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Thursday - July 18, 2013

From: Lancaster, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Erosion Control, Shrubs, Wildflowers
Title: Native Streambank Plants for SE Pennsylvania
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I help manage a nature preserve in southeastern Pennsylvania. Along the stream the banks have been beaten down by a large number of visitors for their educational activities such as stream studies. The stream floods occasionally, but not more than once a year. The soil is limestone-based here in Lancaster County. Do you have any suggestions for plantings on the banks? I realize that we must limit access and alternate sites, but we are looking for a good, tough grass or groundcover, preferably native. The nearby trail could also use some vegetation. Both are in shade. Thanks!


Mr. Smarty Plants answered a similar question last year regarding native plants to stabilize a stream bank in Southern PA.  Here’s some of what Anne Bossart wrote as a reply to the question that I think you will find very helpful. Many of the shrubs will be suitable for your nearby trail edge too.

Grasses are ideal for the task as they have fibrous root systems which hold the soil well.  Some will grow right up to the water's edge, others will have to be placed further up the slope.  There are also some shrubs, especially willows and dogwoods that can grow in the water at the edge of the stream.
Here are some suggestions; follow the links to detailed information pages to see their exact water and light requirements.
Andropogon glomeratus (Bushy bluestem) grows well in wet areas and prefers full sun.
Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge bluestem) is recommended for erosion control and grows in part shade.
Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) grows in moist soils in sun, part shade or shade.
Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) prefers shade or part shade and moist soils.
Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass) grows along streambanks in sun or part shade.
Tripsacum dactyloides (Eastern gamagrass) likes part shade and grows in moist areas or along streambanks.
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Common buttonbush) grows in moist areas and will grow in standing water in shade or part shade.
Salix humilis (Prairie willow) grows in sun along streambanks.
Salix nigra (Black willow) grows in sun, part shade and shade along streambanks.
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (Common elderberry) grows in part shade and is good for erosion control in moist areas.
Alnus serrulata (Hazel alder) grows in sun, part shade and shade on stream banks and other wet areas.
Spiraea alba (White meadowsweet) grows in sun, part shade and shade in swamps, wet meadows and shorelines.
Cornus racemosa (Gray dogwood) grows in sun, part shade or shade in thickets, river bank woods; wet to dry, low, open areas
Cornus sericea (Redosier dogwood) grows in part shade on river banks, lake shores in wooded or open, wet areas.

To do your own search, the first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.
Under Combination Search, select the following categories: PA, Habit (shrub, grass, herb), and Duration – Perennial. You can narrow down this search further by indicating light requirement (shade), blooming time, soil moisture (moist or wet) and height specifics (0-1, 6-12 ft. etc.).
Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list. Think about including plants that have interest during a variety of seasons and that have more than one attractive feature (flower, fruit, foliage, bark, etc.) so you can get more benefits out of fewer plants. 


From the Image Gallery

Bushy bluestem
Andropogon glomeratus

Panicum virgatum

Eastern gamagrass
Tripsacum dactyloides

Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Prairie willow
Salix humilis

Black willow
Salix nigra

Common elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Smooth alder
Alnus serrulata

White meadowsweet
Spiraea alba

Gray dogwood
Cornus racemosa

Red osier dogwood
Cornus sericea

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