye."

Buffer/ Buffer Strip: A management area closest to a sensitive environmental site (e.g., wetland, waterbody, etc.) in which human activities are prohibited or limited in order to minimize the negative impacts from adjacent land uses (like erosion, filter runoff pollutants, disturbances of wildlife) affecting the sensitive environmental site.

Clustered Development: Accumulation of development onto only a portion of a site, thereby allowing sensitive areas to be protected with no loss in the number of lots and maintaining the gross density of the site.

Ecosystem: A community of plants and animals interacting with each other and their physical/chemical environment.

Emergent: Pertaining to aquatic plants which have some portion of the plant extended out of the water.

Exotic Species: A non-native plant or animal introduced from another geographic area.

Forest: Plant communities which exist along floodplains or on the eastern side of rivers where they were protected from fires. They are dominated by trees that are intolerant of fire and can grow in poorly drained soils, although bur oak trees can be a part of this community. In Northeastern Illinois, the word "forest" is often used interchangeably with "woodland" or "woods," as in the "Big Woods."

Fen: A type of wet meadow with highly alkaline soil. Vegetation is primarily composed of herbaceous species, encircled by zones of plants of increasing height and woodiness.

Forb: Any herbaceous plant that is not a grass.

Greenway: A greenway is a corridor of open land that provides one or more of the following benefits: (1) protection and management of natural and cultural resources; (2) provision of recreational opportunities; and (3) enhancement of the quality of life and the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods and communities.

Habitat: The physical, chemical, and biological environment in which and organism lives.

Herbaceous plant: Any plant that is not woody.

Landscaping: The design of outdoor space to serve the needs of people by planting, altering the contours of the ground and/or building structures like pedestrian ways, paths, picnic areas, etc.

Mesic: Soil condition that is medium-wet.

Native Landscaping: Landscaping only by using native plants.

Native Species: A plant or animal that originally occurred in an area.

Natural Landscaping: Landscaping in a way that tries to capture the character and spirit of nature in a designed landscape by arranging plants in a community context similar to their arrangement in nature. May be planted exclusively with native plants or incorporate some small percent of exotics.

Noxious Weed: Any plant which is determined by the Director, the Dean of the College of Agriculture of the University of Illinois and the Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Illinois, to be injurious to public health, crops, livestock, land or other property (Illinois Noxious Weed Law; 505 ILCS 100).

Oak Savanna: A transitional community between prairie and forest, sustained by fires, characterized by scattered, open-grown oak and hickory trees and grasses and forbs which flourish in partly shady conditions. These savannas were often called "oak openings" by the pioneers. Definitions of density of trees vary widely, from a few scattered trees to an almost closed canopy.

Perennial Plant: A plant which lives for more than two years.

Prairie: A plant community dominated by a diversity of perennial herbaceous plants growing between a majority of grasses, and forming a dry flammable turf in autumn. Prairie communities are categorized by soil conditions into dry (sandy or shallow hilltop soils), mesic (medium wetness) and wet prairies (poorly drained soils). Often characterized by very deep rooted plants, prairie vegetation also consists of shallow-rooted species, some with widely spreading root systems.

Prescribed Burn: Controlled application of fire to naturally occurring vegetative fuels under specified environmental conditions and following appropriate precautionary measures, which causes the fire to be confined to a predetermined area and accomplish the planned land management objectives.

Setback: Area between intensive development (i.e., structures) and a protected area (e.g., waterbody or wetland).

Stormwater Detention Basin: A waterbody designed to detain stormwater runoff and reduce flooding.

Submergent: Aquatic plants that live and grow entirely below the water surface.

Weed: Any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.



