Plants - Overview
Ottawa is fortunate to have a broad diversity of natural habitats, which support equally diverse communities of plants (and animals). Located in the Mixedwood Plains ecological region of southern and eastern Ontario, near the boundary with the northern Ontario Shield region, the City is home to a variety of species from both regions.
An updated list of vascular plants in the City of Ottawa was published in 2005 as part of the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study. The list includes 1569 types (species, subspecies and hybrids) of trees, shrubs, grasses, ferns and other green leafy plants, of which 1014 are considered native to this area. The others are non-native species which have been introduced, whether accidentally or on purpose. Some are invasive species which could threaten our native biodiversity.
This list does not include non-vascular plants such as mosses and lichens. It also does not include things like mushrooms, which are fungi rather than plants. While not as commonly recognised as the vascular plants, these lesser-known organisms are numerous and widespread, adding substantially to our local biodiversity.
An electronic copy of the list of vascular plants in Ottawa can be obtained by contacting Amy MacPherson at 613-580-2424 ext. 14873.
For more information about plants, please consult the following links:
Natural Heritage Information Centre (Ministry of Natural Resources) – including list of Ontario species
Invasive species – including a list of common garden plants to avoid
Native species – try planting these instead!
Species at risk – information about species at risk in Ottawa
Native plants are adapted to local climate, soil conditions and diseases. Since they have evolved surviving on rainfall alone, they are good choices for low maintenance, low water consumption gardens. They are also excellent choices for wildlife, providing food and shelter for many local pollinators and other species!
Check with your local nursery or garden supply store for more information on native plants such as the ones suggested below. Local sources of native plants include the Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville and Beaux Arbres Native Plants in Bristol (Québec), as well as the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club’s annual native plant sale at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (Experimental Farm).
Make sure that the plants you choose are actually native to eastern Ontario, not just to North America in general. The City of Ottawa has a list of all known plant species occurring here, with notations on which ones are not native to our area. There are several organisations that provide great resources as well; for more information on native plants, please refer to the following:
In areas that are not used much, grass can be replaced by one or more groundcovers. Many of the following species will thrive in shady areas, unlike most turf grasses. They are also much better for pollinators than turf!
- Bearberry (white-pink flowers in early spring; red berries in summer) – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
- Bloodroot (beautiful white flowers in early spring) – Sanguinaria canadensis
- Bunchberry (white flowers followed by red berries) – Cornus canadensis
- Canada Mayflower (white flowers in spring) – Maianthemum canadense
- Foamflower (clusters of white flowers in spring) – Tiarella cordifolia
- Partridgeberry (very low-growing, evergreen with red berries) – Mitchella repens
- Violets, including Sweet White, Canada, Northern White, Yellow or Common Blue – Viola blanda, V. canadensis, V. macloskeyi, V. pubescens or V. sororia
- Wild Ginger (interesting flowers in spring) – Asarum canadense
- Wild Strawberry (white flowers in late spring, edible berries in summer) – Fragaria virginiana
- Wintergreen (low-growing, aromatic evergreen leaves and red berries) – Gaultheria procumbens
Many commercially prepared wildflower seed mixes contain species that are not native to our area. Some mixes even include invasive species that should not be planted near natural areas! The following species are recommended, especially for pollinator-friendly gardens:
- Asters, such as Panicled, Calico, New England or Purple-stemmed – Symphyotrichum (formerly Aster) lanceolatum, S. lateriflorum, S. novae-angliae or S. puniceum
- Blue Flag – Iris versicolor
- Canada Anemone – Anemone canadensis
- Cardinal Flower – Lobelia cardinalis
- Goldenrods, including Tall, Canada, Zigzag, Early or Rough – Solidago altissima, S. canadensis, S. flexicaulis, S. juncea or S. rugosa
- Milkweeds, such as Common, Swamp, and the increasingly popular Butterfly-weed – Asclepias syriaca, A. incarnata, and A. tuberosa
- Mints, such as Wild Bergamot, Wild Mint, or Northern Bugleweed – Monarda fistulosa, Mentha canadensis, Lycopus uniflorus
- Spring-beauty – Claytonia caroliniana
- Trilliums, including White or Red – Trillium grandiflorum or T. erectum
- Wild Columbine – Aquilegia canadensis
The deciduous shrubs listed below have beautiful flowers that attract pollinators, and fruits that are eaten by birds and other wildlife. The evergreens also provide food and shelter for wildlife.
- Canada Yew (evergreen) – Taxus canadensis
- Chokeberry – Aronia melanocarpa (also known as Photinia melanocarpa)
- Common Juniper (evergreen) – Juniperus communis
- Dogwood, such as Grey (Panicled) or Red-osier – Cornus racemosa or C. sericea
- Elderberry, either Common or Red – Sambucus canadensis or S. pubens (also known as S. racemosa ssp. pubens)
- High bush Cranberry, Maple-leaved Viburnum or Nannyberry – Viburnum opulus var. americanum (also known as V. trilobum), V. acerifolium, or V. lentago
- Northern Bush-honeysuckle – Diervilla lonicera
- Purple-flowered Raspberry (large, showy flowers and leaves) – Rubus odoratus
- Staghorn Sumac (large shrub/small tree; spreads by roots) – Rhus typhina
- Winterberry (bright red berries in fall and winter) – Ilex verticillata
Many of these trees have flowers that attract pollinators, and fruits that are eaten by birds and other wildlife. White cedar provides food and shelter for wildlife such as birds, squirrels and deer.
- Alternate-leaved Dogwood – Cornus alternifolia
- Blue-beech – Carpinus caroliniana
- Hawthorn – Crataegus chrysocarpa, C. flabellata or C. submollis
- Pin Cherry – Prunus pensylvanica
- Maple, either Mountain or Striped – Acer spicatum or A. pensylvanicum
- Serviceberry – Amelanchier arborea
- White Cedar (evergreen) – Thuja occidentalis
Large trees provide food and shelter to many species of birds and other wildlife. They also provide us with great benefits such as shade, cleaner air, and higher property values!
- American Beech – Fagus grandifolia
- Balsam Fir (evergreen) – Abies balsamea
- Birch, either White or Yellow – Betula papyrifera or B. alleghaniensis
- Bitternut Hickory – Carya cordiformis
- Black Cherry – Prunus serotina
- Maple, either Red, Silver, United (hybrid) or Sugar – Acer rubrum, A. saccharinum, A. x freemanii or A. saccharum
- Oak, either Red or Bur – Quercus rubra or Q. macrocarpa
- Tamarack – Larix laricina
- White Pine (evergreen) – Pinus strobus
- White Spruce (evergreen) – Picea glauca