Mt. Cuba Center, a Mid-Atlantic botanic garden that focuses on the study and conservation of native plants, is excited to announce the launch of the Mt. Cuba Collection, a branded selection of natives that Mt. Cuba has introduced to commercial production. These native plants have thrived in Mt. Cuba’s gardens for many years, providing stunning seasonal interest while welcoming wildlife into the gardens.
“For decades, gardeners have been clamoring for a wider selection of native plants,” said Jeff Downing, Mt. Cuba’s executive director. “Mt. Cuba has introduced high performing, garden-worthy natives to the nursery industry, largely under the radar, since the 1980s. By establishing the Mt. Cuba Collection, we’re looking to highlight some of our newest selections along with perennial favorites, with the intention of expanding awareness of and access to great native plants for gardens.”
These native plants are specially adapted to local growing conditions in the Eastern United States. As their common names suggest, these five introductions are bursting with colors to please gardeners who are searching for plants that provide stunning seasonal interest while also welcoming wildlife into the garden.
The Mt. Cuba Collection:
Iris versicolor ‘Purple Flame’
Commonly referred to as Purple Flame blue flag, this native plant has striking eggplant-purple foliage that emerges from the ground in early spring. As weather warms, the bold purple leaves start to fade, eventually turning back to tones of green. In late spring to early summer, dark stems produce dark purple flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. This adaptable perennial is at home in typical garden conditions but can also tolerate wet feet as the crown can be planted below water level. This plant thrived near Mt. Cuba’s ponds for decades before being introduced to trade in 2020.
Coreopsis tripteris ‘Gold Standard’
Coreopsis tripteris ‘Gold Standard’ gets its name from its bright color and its superior performance when compared to the straight species in Mt. Cuba’s 2015 trial. Introduced in 2016 and commonly referred to as Gold Standard tall tickseed, this native perennial is hardy and adaptable. It originated from seed originally collected in Alabama and was selected for its shorter stature and sturdy stems. Coreopis tripteris ‘Gold Standard’ blooms for two months from late summer into fall and is incredibly disease resistant.
“From our coreopsis trial, we know this is a trouble-free plant,” says Sam Hoadley, Mt. Cuba’s Trial Garden Manager. “It’s a very reliable perennial, doesn’t aggressively spread, and the stems don’t need to be staked. Bumble bees particularly love this plant.”
Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve ‘Bluebird’ (Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’)
Ranked as the No. 1 aster in an evaluation study at Mt. Cuba Center, this perennial produces violet blue flowers on 3-4’ tall stems just in time for fall color. It has attractive, slightly glossy, bluish-green foliage that is virtually pest-free. Bluebird smooth aster thrives in full sun to light shade with a broad tolerance of soil types and moisture levels. It looks phenomenal when planted as a perennial border, in a meadow or when used in mass plantings.
Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve ‘Bluebird’ was discovered in 1988 in a Guilford, Conn. garden and shared with Mt. Cuba. It has long been a popular choice for gardeners since it was first introduced to the trade in 1994.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ (Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’)
In early autumn, Purple Dome New England aster is covered with dense clusters of purple, daisy-like, semi-double flowers. It is a refined plant for the garden border with its symmetrical, compact mounded form reaching only 2’ tall. It grows in sun to filtered shade and performs best in moist, well-drained soil, though it is tolerant of short dry periods.
“It’s an outstanding plant in my home garden,” Hoadley says. “Purple Dome evokes feelings of garden mums, but it’s native, and that alone is reason enough to grow them.”
Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’
Condensed flower spikes of showy gold bloom from mid-September to October and are frequented by late-season pollinators. Commonly referred to as Golden Fleece autumn goldenrod, this compact form of Solidago sphacelata was first introduced by Mt. Cuba in 1985. It is an adaptable perennial that thrives in a wide variety of conditions, from full sun to part-shade and in average to dry soils. Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’ can be used as an edging or container plant in formal spaces and cottage gardens. This plant family is currently being evaluated in Mt. Cuba’s Trial Garden. A research report with findings will be available to the trade and home gardeners in 2025.
“All of these plants are not only beautiful, but they support healthy habitats by providing homes and food for wildlife,” Downing said. “By adding native plants to your garden, you can contribute to a healthier ecosystem.”
Find the Mt. Cuba Collection at garden retailers from Spring through early Fall. For more information, visit mtcubacenter.org/collection.