Native Plants of Cape Cod

Native Plants of Cape Cod

Native trees, shrubs and perennials are a great addition to the garden.  They are built for our climate and tend to do well with less care, plus they are the preferred plants of pollinators in this area. Here are a few varieties of trees, shrubs and perennials that we would like to feature in this Native category:

Picea glauca or White Spruce: Customers are often asking about native evergreens that will get large and tolerate the harsh winter wind. This is a North American native plant which has naturalized in much of New England and is recommended by the Cape Cod Extension service as it will tolerate direct coastal exposure, which is a rarity.  On Cape Cod, White Spruce will grow to a height of 30′ and a spread of 12-20′ at maturity. It grows at a medium rate of about a foot a year. Like most needled evergreens it wants a good half day or more of full sun, has a Christmas tree type growth habit and is hardy in zones 2 through 6. It is best in a sandy, acidic loam and well-drained soil. White Spruce be used as a specimen tree, windbreak or screening.  

A native deciduous tree that people are not as familiar with is Nyssa sylvatica or Tupelo tree.  This is a slow growing deciduous tree that will get 30+’ tall and 20′ wide.  It requires at least a half day of full sunlight and does well in acidic soil. Its flowers, although insignificant in size and color, provide nutrition for bees in early spring and the fruit in the fall attracts many birds.  Perhaps its best feature is its fall color showing many shades of yellow, orange, bright red, purple and scarlet.


A tried and true native that will tolerate harsh coastal conditions is Myrica pensylvanica or Northern Bayberry. Bayberry will grow 5-10′ tall and wide. It is a deciduous shrub that wants full sun to part shade and likes acidic soil. Although in the nursery trade they do not identify male and female Bayberry, you will need a male in the group for the female to fruit. It is this fruit which one uses to produce candles, soaps and sealing wax. The fruit also attracts birds. 

Here are some outstanding varieties of early-blooming Native Perennials:

Aruncus diocus, also known as Goats Beard, has a creamy white bloom April-May, similar to an Astilbe, but with an earlier flower. This large perennial will grow 4-6’ tall with a width of 2-4’ so it needs plenty of room to grow. It is also big enough where it can create a screen when planted in mass but remember it will die back in the fall. Goats Beard is a host to the Azure caterpillars, provides an early food source to our pollinators, and will also provide food for birds if you leave the seed heads in the fall. It will do best in part shade to full sun and likes a moist soil, but can tolerate times of drought once established. Not only is it easy to grow and great for our native pollinators, but it is also deer and rabbit resistant!

Dicentra exima or fringed bleeding heart, also deer and rabbit resistant is most definitely pollinator perfect. Native bees and hummingbirds love the nectar of the early rose-pink flowers. The silver-grey foliage is finely cut giving great contrast to larger leaved plants like Hosta and dark leaves such as Bugbane (Cimicifuga).  Loving the part to full shade, they do well if left to naturalize or you can extend bloom by deadheading.

Baptisia australis or False Indigo is a beautiful native perennial that becomes quite shrub-like after a few years. Growing 3-4’ tall and 3-4’ wide, the purple lupine-like flowers appear in May-June above pea-like foliage. The flowers are followed by black seed pods that also add interest.  Growing best in full sun and well-drained soil, these plants are very long lived and host many native butterflies.

Download a full copy of our Native Perennial plants. Click the image below:

20 thoughts on “Native Plants of Cape Cod”

    1. Crocker Nurseries

      That is technically true. It is a North American native tree and it has naturalized through New England. It is on the approved plants list of the Cape Cod Extension service which is referred to by conservation commissions on the Cape. I have made this more clear in the article.

        1. It is best to contact your town’s conservation department. Each town has slightly different lists of what they will accept.

  1. Just visited Cape Cod and was intrigued by a bright red bush I saw in many yards. Could you tell me what it was and if it’s hardy in Mpls. MN?

    1. Crocker Nurseries

      Was it bright red flowers? If so, it could be an Azalea or Rhododendron. If it was leaves it could be a Japanese Maple.

    1. Crocker Nurseries

      Hi, here are the ones that are native and grow wild here White Pine (Pinus strobus), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).

  2. Thankyou for drawing attention to native plants: by re-connecting our lots with layered natives we can restore habitat for our wildlife. Native plants produce the insects, berries,, seeds, etc they need to survive. See Prof. Doug Tallamy ‘s book, “ Bringing Nature Home”- a classic in its own time- giving us hope for the future of Cape Cod, and our children.

    1. I second Doug Tallamy’s book, “Taking Nature Home.” Also see National Audubon Society’s Plants for Birds program and database.

      What’s not intuitive is that you need to have plants that not only the butterflies will use, but that butterfly caterpillars (and other insects) can eat so you have the butterflies in the first place. Insects here are not able to eat foreign plants.

  3. We have lost an evergreen to red spider mites! We now have a open area 6′ x 6′,,,, It gets morning sun ; a half day of full sun.. It is in a prominent area which our kitchen windows face out to…. What plant would you suggest? Thanks.

  4. I read “Bringing Nature Home” this winter. It helped me understand the value of our small Cape Cod yard to the larger picture of bird, bee, and butterfly survival. I plan to replace any invasives, struggling plants, or high-maintenance plants, with natives and perennials. This book is a wake-up call, just as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was in the 60’s. Please consider offering this book for sale in your garden shop.

    Thank you, Crocker. Great website!

  5. Natalie Liss Carless

    Dear Crocker Nurseries,

    I am writing a book that is set in Caper Cod and its surrounds. One of the characters visits some woodland.
    What type of tree could they find in wooded areas in and around Cape Cod? Are pitch pines present for example? Spruces?
    What kind of plants would grow near to or around pines/spruces?

  6. George Teitelbaum

    What wild shrub is present in Cape Cod (especially around the pond areas) and in Martha’s Vineyard long the roads and bike paths, which has wonderfully aromatic tiny white blossoms arranged into small conical collections?

  7. What wild shrub is present in Cape Cod (especially around the pond areas) and in Martha’s Vineyard long the roads and bike paths, which has wonderfully aromatic tiny white blossoms arranged into small conical collections?

  8. Cape Codders:
    You need to do more to preserve the habitat and wildness of the Cape. My family has been coming for several years and I love seeing the black and white oaks and scrub oaks that grow up naturally, but here are some other stars that should not be overlooked:
    sand cherry
    purple milkweed
    (various) native roses
    It kills me to see the naturalizing Trees of Heaven, Norway Maples, and Oriental Bittersweet. As Doug Tallamy’s research shows only natives provide the foodweb services capable of songbird reproduction (viz when non-natives exceed 70% of what is planted probability of chickadee reproduction drops below 5%) Get out there and buy natives and support this native-supplying business! Crocker: make natives the mainstay of your business!!!!!

  9. Elisabeth Carlin

    some of these plants are more naturalized than native to the region. But mostly I have a question about the exima bleeding heart. I can’t find too much specific info on it, so can you confirm whether it is native or naturalized to southeastern mass?

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