Home & Garden Garden 18 Big Leaf Plants Native to North America Add show-stopping shape to your garden. By David M. Kuchta David M. Kuchta Writer Wesleyan University, University of California, Berkeley David Kuchta, Ph.D. has 10 years of experience in gardening and has read widely in environmental history and the energy transition. An environmental activist since the 1970s, he is also a historian, author, gardener, and educator. Learn about our editorial process Published June 27, 2022 ANGHI / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Home & Garden Planting Guides Indoor Gardening Urban Farms Insects One of the joys of a garden is the variety of shapes and sizes of plants. Big leaf plants can boldly anchor any garden, or they can fill large spaces quietly and gracefully. Keep in mind that these plants can also crowd out other species—flowers and weeds alike—so care must be taken when incorporating them into your garden design. Most big leaf plants available to North American gardeners are non-natives—meaning they are not great for local pollinators and other native species. Below are 18 North American natives that can help sustain native species but still make bold statements in your garden. 1 of 18 American Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) Michel VIARD / Getty Images American skunk cabbage (or Western skunk cabbage) has a far milder odor than Symplocarpus foetidus, also a North American native. American skunk cabbage can be found in bogs and marshlands from coastal Alaska to northern California and east into the Rockies. It produces graceful, butter-yellow, pulpit-like flowers in mid-spring, attracting pollinators with their musky smell. Its narrow leaves can grow to 3 feet long that, when grown in bunches, can fill a low-lying boggy area. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: wet, boggy, consistently moist soil 2 of 18 Bigleaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) Uliana Oliinyk / Getty Images As its name suggests, bigleaf lupine is the largest of North America's native lupines. A West Coast native, it forms one of the bases of the more common Russell hybrids found in many garden centers. It grows best alongside streams or in frequently wet meadows. Clusters of five or more leaves can grow up to 6 inches long, collecting dew and rain that birds and insects will drink. Their blossoms can range from lilac-blue to white and pink. USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: moist, fertile soil 3 of 18 Clintonia (Clintonia spp.) randimal / Getty Images Clintonia are long-lived lilies that spread by rhizomes and produce rich, shiny foliage. Once fully grown, they can produce leaves that are 1 foot long and 5 inches wide and can fill a woodland area. C. borealis thrives in northeastern rocky climates, C. umbelluta does well in the east woods from New York to Georgia, and C. uniflora is the western cousin of C. borealis. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9Sun Exposure: deep shadeSoil Needs: cool, lime-free soil 4 of 18 Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) Agenturfotograf / Getty Images Cup plants (or rosinweed) will naturalize in meadows and prairies. These are big plants that soar to 8 feet with foot-long leaves that catch rainwater and dew, which birds and beneficial insects may drink from. Yellow, daisy-like flowers emerge in mid-summer, while in fall, finches feast on their seeds. They are native to the Dakotas and south to Oklahoma, but can range east as far as the Georgia coast. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: sandy, moist soil near streams or in woodlands 5 of 18 Foamflower (Tiarella spp.) Michel VIARD / Getty Images Foamflowers are easy-growing spring bloomers in the shade. Large-leaved species like T. cordifolia and T. wherryi act as ground covers; their leaves form dense mounds that can remain green through the winter and last for years in the garden. Constantly wet soil will be fatal to them, but they otherwise tolerate a wide variety of soil types. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10Sun Exposure: part to full shade Soil Needs: moist, well-draining soil 6 of 18 Fringe Cups (Tellima grandiflora) jikgoe / Getty Images Fringe cup leaves are hairy and rounded with many lobes. Fringe cup is an evergreen perennial suitable as a ground cover in woodland gardens. This West Coast native will not fare well in humid Southern climates, but in its natural habitat it will produce subtle but fragrant, creamy, bell-shaped flowers. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7 Sun Exposure: part to full shadeSoil Needs: moist, well-draining soil 7 of 18 Wild Ginger (Asarum spp.) japatino / Getty Images While not giants, the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger are substantial enough to make a distinctive ground cover, and the plant is grown more for its leaves than its insignificant flowers. Wild ginger looks and smells like commercial ginger, Zingiber officinalis, but the two are unrelated. A. canadense (zones 3-8) is the most common North American species of wild ginger, but A. shuttleworthii (zones 5-8) produces four-inch-long leaves that are mottled and aromatic. With over 70 species of Asarum, natives can be found throughout North America. