Native Plants – May Bloomers

May is often referred to as the month of flowers, following April showers, but what about for native plants? Are there a lot blooming? Well, we still have some of our April bloomers still going, and of course, there are a lot of cultivars of natives which are just beginning to go crazy. I have tracked down the best natives for the garden and landscape which are blooming in May. It is a time of sunshine, and rain, if you live in the Central Great Plains.

There are actually a lot of things blooming on the prairies and in the glades and meadows. Some things are just now surging with blooms and taking the world by storm. A lot of natives now have cultivars, often called nativars, which has prompted some concern over whether or not they are as good as true species for pollinators. Of the research I have done myself, plus that of other centers, the consensus is that most nativars are just as good for insects as true species. And that goes for both pollinators and host plants.

Native Plants Beginning to Bloom in May

May brings forth some of my favorite perennial native plants, as you will see below. Some are true native species, growing in my garden or nearby prairie remnants. And some are nativars, chosen for flower color, performance, or habit.

Sun Loving Natives

These native plants work best in cottage, prairie, or meadow type gardens. Do not make the mistake that so many landscapers do, by trying to put natives into a rocked flower bed, with weed fabric underneath. Those conditions do not promote good plant health.

May blooming native plants

BlanketflowerGaillardia species

I do not consider these to be long-lived perennials. Surprisingly, in 2022, I had a yellow flowered cultivar which survived the winter of 21-22, and came back. And it had babies! Blanketflower can be a combination of red and yellow, or just red or yellow. In any case, they are excellent for attracting bees, especially bumblebees. Plants grow 12 inches tall and wide.

Agastache Blue FortuneAgastache cultivar

Hummingbird mints are some of the best flowers for bees and other pollinators in the garden. There is a myriad of species and cultivars out there. And there is one for nearly every habitat. Blue Fortune rises 4 to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and blooms prolifically in spring and into summer. I have seen many bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies on it.

Spider Milkweed – Asclepias viridis

The first of the milkweeds to bloom in the Central Great Plains, spider milkweed grows 2 feet tall and wide. It is an excellent plant for early arriving Monarch butterflies from Texas. A few years ago I saw a Monarch laying eggs on the emerging leaves of this plant. All the milkweeds are hosts for Monarchs. These unique, purple-green flowers of spider milkweed also attract butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, and flies.

Sand MilkweedAsclepias amplexicaulis

A little known milkweed in the garden, but you can add it to an especially dry area, expecting good things. The plant looks somewhat sparse, but the butterflies care little about that. The gray-green leaves have ruffled edges, and the flowers are cream colored. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide.

Blue Wild IndigoBaptisia australis

One of the best of the Baptisias, blue wild indigo does great in garden settings. Planted in a meadow or prairie garden, it will shine. I love stopping along the highway in May to photograph the bright purple-blue flowers. Bees, especially bumblebees visit the flowers. And several moths and butterflies use it as a host plant. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall by 2 to 5 feet wide.

Wild IndigoBaptisia cultivars

Usually just called Baptisia in the nursery trade, there are many cultivars for the garden. I myself have 13 cultivars now, and I am always looking to add more when available. Spending lots of time in the garden, I have observed and photographed a number of bees and butterflies visiting the flowers of these cultivars, proving they are just as important as the true species. Sizes range from 2 to 6 feet tall by 2 to 6 feet wide. Colors can vary greatly.

baptisia cultivars

Pale Purple Coneflower – Echinacea pallida

Not very many gardeners use this species in their gardens, with all of the cultivars of purple coneflower available. But if you need a longer-lived coneflower, that is tall, try pale purple. Some of the plants I have observed in prairies around Northeast Kansas have grown 4 feet tall. Bees, butterflies, beetles, and flies all visit these flowers. They do not bloom very long though, making them less desirable. But I love them. They grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The flowers can be pink or white.

pale purple coneflower
Pale purple coneflowers growing in a prairie remnant in Atchison County, KS

Bradbury’s Bee Balm – Monarda bradburiana

I think I found this variety at a native plant sale, and added it to my Meadow Garden, before it was the meadow. I look forward to the blooms each spring, which are light pink and dotted with red. Bumblebees and butterflies visit the flowers. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and slowly forms a spreading clump.

Cobaea Penstemon – Penstemon cobaea

Sometimes called showy penstemon, the bell-shaped flowers of this native are very showy. Depending on where they are located, they can be either purple or pink. Bumblebees and hummingbirds are the best pollinators of the large flowers. In the landscape, the plant has shiny green leaves and forms a nice clump. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and wide.

Penstemon Husker RedPenstemon cultivar

I could hardly promote native plants in Nebraska without including this favorite. Despite the name, neither the flowers nor the leaves are red. But the leaves are more of a burnished bronze color, not quite burgundy. And the white flowers do stand out against them. Bees, butterflies, wasps, and hummingbirds all visit the flowers. They are a quick spreader too, reseeding themselves in the garden. Husker Red grows 18 to 24 inches tall and wide.

Penstemon Onyx and PearlsPenstemon cultivar

Another cultivar of penstemon, this one is a favorite of mine. I added it into my Sunny Cottage Garden in 2020, before we got it at Grimm’s Gardens. It has been very prolific, thriving even in the hottest weather. I planted it in soil just 4 inches deep, which covered a brick walkway. So it got heat from above and below. The flowers are pure white, and the leaves a dark purple. Onyx and Pearls grows 2 feet tall and wide, and is visited by bees and hummingbirds.