Checklist for landowner:

  • For your project, have you considered?:
  • the type of project (e.g., noise or privacy buffer, butterfly garden, large restoration of plant communities)
  • other goals (e.g., reduction of chemical and water use)
  • appearance desired (e.g., low "designed" look, wild prairie, ground cover)
  • "fit" with other neighborhood landscapes (discussions with neighbors?)
  • project size and scope
  • project time-line (e.g., phasing in slowly instead of planting your entire site at one time)
  • cost parameters (installation and future maintenance)
  • maintenance level desired (e.g., minimum, or backyard hobby garden)
  • existing amenities to be retained (e.g., specimen trees)
  • existing and proposed habitat attractive to wildlife (e.g., current nesting bird census and impact of the project on them)
  • type of plant materials desired (e.g., completely native?)
  • advantages/disadvantages of the site or parts of the site for natural gardening
  • site problems to be addressed/solved (e.g., drainage problems, poor or compacted soil, salt-tolerant species required in some locations)
  • soil type(s)
  • sun/shade patterns over the growing season
  • natural landscape history of your site
  • pertinent local laws and regulations
  • rights-of-way and property lines (e.g., plat of survey)
  • location of utility lines (in Northeastern Illinois, call JULIE 1-800-892-0123)

Background Questions for Consultant or Supplier:

  • Scope of services? (Designing, installing, maintaining)
  • Plant materials provided by other landscape contractors or "home-grown"
  • Training, experience, knowledge
  • Projects managed; Role in those projects
  • Landscape specialty
  • Where can completed and in-process projects be seen
  • References
  • Major influences on professional direction
  • Any work performed as a volunteer design professional
  • Insurance coverage
  • Guarantees

Details for your project:

  • Cost estimate
  • Timeline
  • Maintenance required
  • Justification for plant selections and locations
  • Drawings/site plan
  • Source of landscape materials
  • Terms and conditions of payment
  • Contract including all of the above



The plant lists include some of the species that are commonly available in nurseries and are relatively easy to grow, yet it lists only a very small percentage of the plants in those categories. It is directed towards the novice and the home gardener who is doing a modest first planting. Gardeners with experience with natural landscaping and maturing landscapes will go way beyond this list. Large projects, which can accommodate a wide variety of species, will undoubtedly be led by a consultant and will also go well beyond the confines of this list.

Relatively few plants grow exclusively in one community type. The species listed below as characterizing one type of woodland community are often also found in different community types. Let it be said that selecting representative plants from among the over 15,000 plants found in a region with one of the richest and most varied matrix of land forms and floristic communities is a daunting task. The lists must be taken as only the barest token selection.

The herbaceous plant lists are divided into plants which thrive in full sun, partial sun and shade. A very general rule of thumb is that prairie species need full sun; savanna species will grow in partial shade and many will grow as well (or better) in full sun; and shade species will grow in woodlands. It is very important to check catalogs and nursery information before you buy, because plants also vary in their need for moisture. Where species need particular states of dryness, that information is noted on this list. It is also important to understand that many plants have a "wide ecological amplitude," that is, they are not extremely picky about where they grow, while others have more exacting requirements. In any garden, the plants will sort themselves out according to their needs and the conditions with which they are presented.

Plant catalogs are often listed according to conditions of sun and shade, or in alphabetical order by Latin, or scientific name. This list is alphabetical by Latin name within categories.


Lead Plant Amorpha canescens
Pasque Flower Anemone patens
Heath Aster Aster ericoides
Silky Aster Aster sericeus
Cream Wild Indigo Baptisia leucophaea
Sand Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata
Prairie Coreopsis Coreopsis palmata
Pale Purple Coneflower Echinacea pallida
Rattlesnake Master Eryngium yuccifolium
Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum
Western (or Naked) Sunflower Helianthus occidentalis
False Boneset Kuhnia eupatorioides
Round Headed Bush Clover Lespedeza capitata
Rough Blazing Star Liatris aspera
Cylindrical Blazing Star Liatris cylindracea
Pale Spiked Lobelia Lobelia spicata
Wild Quinine Parthenium integrifolium
Prairie Cinquefoil Potentilla arguta
Deam's Rosin Weed Silphium integrifolium
Gray Goldenrod Solidago nemoralis
Riddell's Goldenrod Solidago reddellii
Golden Alexanders Zizia aurea


