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Plant of the Year

The GCA Plant of the Year: Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award 

The Freeman Horticulture Medal honors Montine McDaniel Freeman, a member of New Orleans Town Gardeners. It was given in her honor by her son and daughter-in-law, Louis and Judy Freeman. The award is given to an outstanding native plant which is underutilized but possesses superior ornamental and ecological attributes. The goal is to encourage the propagation and planting of these plants in our gardens and the landscape.

The Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Medal is awarded annually to acknowledge the cultivation and use of native plants: trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, and perennials that are little known but are deemed worthy to be preserved, propagated, promoted, and planted.

The GCA Plant of the Year: 1995 to present

Enlarge the photos of winning entries to see more detail: Click on the image and it will pop out. Click outside the full-size image to return to the list of winners.



Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush, Honey Bells

The 2021 Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal winner is Cephalanthus occidentalis, buttonbush. The Freeman Medal Selection Committee, comprised of outstanding horticulturists from across North America, unanimously chose buttonbush as the 2021 winner in the category of woody plants. Attributes of Cephalanthus occidentalis include its adaptability to soils, its use when planted in groups along stream beds to slow erosion with fibrous roots, the unique beauty of the flowers, its fruit that provides food throughout the winter for 24 species of birds, and its ability to be planted in full sun or part shade. The common name, honey bells, was used by beekeepers who found the shrub to be irresistible to honey bees and, thus, introduced it into production in the colonies in 1735. A pollinator magnet, buttonbush is a food source for swallowtails, monarchs, skippers, Titan sphinx moths, hydrangea sphinx moths, and royal walnut moths.  Native North American bees such as the bumblebees, yellow-faced bees, green sweat bees, and long-horned bees also regularly visit the shrub. Easily maintained to a desired height through pruning, buttonbush is a great addition to gardens across North America. With its fascinating flowers and the insect and butterfly activity that accompany its planting, it is a notable plant for educating children and adults on its unsurpassed values for the environment! USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9 but plants are evident throughout the lower 48 states.

 Photo Credit:  Caroline Orr, Memphis Garden Club

Proposed by: Member of Memphis Garden Club, Zone IX

Seconded by: Member of Memphis Garden Club, Zone IX

Honorable Mention

Prunus Mexicana Mexican Plum Tree

Prunus mexicana, Mexican plum tree, provides a spring show of blooms that can successfully replace those of Bradford Pear!  This adaptable tree, despite its botanical name, can be grown in multiple hardy areas across North America. Thriving with little maintenance, it is the host plant for the Tiger swallowtail butterfly and Cecropia moth.  Mexican plum tree is resistant to pollution and unattractive to deer.  Its structure and furrowed, gray bark add excellent structure to a garden space.  The sweet plums it produces also can be made into great jams and jellies.  USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9 


Photo Credit: Lee Page, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 


Proposed by: Member of The Garden Club of Houston, Zone IX

Special Recognition

Ehretia anacua Anacua, Sandpaper Tree, Knockaway

Special Recognition is awarded to a plant with limited geographical presence.  This year the award went to Ehretia anacua, sandpaper tree.  Given its common name by early settlers in Texas who used the coarse leaves as sandpaper, Ehretia anacua, is an outstanding supporter of wildlife.  The flowers provide food for many bees, butterflies, and insects.  The fruits that follow are valuable to birds, mammals, and humans!  Early German settlers in Central Texas called the tree vogelbeerenbaum or bird-berry tree.  A fascinating feature of sandpaper tree is the way its young sapling trunks intertwine to create an extraordinary natural sculpture in the adult tree trunk.  Drought tolerant and of beautiful form, this is a wonderful shade-provider in its sun-drenched natural environment.  USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11.

Photo Credit: Mary Pinke Neck (

Proposed by: Member of River Oaks Garden Club, Zone IX



Geum triflorum Prairie Smoke

The Freeman Medal Selection Committee, comprised of outstanding horticulturists from across the United States, was unanimous in its final decision about this lovely bloomer. Its early spring interest is followed by an amazing seed head display. As Seta writes: “the real magic occurs after pollination when the silvery pink, fluffy fruit, or achenes, appear…the stems slowly turn upright, and the seed heads begin to form, creating plumes which persist for one to two months.” Hence the name prairie smoke or old man’s whiskers gives a perfect description of the plant after bloom. Although prairie smoke is being challenged by taller, non-native plants in its native mesic prairie sites, it is readily adaptable to many other areas. Tolerant of poor soil, moderate drought, heat and humidity, Geum triflorum can be grown in sun or partial shade and is suitable for cottage gardens, prairies, meadows, and perennial beds. It is not favored by deer or burrowing animals. Geum triflorum nearly has it all! The selection committee was eager for this plant to become more available across the country and to be planted wherever it might flourish and spread its magic. 