Hemp Dogbane – Apocynum cannabinum

This member of the Milkweed Family does not host Monarchs, but the simple white flowers do attract a lot of insects. It is not known in the nursery trade, but native plant enthusiasts enjoy its flowers and upright, milkweed-like pods. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall and spreads slowly over the ground in running colonies.

Yucca – Yucca filamentosa

One of the most difficult plants to eradicate from a landscape, yucca has unique evergreen foliage, and striking towers of scented flowers. The flowers, which are encased by sepals, are pollinated by moths and hummingbirds. Indeed, without the yucca, there would be no yucca moths, a specialist moth. Plants grow 3 feet tall and wide, and the flower stalk can rise 7 feet high. I usually cut the flower stalk off after flowering is over, to prevent seeding.

Purple Poppy MallowCallirhoe involucrata

A great groundcover plant. Purple poppy mallow spreads across the ground with runners which drop seeds after flowering, spreading the plant. The flowers are wine-red-purple and full of pollen. Bumblebees are the most common visitors, but other insects do come too. The plants grow 6 to 12 feet in diameter from the base plant, and 6 inches tall.

purple poppy mallow
Purple poppy mallow

Missouri Evening Primrose – Oenothera macrocarpa

Another great native groundcover. This native plant sometimes reblooms in September, if the weather conditions are right. But mostly, it begins to bloom in May and continues for several weeks. The flowers light yellow and attract many pollinators. Plants spread similar to purple poppy mallow, dropping seeds where the flowers form. The pods are special, 4 sided and quite decorative.

Missouri evening primrose
Missouri Evening Primrose

Shade and Wetland Natives

While some of these plants certainly do well in full sun, they may also require wet soils, such as a bog, marsh, or wet meadow. The others do well in a glade or woodland type setting.

Purple Milkweed – Asclepias purpurascens

I fell in love with this native plant when I was able to obtain plugs from Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries in exchange for seeds. After planting it in my Monarch Waystation, I have bene impressed by its durability. True, it mostly fades away after flowering, as the grasses and other plants take over. But the flowers are gorgeous! Purple-pink ball of color on 3 to 5 foot tall plants. Lots of butterflies, bees, and wasps visit the flower, and Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves.

purple milkweed
Purple milkweed in the Author’s Monarch Waystation

Robin’s Plantain – Erigeron pulchellus

I found this one at a native plant sale at the Dyck Arboretum in Hesston, KS. I was looking for a plant for part shade, for a client’s garden. This plant, with its silvery fuzzy leaves and bright daisy-like flowers were perfect. And it has been so ever since. Bees and butterflies visit the flowers. The plant grows 4 to 10 inches tall and wide.

Copper Iris – Iris fulva

One of the prettiest irises, I found this one growing in the pond at a customer’s house. It was a beautiful thing. Even though it does not bloom very long, like many of the irises, but the time it has is worth it. Coppery orange flowers are pollinated by bees. And you can use the leaves for basket making. The plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide.

shade and wetland loving natives

Spiderwort Sweet KateTradescantia cultivar

Most of the spiderworts are found in open prairies, and prefer full sun. They also travel, and can become invasive in the wrong spot. But Sweet Kate prefers to be on the edge of the glade or prairie, preferring part sun to full. And the contrast between its leaves and flowers makes it an excellent choice for the garden. The leaves are chartreuse and the flowers a royal purple. It grows 18 inches tall and wide and spreads slower than other spiderworts.

spiderwort Sweet Kate
Spiderwort Sweet Kate

Virginia WaterleafHydrophyllum virginianum

One of my favorites groundcovers for shade, this native woodland species has water markings on the leaves, hence the name, waterleaf. The flowers, which are light to bright pink, attract a myriad of bees. Despite its large native range, from the Eastern Great Plains to the Atlantic Ocean, there are no recorded native moths or butterflies which use it as a host plant. It grows 6 to 18 inches tall and forms large colonies.

Virginia waterleaf
Virginia Waterleaf in the Author’s shade garden

Indian Pink – Spigelia marilandica

I first saw this native in the Kansas City Gardener, a gardening magazine we used to have at the nursery. We started carrying it in 2022, and I have loved it in my garden since. Besides having a unique contrast of red and yellow flowers, in the garden it stands out. Hummingbirds seem to be the primary pollinators of the flowers. And little is known about any species which may feed on it. Ah, a mystery! I love it. Indian pink grows 12 to 18 inches tall and forms small colonies or clumps. The largest I have seen was 3 feet in diameter.

Indian pink
Indian Pink at Lenora Larson’s Long Lips Farm

Native Plants Still Blooming From Early Spring

Now we still have a variety of natives which started blooming in March or April, and are still going strong into May, and maybe longer. Find more detailed information on them in my Early Spring post.

  • Bluestars
  • Rose verbena
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Columbine
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Wild geranium
  • Yellow Wood Poppy
  • Shooting Star
  • Fremont’s Clematis


May blooming native plants are not only beautiful, but they make the garden more inviting. As each month or season progresses in the garden, each new flower combining with each old flower passes along a sense of maturity and youth, in the garden. By continually having both new and old blooming native plants, you attract a wider range on insects, from bees and butterflies, to wasps and hummingbirds.

Happy planting!

author of native plants foe May

One thought on “Native Plants – May Bloomers

  1. Thank you so much for this information! I’m not a great gardener but I enjoy reading all about it! Thanks so much!!!

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