August 4, 2014 by and

The grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. To wit, Midwesterners, particularly Nebraskans, have always had a low opinion of the region’s native flora. But outsiders often have a different opinion.

Take aronia (or chokeberry), for example. Most settlers wanted nothing to do with the trees or the fruit. But, some German immigrants appreciated the tart flavor. Some even sent plants back to Germany. Hybrids were made. Now we drink descendants of our native chokeberries every time we have a Welch’s Grape Juice Cocktail.

“People tend to think of native plants as only weeds,” says Kathleen Kue, an associate horticulture specialists with the UNL Extension Office for Douglas and Sarpy counties. “But there are countless wonderful, hardy species. The chokeberry. It was met with distain. Now it’s in everybody’s juice.”

The point here: If you want a low-maintenance, water-sipping landscape that will last, Kue says, you should go native.

With that in mind, here is a collection of some of Kue’s favorite native species that you can easily reintroduce to an Omaha landscape:

Prairie Drop Seed Grass
“This is my all-time favorite Nebraska grass,” Lue says. “It’s not too tall. It’s extremely hardy. I think it’s beautiful.”
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Purple Coneflower
“This is hardly a weed. It’s a really great native. Can’t go wrong.” You might know it by its other name: Echinacea.
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Liatris (gayfeather)
One fun way to track down some unique native plants: Just see what plants are mentioned in the pioneer diaries and literature of writers such as Willa Cather and Mari Sandoz. The gayfeather is long-lasting and easy to grow in your garden.
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Buttonbush
The buttonbush is both an old-timey Nebraska and futuristic. “The flowers are really funky and fun,” Lue says. “They kind of look like spaceships.”
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Paw Paw Tree
Yes, there is a fruit tree native to Nebraska. The paw paw fruit tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango, Lue says. “They’re surprisingly delicious.”
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Aronia (chokeberry)
As the common name suggests, the berries can be astringent, Lue says. But, as in the Welch’s cocktail, they can be very tasty when combined with other fruits.
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