20 Drought-Tolerant Native Plants For Southern Gardens

Scarlet Salvia
Photo: Thang Tat Nguyen/Getty Images

When it comes to finding new species to plant in our gardens, we often turn to native plants. They're well suited to our environment and can stand up to the heat and drought of Southern summers. Why plant native plants? The U.S. Forest Service says, "Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals." We've gathered 20 native plants in this list that will bring attractive blooms, foliage, and fruits to your Southern garden. These drought-tolerant, Southeastern-native flowers and trees are a pleasure to tend and, as a plus, thrive in even the hottest summer temperatures.

01 of 20

Beach Sunflower

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Beach sunflower
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Helianthus debilis
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic (5.8-6.5)

These pretty plants may be prostrate or upright. They like full sun and are often seen growing on dunes, hence their common name, beach sunflower. Since they are native to coastal areas, they prefer some sand in their soil. Their bright yellow flowers attract butterflies.

02 of 20

Beautyberry

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Beautyberry
Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Callicarpa americana
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Clay, Loamy, Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.0-7.0)

This fun plant has clusters of purple berries that appear in late summer and fall. It grows best in sun or light shade and can reach 6 feet tall. Use individual plants to add color to your garden or group several as a border. This low-maintenance plant may need some water during periods without rain. It is not prone to disease or pests.

03 of 20

Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan
Timothy Carroll / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Rudbeckia hirta
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic, Neutral (6.8)

This dainty wildflower brings some brightness to the landscape thanks to its golden petals that resemble those of daisies. The deer-resistant flower is an early summer bloomer that attracts butterflies and bees. Easy to grow, these golden flowers do spread and reseed themselves. American goldfinches are attracted to their seeds at the end of the season.

04 of 20

Columbine

Columbine
Jill King / EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Aquilegia canadensis
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Sandy, Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Slightly Acidic (6.0-7.0)

Native red columbine grows in rocky woodlands and produces delicate red-and-yellow flowers loved by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Once established, columbine is drought-tolerant. These flowers make great borders or additions to rock and woodland gardens. They bloom in spring and will reseed.

05 of 20

Firebush

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Firebush
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Hamelia patens
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral, Acidic (5.5-7.0)

This shrub is a butterfly and hummingbird favorite. Birds love the berries on this easy-to-grow native perennial. It blooms all summer and thrives in full sun. In the right conditions, it can grow from 8-10 feet tall.

06 of 20

Goldenaster

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Goldenaster
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Pityopsis graminifolia
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral (6.5-7.5)

This sweet flower is a Southeastern native that grows to 2 feet high. It likes full sun and sandy soil, and with the right conditions is a long bloomer, bringing yellow blooms to the garden for several months. It easily spreads and can be used as a ground cover in dry to moist soils.

07 of 20

Longleaf Pine

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Longleaf pine
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Pinus palustris
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Loamy, Well-drained, Tolerates Clay
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.0-6.5)

This is a classic pine of the Southeast. It has graceful, long needles. As for its growing conditions, it likes plenty of sun and deep, moist soil.

08 of 20

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Stephanie D. Dudek/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Hydrangea quercifolia
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Slightly Acidic (5.0-6.5)

This native shrub has big green leaves that resemble those of oaks alongside large conical clusters of flowers that fade from white or cream to pink and purple. These hydrangeas like afternoon shade. Add a layer of mulch to preserve moisture.

09 of 20

Pawpaw

Paw-Paw
Southern Living
  • Botanical Name: Asimina triloba
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral to Acidic (5.5-7.0)

Known for their big drooping leaves and edible green fruit (also known as pawpaws), these trees are native to and can be found throughout the United States. These trees are typically found in the understory in their native habitat, and they do well with partial shade. They need plenty of water with well-draining soil.

