University of Maryland Extension

Native Plants for Meadows in Maryland's Coastal Plain

This webpage presents information about the selection of plant species for creating meadows in Maryland's two Coastal Plain ecoregions (63 and 65, below). Even when plant species are native in multiple ecoregions, local populations are often best adapted to local growing conditions. For this reason, when possible, it is best to source native seeds from the ecoregion where they will be used. If not, in this age of planetary warming, the ecoregion to your south is generally your next best bet. Recommended seed transfer zones can be obtained from the U.S. Forest Service (see Resources section).

ecoregion map

Ecoregions are areas of relative homogeneity in soil, climate and topography that lead to suites of species characteristic to that region. In broad terms, Central and Western Maryland are characterized by soils formed through the weathering of relatively nutrient-rich bedrock. In contrast, Coastal Plain soils formed over unconsolidated sediments that have been repeatedly eroded and redeposited by rivers, oceans, and wind. With each erosion-deposition-weathering episode, more of the major plant nutrients leach out of the sediments. As a result, compared to the rest of our state, Coastal Plain soils tend to be nutrient poor and more acidic. The Coastal Plain also has a warmer, more humid climate, and lower, flatter topography. This is why some plant species and plant communities are found in the Coastal Plain but not in the rest of our state.

Maryland's coastal plain species list height= 

Table 1
(PDF) Click on table to download list of species.

Workhorse Species

Some plant species are particularly successful in the anthropogenic meadows of Maryland's Coastal Plain. Anthropogenic meadows are areas that lack the tree cover typical of the Eastern Deciduous Forest because of human activity. Examples can be seen along roadsides, under utility lines, or where pastures or crop fields have been abandoned. The meadow species that thrive in these areas are well adapted to human disturbance and require very little maintenance. We will refer to these as "workhorse species" because they provide both the bulk of biological mass and ecosystem services in anthropogenic meadows. We recommend that your meadow mix contain 75% or more workhorse species, both in terms of the species and in terms of the number of seeds in your mix. Supplement your workhorse species with the other species on the list to accommodate special project goals like pollinator support or aesthetics. All recommended species are listed in Table 1, with workhorse species appropriate for the typical meadow project (mesic, sunny) indicated by a bold font. The table columns provide information that will help you select species for your project.

Description of Table 1 Columns 

Plant Family – If plant or insect biodiversity is a goal for your meadow project, you'd do well to include as many plant families in your seed mix as possible. Plants serve as larval hosts and pollinator forage, and different insects are attracted to different types of plants.
Ecoregion – The table covers two Level III ecoregions (Fig.1). Although species overlap between the Eastern and Western Shore is the rule, acquire seeds from your own ecoregion when possible.
Bloom Season – If pollinator or beneficial insect support is a project goal, manipulate your species list to include spring, summer and fall blooms.
Bloom Color – This is primarily a human, aesthetic consideration, although if you are targeting specific types of pollinators (hummingbirds for example), include their preferred flower colors.
Height – Many people consider short meadow aesthetically desirable, but just selecting short species will not result in a short meadow. Here, in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, naturally short meadows are only found in extreme growing conditions like rock outcrops and bogs. Unless your site conditions are similarly extreme, tall species that volunteer, including some invasive ones, will quickly outcompete a short meadow mix. Mowing during the growing season will certainly shorten a meadow, but it is profoundly damaging to pollinators and wildlife.
Moisture – It was not our intent to present a list of species appropriate for creating a wetland, which is a special science of its own, and modification of vegetation on hydric soils is subject to local and state regulations. We have, however, included a few moisture-loving species in case your meadow project contains a small wet area within it. It is true that you can garden with moisture-loving species in a wider range of conditions than those indicated by the moisture columns, because in gardens you remove weeds and provide supplemental water. In a low-maintenance meadow situation, where plants have to compete with each other, planting species outside their recommended range is a poor investment of time and money.
Light – Species that require deep shade were not targeted for this list because recently planted meadows don't have deep shade. However, they are often near tree lines or buildings that cast some shade, and you can add variation to your meadow mix by taking shade into consideration. For the purposes of this document "full sun" means sun all day, similarly "full shade" means shade all day, the intermediate categories refer to gradations between these extremes.
Competitiveness – This column describes how aggressive a species will be when planted within the site conditions appropriate for it. Although meadows evoke ideas of natural harmony, they are actually scenes of life-or-death competition. The key to successful, low maintenance, meadow plantings is to select the most aggressive species appropriate to your site conditions. Aggressive-but-desirable species will help your meadow resist invasion by aggressive-undesirable species, including noxious weeds and invasive plants. Less aggressive species can be used if you have the budget for frequent monitoring and more intensive maintenance.
Notes – This column contains any important information not covered by the others, such as particular soil texture or pH requirements. You will also find some species-specific tips here.

Commercial Availability of Locally Native Seeds

Because of their size, most people start native meadows with seeds rather than plugs or potted plants. However, if you are starting a small meadow with plugs, you may be interested in our modular meadow project instructions.
Whether using plugs or seeds, generally referred to as "native plant materials", the greatest chance of project success comes from using materials sourced within your project's ecoregion. Locally native seeds also provide the most ecological benefit, particularly when it comes to providing plants in natural areas with genetically appropriate cross-pollination partners. Unfortunately, commercial availability of locally native seed is low in Maryland, and seeds must usually be purchased not only from outside the ecoregion, but from vendors outside the Mid-Atlantic area.

Although cultivars of native grasses are widely available, be particularly careful to avoid purchasing these. Many were bred for pasture or soil stabilization, scenarios where rapid establishment of a monoculture is desirable, and are prone to overrun meadow plantings.
Here are some tips to help you acquire the seeds you need, despite local shortages:
• request the species and ecoregions you actually want from growers, otherwise they will be unaware of customer demand
• ask a seed producer, native plant nursery, or local farmer to contract grow seeds for you (this requires 2 or 3 years lead time)
• wild collect your own seed stock from common species such as purpletop, little bluestem, and beaked panicgrass

This webpage was prepared by Sara Tangren, Ph.D., Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension and Chris Frye, Ph.D., Heritage Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Heritage Program. May 2019.

Additional Resources

Modular Meadow Making for Homeowners https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/how-make-meadow

County Extension Office locations, extension.umd.edu

North American Native Plant Society. Seed Collecting and Saving. nanps.org/seed-collecting

Soil & Water Conservation District locations, https://mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Pages/technical_assistance.aspx

U.S. Forest Service. WWETAC Seed Transfer Zones https://www.fs.fed.us/wwetac/threat-map/TRMSeedZoneMapper.php

Phillips, Harry R. 1985. Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers. The University of North Carolina Press. 350 pp. (Contains an excellent section on wild collecting seeds).

(PDF) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Alan Woods, James Omernik and Douglas Brown. 1999.
Level III and IV Ecoregions of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. Corvallis, OR.

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