July Plants Update:  Plants for a Changing Climate

The heat has finally broken. Those final few days of June were certainly tough on people, plants, and animals. While that heat wave was clearly a weather event, it’s a good reminder that things seem to be changing much more broadly; it’s more than just record highs on specific dates and what’s doing well or not well in the garden this year. From every subset of ecology, botanists, ornithologists, entomologists, and others can all point to signs in their work that indicate that ranges, irruptions, and naturalization seem to be trending north (as well as east, from here and in the Maritimes) along with those higher-than-average temperature patterns.

Since we started promoting, growing, and selling Maine native plants in 2015, Maine Audubon has been fairly ardent about plants that are definitively and historically native to most of Maine’s 16 counties. Every year we add new species; but we’ve also “lost” many to our own rules. To be honest, we’ve always been a little disappointed to not be able to sell some of these species, especially given how resilient, versatile, and beautiful they are. We also constantly see these plants benefiting wildlife and providing habitat, which is ultimately what we are most focused on.

So, as everything continues to be trending earlier and warmer each year, it’s time to think about some plants whose ranges and benefits for wildlife are likely already expanding our way.

Consider some of these very familiar garden favorites, which are native to North America, but not to Maine:

  • Liatris scariosa (Northern Blazing Star): This genus is a classic nursery-stock plant long pushed for pollinators, hummingbirds, etc. L. scariosa is still hanging on in places like Kennebunk Plains in Maine’s southwesternmost county, and we normally wouldn’t push a species of one county on the whole state. However, this plant should reverse course and follow the insects and birds from York County that are now ending up in Aroostook and Washington Counties.

    Liatris scariosa
    Liatris scariosa
  • Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower): You meant to tell me that this staple of pollinator gardens everywhere is not native to Maine?  Yep! I mean no! Wait, I mean yes! Echinacea purpurea is not native to Maine; its range is to our west and south. You may have missed it this year, but you can count on us promoting and growing Purple Coneflower, and we still have Pale Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), which is native to Maine.

    Echinacea purpurea
    Echinacea purpurea; Photo by Dan Jaffe
  • Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf Coreopsis): We’re sold out of this spreading, long-blooming pollinator favorite this year, but you should still be able to find this as a straight species in retail nurseries. If it’s right for your site, consider planning on getting it from us next year!

    Coreopsis lanceolata
    Coreopsis lanceolata
  • Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm or Red Bergamot): What would win the title as everyone’s favorite non-native herbaceous plant? Our hummingbirds might vote for this beauty that is blooming  and dazzling right now. You must agree as well because you bought us out of our large annual supply before I even had the chance to write about it! Don’t forget its native cousin, Monarda fistulosa (Wild Beebalm or Wild Bergamot), which we do still have in stock.

    Monarda didyma

Maine Audubon has these four species, our new for 2021 “Climate Resilience” plants, for sale at shop.mainenativeplants.org. Because these species aren’t technically native to Maine, we don’t list them on the Maine Native Plant Finder (mainenativeplants.org), our online database of Maine native plants which are well-suited to developed landscapes.


Visit shop.mainenativeplants.org this Friday afternoon for a big inventory update, include the following new arrivals:

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed: That’s right—finally, our only orange-blooming and potentially-extirpated species is ready!  Act fast if you think you have what it takes to raise a species that can be slow to establish and tough to grow, yet is still one of our fastest-selling species.  Our babies are ready just in time for my teenagers to bloom this year.

Antennaria plantaginifolia, Plantain-leaved Pussytoes: NEW FOR 2021 and ready this weekend, this species is as hard to find as it is unique and tough. Like Butterflyweed, it can be slow to get really going, but once it does, it’s a great spreading groundcover with interesting early blooms for drier areas, rock gardens, etc. Most importantly, this is a host plant for the migratory American Painted Lady, which, like the Monarch, relies on its time in Maine to make the butterflies which then fly back south in the fall.
Antennaria plantaginifolia

Check out shop.mainenativeplants.org all summer for inventory updates and ongoing sales.  Planting in July and August is typically fine if you can get water to the plants frequently during their first summer. If you choose the right plants for the spot, and help them through the first summer or plant them in the early fall, they shouldn’t need much help next year and beyond. So please keep growing what and where you can!