Native Shrubs for Moist to Wet Locations

News Article

Locations with moist to wet soils are not suitable for many shrubs.  However, these sites are home to several native shrubs.  A list of native wetland shrubs, along with a brief description of each, is provided below. 

Indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa) is common throughout Iowa.  It is typically found along stream banks, marshland edges, and in prairie swales.  Indigo bush is a medium to large, sparsely branched shrub which grows 8 to 15 feet tall.  Foliage is gray green.  Upright, 3- to 6-inch-long flower spikes are produced in June.  Individual flowers are deep purple with protruding yellow-orange stamens.  Indigo bush is best suited to naturalized areas or sites with poor soils.  It can be grown in full sun to light shade. 

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is typically found along stream banks, lake shores, and other wet areas in Iowa.  The shrub has glossy green foliage and produces creamy white flowers in dense, spherical heads in August.  The flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.  In Iowa, plants commonly grow up to 6 feet tall, though plants can grow up to 12 to 15 feet in southern areas of the United States.  Sugar Shack™ is a cultivar that grows 3 to 4 feet tall, has creamy white flowers in round clusters and reddish fruits in fall.  'Sputnik' grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Buttonbush grows well in moist to wet soils in full sun to partial shade. 

Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) is a native shrub commonly found along streambanks, wet prairies, and woodland edges.  Silky dogwood produces flat-topped clusters of yellowish white flowers in spring.  Its fruit is bluish with white blotches.  Silky dogwood is a rounded shrub which grows approximately 6 to 10 feet tall with a similar spread.  The cultivar 'Cayenne' has bright red stems in winter.  Plants can be grown in full sun to partial shade. 

The bright red twigs of redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) set against a backdrop of newly fallen snow is a beautiful sight in winter.  Native to northern Iowa, redosier dogwood grows 6 to 10 feet tall.  Several colorful cultivars are available.  'Cardinal' has bright, cherry red stems and grows 6 to 8 feet tall.  'Baileyi' grows 6 to 8 feet tall and has bright red stems.  'Alleman's Compact' is a 4- to 5- foot-tall, red-stemmed cultivar.  Firedance™ is a uniform, compact, 3- to 4-foot-tall shrub with red stems in winter.  'Flaviramea' has yellow stems.  'Silver and Gold' has green leaves with creamy white margins and yellow stems.  Plants should be pruned on an annual basis as young shoots possess the best winter color.  Redosier dogwoods perform best in moist soils in full sun to part shade.   

American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a native suckering shrub that produces flat-topped clusters of white flowers in early summer.  The flowers are followed by berry-like fruit which turn from green to purple-black in late summer.  The ripe fruit are good for jellies, preserves, and wines.  The fruit are also attractive to birds.  Its mature height is 6 to 10 feet.  'Aurea' and 'Laciniata' are two cultivars which have greater landscape potential than the species.  'Aurea' has golden-yellow foliage and red fruit, while 'Laciniata' has deeply cut foliage.  American elderberry prefers moist to wet soils in full sun to partial shade. 

Other native shrubs suitable for moist to wet locations include winterberry (Ilex verticillata), pussy willow (Salix discolor), and meadowsweet (Spirea alba).

Authors: 

Richard Jauron Extension Program Specialist II

Provide horticultural information to home gardeners and extension staff via the telephone, written communication (Horticulture and Home Pest News, Yard and Garden,  and extension publications), radio, computer (Internet and e-mail), and live presentations.   Also assist with the Master ...