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8Sun Exposure: partial or full shadeSoil Needs: evenly moist clay or loam soil 8 of 18 Grapes (Vitis spp.) Jon Hicks / Getty Images Most wine grapes (V. vinifera) are European in origin, but North America is home to hundreds of native grapes, all with heart-shaped leaves large enough to stuff them to make dolmas. V. labrusa is the parent of Concord and Catawba grapes, among other varieties. Grapes are prolific climbers, reaching 20 or more feet, but they can be trained to grow on a sturdy pergola, fence, or other structure. USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9Sun Exposure: full sun or part shadeSoil Needs: rich, moist, but well-draining soil 9 of 18 Powdery Thalia (Thalia dealbata) chuyu / Getty Images Thalia dealbata is an aquatic plant with elliptical blue-green leaves that can be 18 inches long. It is best suited for rain gardens, water gardens, or alongside bodies of water, submerged in up to 18 inches of boggy soil. Erect stems up to 6-feet tall will produce small, pollinator-friendly purple flowers that turn into round fruits favored by wildlife. USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: poorly drained, clay or loamy soil 10 of 18 Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) Jon Benedictus / Getty Images The aptly named royal fern can grow up to 6 feet tall, with long fronds that make a strong statement in any garden. Royal ferns do well along stream banks, in boggy areas, and in rain gardens. An ancient species, Osmunda ferns are native to Eurasia and the Americas, and date back to the Triassic period, giving your garden a “living fossil” look. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9Sun Exposure: part shadeSoil Needs: consistently moist soil 11 of 18 Sunflowers (Helianthus annus) Alexander Nikitin / Getty Images Sunflowers are grown primarily for their flowers, of course, but before their blossoms open, tall stalks of large, heart-shaped leaves waving in the wind are head-turners. As the plants grow taller, the leaves grow larger. Sunflowers attract bees with their pollen, then birds and small mammals with their seeds. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: average, moist, well-draining soil 12 of 18 Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) James Steakley / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 3.0 Twinleaf plants are slow-growing and produce indistinct white, cup-shaped flowers no more than an inch wide. It is the large leaves of twinleaf that are distinctive: each pair of leaves are mirror images of each other. Twinleaf plants like basic soil, so amend it to raise the pH. Twinleaf keeps growing after flowering, reaching heights of up to 18 inches. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9 Sun Exposure: shade in summerSoil Needs: moist soils with higher pH 13 of 18 Umbrella Leaf (Diphylleia cymosa) Martin Wahlborg / Getty Images Umbrella leaf grows to 3 feet tall with leaves 2 feet in width. Clusters of white flowers emerge above the leaves, giving way to red stems bearing distinctive fruits that might be mistaken for blueberries. The plant is native to eastern North America and can be found alongside shaded waterways. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7Sun Exposure: part sun to shadeSoil Needs: any type of moist but well-draining soil, any pH 14 of 18 Umbrella Plant (Darmera peltata) ANGHI / Getty Images Umbrella plant is grown for its 2-foot wide foliage, but has the added benefit of producing clusters of attractive pink or white flowers emerging in spring before the leaves do. It can be found in its native habitat in California and Oregon alongside upland streams and muddy banks. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7Sun Exposure: full shade to full sunSoil Needs: consistently damp to wet soil 15 of 18 Velvet Mallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus) nickkurzenko / Getty Images The leaves of Velvet mallow have been called “Lamb's ear on a shrub” for their grey-green, velvety leaves. Velvet mallow is a hibiscus grown mostly for its dinner-plate sized flowers, but its fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves can be 10 inches long and wide. Also known as Swamp rose mallow, its native habitats are the fresh or brackish swamps and banks of the U.S. Southeast. In the right conditions, it can grow to 15-feet tall. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: tolerates many types of soil, but moist is best 16 of 18 Water avens (Geum rivale) Nahhan / Getty Images Water avens thrives in boggy area all across the northern half of the continent. Its butterfly-friendly red and orange flowers are its most attractive feature, but its faceted, toothy leaves form clumps, making it a useful ground cover in cool, wet areas. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7Sun Exposure: full or part sunSoil Needs: moist but well-draining soil of all types 17 of 18 Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum spp.) RukiMedia / Getty Images Eight species of waterleaf are native to North America. Maple-leaved waterleaf (H. canadense, pictured) is native to the East Coast and has the biggest leaves, which make an excellent understory plant or woodland ground-cover in moist shade gardens. Waterleaf slowly spreads by rhizomes. Other species are native to the Midwest, Pacific Coast, or Northwest. All produce insignificant flowers hiding underneath their large leaves. USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7Sun Exposure: full or partial shadeSoil Needs: rich, constantly damp soil 18 of 18 Wood fern (Dryopteris spp.) Ed Reschke / Getty Images A genus of roughly 200 species, wood ferns can be found all across North America, from the coldest zones to the Gulf Coast. The tallest natives grow up to 4 feet tall, with large, semi-evergreen leaves that may turn a striking orange-red in autumn. D. ludoviciana and D. marginalis (pictured) are among the most sought-after by gardeners. USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9Sun Exposure: afternoon shade in warmer climatesSoil Needs: moist but well-draining soil of any type To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.