Big Bluestem Grass Andropogon gerardii
Little Bluestem Grass (dominant grass of dry prairie) Andropogon scoparius
Sideoats Grama (dry prairie) Bouteloua curtipendula
Switch Grass Panicum virgatum
Porcupine Grass Stipa spartea
Indian Grass Sorghastrum nutans
Prairie Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie Cord Grass (wet prairie) Spartina pectinata




Nodding Wild Onion Allium cernuum
Prairie thimbleweed Anemone cylindrica
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa
Smooth Blue Aster Aster azureaus
Sky blue aster Aster laevis
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
White Wild Indigo Baptisia leucantha
Showy Tick Trefoil Desmodium canadense
Shooting Star Dodecatheon meadia
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Wild Bergamot (Beebalm) Monarda fistulosa
Foxglove Beard Tongue Penstamon digitalis
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Ohio Goldenrod Solidago ohiensis
Spiderwort Tradescantia ohioensis
Heart-Leaved Meadow Parsnip Zizia aptera


Common wood reed Cinna arundinacea
Canada Wild Rye Elymus canadensis
Virginia Wild Rye Elymus virginicus
Fowl Meadow (Manna) Grass Glyceria striata
Bottlebrush Grass Hystrix patula


(Closed savanna and woodland communities):

Wild columbine Aquilegia canadensis
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema atrorubens
Wild Ginger Asarum canadense
Dutchman's breeches Dicentra cucullaria
Yellow Trout Lily Erythroniuim americanum
Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum
Virginia Waterleaf Hydrophyllum virginianum
Virginia Bluebells Mertensia virginica
May Apple Podophyllum peltatum
Solomon's Seal Polygonatum canaliculatum
Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis
Trillium Trillium spp.





Swamp Milkweed  Asclepias incarnata
Blue Joint Grass Calamagrostis canadensis
Common Lake Sedge Carex lacustris
Sedges Carex sp.
Spotted Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium maculatum
Common Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum
Rice Cut Grass Leersia oryzoides
Common Water Horehound Lycopus americanus
Common Cattail Typha latifolia
Dark Green Rush Scirpus atrovirens
Great Bulrush Scirpus validus
Prairie Cordgrass Spartina pectinata


Calcareous Wet Soil Communities (Fens)
Great Angelica Angelica atropurpurea
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris
Porcupine Sedge Carex hystericina
Turtlehead Chelone glabra
Fen Thistle Cirsium muticum
Fowl Meadow Grass Glyceria striata
Narrow-Leaved Loosestrife Lysimachia quadriflora


Lake and Pond Communities
Hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum
Common Rush Juncus effusus
Rice Cut Grass Leersia oryzoides
Small Duckweed Lemna minor
Pickerel Weed Pontederia cordata
Common Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia





Woodland Communities
(includes trees, dominant grasses and some shrubs)

Oak Savanna:
Big Bluestem Grass Andropogon gerardii
Little Bluestem Grass Andropogon scoparius
Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata
New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus
American Hazelnut Corylus americana
Purple Love Grass Eragrostis spectabilis
June Grass Koehleria cristata
Rough Blazing Star Liatris aspera
White Oak Quercus alba
Bur Oak Quercus macrocarpa
Black Oak Quercus velutina
Indian Grass Sorghastrum nutans


Floodplain Forest:
Silver Maple Acer saccharinum
Hackberry Celtis occidentalis
Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica subintegerrima
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis


Mesic Woodlands:
(Savanna grasses are often part of this community)
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum
Pennsylvania Sedge Carex pensylvanica
Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata
Grey Dogwood Cornus racemosa
Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica subintegerrima
White Oak Quercus alba
Swamp White Oak Quercus bicolor
Bur Oak Quercus macrocarpa
Red Oak Quercus rubra
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
Basswood (American Linden) Tilia americana
American Elm
(found less frequently today due
to Dutch Elm Disease
Ulmus americana


rice cut grass



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