UNL Extension – helping you turn knowledge into "know how"

2014 Great Plants for the Great Plains

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

Click to email this page to a friend.email this page to a friend

Each year the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and Nebraska Nursery & Landscape Association chooses a deciduous tree, evergreen tree, shrub, perennial and ornamental grass of the year. These are new or underutilized plants that merit wider use in Nebraska. Specifically, tough plants that are more resilient in the face of the extreme weather found in the Great Plains. Working in cooperation with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, the plants are brought into large-scale production and made available to the public through garden centers and nurseries.

Five great plants being promoted this year through the GreatPlants program are Tuliptree, Korean Fir, Purple Beautyberry, Showy Black-eyed Susan and Gray's sedge.

Tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera, is a large deciduous tree, native to the eastern United States, and gets its common name from its uniquely tulip-shaped leaves and flowers. Yellow-green flowers, with an orange blush at the base, are produced in May and June. The flowers are large, 2-3 inches tall and about half that in width, and although they are large can be overlooked by unobservant. Tulip tree prefers a planting site with moist, well-drained soil, so this isn't the best tree choice for very hot, dry sites. It's a fast grower and small trees can reach 15-20 feet in only 6 to 8 years. Due to its mature size, it's not well suited for use on small residential properties, but is a beautiful majestic tree for use in larger areas. Height 60-90', width 30-50'. Hardy to Zone 4.

Korean fir, Abies koreana, is a slow growing tree that appeals to gardeners needing a smaller, compact evergreen for their landscapes. It has a nice pyramidal shape, with bright green needles. Upright, fat violet/purple cones develop on branch tips, even in fairly young trees, and are an interesting feature. Korean fir does best in full sun locations with good, well-drained soil, and some protection from hot summer winds. It performs well in neutral soil, although prefers slightly acidic soil. Native to Korea; height 15-30', width 6-12'. Hardy to Zone 5.

Purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichomata, is an easy-to-grow shrub that produces beautiful, showy purple berries in fall. During summer, plants have long slender, arching branches and medium green foliage. Small pinkish-lavender flower clusters appear in the leaf axils, developing into neon purple berries by fall. Michael Dirr, author of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, states "There are few fruiting shrubs that can compete with beautyberries in September-October when they are at their fruiting best. When used in mass the effect is spectacular. " Plants do best in full sun to partial shade, and are adaptable to soil type. Look for cultivars 'Early Amethyst' (3-4 feet) and 'Issai' (4-5 feet). Average height 3-5', width 4-6'. Hardy to Zone 5.

Showy black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa, is a North American native wildflower that thrives in Nebraska's hot, humid summers. Dark green leaves contrast with deep golden-orange daisy-like flowers, with a dark central cone. Plants form clumps, thanks to their rhizomatous roots, and are prolific bloomers from mid-summer through fall. Showy black-eyed Susan is similar to the very popular Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm'. However it's taller, tolerates drought better, has a longer bloom period, and is the hardiest Rudbeckia. It's easy to grow in full sun and well-drained soil. Rudbeckia 'Viette's Little Suzy' is a compact, upright selection at only 1-1.5 feet in height. Average height 2-3', width 2'. Hardy to Zone 3.

Gray's sedge, Carex grayi, is a North American native sedge, and a wonderful plant for the edges of ponds, pools, or rain gardens. Plants form an upright clump of green leathery leaves, which can be up to ½ inch wide providing a coarse textured contrast to other garden plantings. Pale green seed heads appear in mid-summer, eventually becoming greenish-yellow, then brown. The seed heads look like tiny spiked clubs, and can be cut for use in either fresh or dried floral arrangements. Gray's sedge grows best in moist, fertile soil, and full to partial sun. Plants have good drought tolerance once established. Height 2-4', width 1-2'. Hardy to Zone 5.

To locate one of these GreatPlants, visit your local nursery. Companies owned and run by members of the Nebraska Nursery & Landscape Association will likely have these plants on hand. Or shop at one of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum plant sales. Visit their website, http://arboretum.unl.edu/plant-sales, as spring gets near for a list of sale dates and available plant material. Why not try one of these 'Great Plants' in your landscape this year!

For more information, or to see pictures of all these plants, visit the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum website, http://arboretum.unl.edu.

This resource was added February 2014 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180