10 of 20

Pineland Heliotrope

Pineland Heliotrope
LagunaticPhoto/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Heliotropium polyphyllum
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic (6.0-6.5)

This perennial produces dainty yellow or white flowers and attracts pollinators. It's best grown in full sun or part shade and is often seen as a wildflower. It is drought-tolerant and does well in many growing conditions. It spreads as a creeping ground cover.

11 of 20

Pink Muhly

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Pink muhly
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Muhlenbergia capillaris
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Dry, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.5-7.0)

This native grass grows from 3-4 feet tall. It tolerates sun or light shade. It's a popular landscaping plant because its very showy plumes appear in early fall. This ornamental grass is easy to care for, requiring little water and thriving in hot climates.

12 of 20

Powderpuff

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Powderpuff
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Mimosa strigillosa
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Sandy, Dry to Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral (6.2-7.1)

This is a fast-spreading ground cover with showy blooms that tolerates mowing. It grows best in sun and can reach 2-3 inches tall. It is drought-tolerant once established and attracts butterflies and bees.

13 of 20

Railroad Vine

Railroad Vine
SkyF/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Ipomoea pes-caprae
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic, Alkaline (6.5-7.5)

This native plant is tolerant of the salt and the sea, making it great for coastal gardens. It spreads as a ground cover and produces pink flowers. Sometimes called beach morning glory, its flowers last only one day, but the vine continually produces blooms.

14 of 20

Scarlet Salvia

Scarlet Salvia
Thang Tat Nguyen/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Salvia coccinea
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral to Acidic (5.5-6.5)

Add a pop of color to the garden. This bright blooming plant has vibrant red flowers loved by hummingbirds and butterflies. Deadhead flowers to maintain productivity. This easy-care plant is extremely drought tolerant.

15 of 20

Silver Saw Palmetto

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Silver saw palmetto
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Serenoa repens 'Cinerea'
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral, Acidic, Alkaline (6.1-7.8)

This popular palm-shaped plant grows from 6-7 feet tall and wide. It's versatile and can tolerate both sun and light shade. It's also tolerant of tough temps and is hardy to 15 degrees.

16 of 20

Spiderwort

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Spiderwort
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Tradescantia virginiana
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic (6.8-7.2)

This blooming plant is a Southeastern native with a long blooming season. It's a relatively easy plant that likes sun or shade and blooms in several colors. Because it grows in clumps, it's a good choice for borders.

17 of 20

Star Anise

Star Anise
seven75/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Illicium floridanum
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Shade
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Sandy, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral to Acidic (5.0-7.0)

This fast-growing native shrub has fragrant leaves that smell of licorice when crushed. They can reach heights of 20-25 feet tall. A low-maintenance shrub, it works well in borders, containers, or as a privacy hedge.

18 of 20

Swamp Lily

Swamp Lily
passion4nature/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Crinum americanum
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Sandy, Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.6-7.5)

These blooming plants, also known as crinum lilies or string lilies, grow in standing water and swampy areas such as streams and bogs. They are drought resistant when conditions deem it necessary. They bloom from late summer through fall, and the plant will increase in size each year.

19 of 20

Trumpet Honeysuckle

Drought-Tolerant Native Plants: Trumpet honeysuckle
Photo: Ralph Anderson
  • Botanical Name: Lonicera sempervirens
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, Sandy, Clay, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline (6.0-8.5)

This twining vine, also known as coral honeysuckle, produces tube-shaped red and coral flowers in spring and summer. It likes the sun and is a favorite of hummingbirds. Its red berries attract songbirds in the fall. This honeysuckle variety is not invasive and can also be grown in a large container.

20 of 20

Yellow Jessamine

Yellow Jessamine
ValerijaP/Getty Images
  • Botanical Name: Gelsemium rankinii
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full Sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (6.0-7.5)

This vine, also known as swamp jasmine, can be found in wet environments and is known for its small yellow flowers, which appear in spring and fall. It appreciates regular water but can survive dry spells. It can be used as a ground cover, on an arbor, or in a container.

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