US National Arboretum


Natives, Naturally

picture of path through Fern Valley

From ephemeral spring woodland wildflowers to dazzling, drought-resistant prairie plants, the flora found in a broad slice of the eastern United States is represented in the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection.  Many of the plants in the collection are native to the Washington, DC area; in addition, prairie plants that you might see on the western edge of our eastern forests; plants of the sandy, flat Coastal Plain in the southeastern United States; and trees, shrubs, and woodland flowers of New England are also part of the Native Plant Collection.

Some familiar plants that people assume are native are not.  Queen-Anne’s-lace and dandelions arrived from Europe with the colonists; although they are widespread, they are not native.  Our Native Plant Collection is limited to plants that grew here before colonization.  Native plants are not just trees, shrubs, and flowers.  Ferns and grasses are an important part of the Native Plant Collection as well.

The Native Plant Collection is organized by habitat and geography into areas that give a feel for the nature of the different regions of the eastern U.S.  The landscape flows subtly from the sunny prairie and oldfield meadow plantings to the northern forest with its hemlocks and sugar maples, through the Piedmont area where a small stream and pond highlight wetland plants like cardinal flower.  Below the pond, the sluggish water and dense forest mimic the mystique of primeval Coastal Plain forests.  Because native plants offer so much diversity, there is something blooming in the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection every month of the year.

The woodland plantings are at their peak in early spring before the towering canopy of tuliptrees, oaks, and beeches leaf out and shade the forest floor.  As shade deepens and summer progresses, ferns unfurl their fronds and the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection becomes a welcome cool and shady respite from the heat.  The rare Oconee bells, Shortia galacifolia, come into bloom.  As summer nears an end, coneflowers, asters, and goldenrod adorn the prairie planting with a riot of color.  Cooler autumn days bring bright fall foliage to trees and yellow witchhazel blossoms.  Even in the depths of winter, when the garden is dormant, it is a magical place.

The Fern Valley Native Plant Collection must be enjoyed at an unhurried pace.  Plan to spend at least an hour wandering through and admiring the artistry of nature.  Paths in the collection are not handicapped accessible.  The Washington Youth Garden and the National Grove of State Trees are both nearby.

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Last Updated   October 2, 2006 3:37 PM
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