Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden, by Alan Branhagen. Timber Press, 2016.

Andersen Horticultural Library Book Review by Lee Anne Laskey, Library Assistant

This book was on my birthday wish list and I’m so happy to have it now as part of my home library. Alan is not only the author, but the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Operations Director. His genuine passion for plants and deep knowledge, based on many years of interesting experiences, shine through in this valuable guide.

The preface and introduction captured my attention right away with a gorgeous close-up of Dutchman’s breeches, a personal favorite of mine in the Wildflower Garden. He describes being interested in native plants even when he was a young child after his mother showed him this delicate spring flower. Any collector will smile at the story of him being a young gatherer of all things out in nature, from butterflies and bird’s nests to leaves of every kind. It was incredibly refreshing that he pays tribute to the teachers and mentors of his past throughout these introductory pages. Many guides can be a bit dry, but Alan’s is intriguing and easy to follow from the start, making it a must for any gardener and native plant enthusiast, no matter what level of expertise.

The 500 native plants are categorized in twelve helpful sections: Shade Trees, Evergreen Trees, Small Trees, Large Shrubs, Evergreen Shrubs, Small Shrubs, Vines, Prairie Perennials, Woodland Perennials, Wetland Perennials, Groundcovers, Bulbs, Annuals, and Biennials.

What I find especially helpful is that within these sections, each species listed has three essential categories: How to Grow, Landscape Use, and Ornamental Attributes. For example, I recently added a low serviceberry shrub (Amelanchier stolonifera) to my yard after learning more about it in these sections. Alan explained where it would thrive and how it would work as an informal low hedge. He described the beauty of the showy white, upright clusters of flowers in early spring, along with the valuable benefit of bearing fruit that wildlife love!

The photography is not only helpful for identification, but eye-catching and plentiful. The photographs capture the intricate, often overlooked beauty of seed pods, leaf shapes, buds and bark.

It is and will continue to be my go-to guide for incorporating native plants into my gardens. Stop by the library to read more about native plants and use this book as a resource for your garden as well.

Alan Branhagen