Photo Credit: Stan Shebsgeum triflorum 2CC BY-SA 3.0 Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA in April 2007

Proposed by: Member of Fox Hill Garden Club, Zone I

Honorable Mention

Asarum Canadense Wild Ginger

This North American wild ginger is a lovely, soft green, shade-loving herbaceous perennial. It colonizes to form a graceful ground cover that successfully competes with non-native plants. In the summer its 6” heart-shaped leaves carpet moist to dry shady sites as a welcome foil to blazing sun. It is a food source for Battus philenor (L.), pipevine swallowtail, is deer resistant, and unpalatable to other mammals. A low maintenance plant, it grows well in many soil types and acid to alkaline soil. 

Photo Credit: Wasp32 Asarum canadense 4CC BY 4.0 Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA in April 2007 

Proposed by: Member of Indianapolis Garden Club, Zone X

Seconded by: Member of Indianapolis Garden Club, Zone X

Penstemon strictus Rocky Mountain Penstemon

This native penstemon is a prolific pollinator magnet attracting butterflies, moths, and native bees. It is adaptable to both wild sites and garden settings and thrives in sandy loam, rocky, and even clay soil. Penstemon strictus is a vigorous and low maintenance perennial for sun or partial shade. The beautiful spikes of blue-violet tubular blooms make this a welcome sight from meadows to home gardens.

Proposed by: Member of Santa Fe Garden Club, Zone XII

Seconded by: Member of Santa Fe Garden Club, Zone XII

Special Recognition

Zamia integrifolia, Coontie

This year’s Special Recognition is awarded to our only North American native cycad, Zamia integrifolia, coontie. Zamia integrifolia has a fascinating history. Harvested extensively because its starchy roots could be made into a mold-resistant flour that was sent overseas, extensively during WWI, coontie has now made a true comeback. Along with the plant’s return came the rediscovery of Eumaeus atala, atala butterfly, once believed to be extinct. This butterfly uses coontie as its host plant and is now as prolific as is coontie in the landscape.

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Palm Beach, Zone VIII

Seconded by: Member of Garden Club of Palm Beach, Zone VIII



Aristolochia macrophylla Dutchman's Pipe

Aristolochia macrophylla, also known as Isotrema macrophyllum, is a deciduous native vine that can be used to create a lush living wall, a sheltering green roof, a thick ground cover, or an attractive privacy fence and it has been used in American gardens since the eigtheenth century.  Large, heart-shaped, densely overlapping leaves 6 to 12 inches long can quickly cover an arbor or trellis with attractive, glossy, deep green foliage and create a canopy impenetrable to the rays of the sun or moderate rain.  The common name derives from the plant's exotic pale yellow flowers that resemble a “Dutchman’s pipe." The flowers bloom in May and June among a swathe of large, fuzzy, heart-shaped, dark green leaves.  Aristolochia macrophylla is the host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies which lay their eggs in small clusters on young leaves or stems. When the eggs hatch, the leaves become an important food source for the growing caterpillars.  The unusual shape of the pipe blossom serves as a type of 'fly-trap,' attracting small insects that are temporarily held and released to carry pollen to the next flower.  Aristolochia macrophylla​ thrives in USDA zones 4 to 8, in sun to part shade, and in average to moist soil.  It is deer resistant and pollution tolerant, and it has no serious insect or disease problems.  It is a workhorse vine with an exotic look that would highlight a small or large native garden in the twenty-first century. Garden photograph: Jamie Purinton | Blossom photograph: Mark A. Garland, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Proposed by: Member of Chestnut Hill Garden Club, Zone I

Honorable Mention

Gymnocladus dioicus Kentucky Coffeetree

Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree) grows in USDA  zones 3 to 8 and has unique characteristics that make it stand out as a striking and aesthetically pleasing tree throughout all four seasons. In early summer, the showy greenish white female flowers are 8 to 12 inches long and have the fragrance of roses.  During summer, the tree has a soft lacy appearance and the female flowers give way to flattened, reddish-brown pods up to 10 inches long. The pods, which ripen in October and persist well into winter, provide a striking silhouette against a winter sky.  Male trees are also a good option because they provide seasonal interest with smaller flowers and no seedpods.

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Lexington, Zone VII

Seconded by: Member of Garden Club of Lexington, Zone VII

Viburnum rufidulum Rusty Blackhaw

Viburnum rufidulum (Rusty Blackhaw, Southern Blackhaw) is an incredibly versatile and underutilized native plant that can be used as a small specimen tree, a showy shrub border, an understory planting, or naturalized to provide habitat in a woodland setting.  With four-season interest, it is covered in spring and early June with striking 5 to 6-inch-wide clusters of small, creamy-white fragrant blooms that provide nectar for bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects.  Its showy flowers can be cut or dried and are surrounded by lustrous dark green, glossy, summer foliage. During fall, its clusters of dark blue berries are extremely popular with wildlife. The berries are edible and taste similar to raisins.  In fall, Viburnum rufidulum foliage puts on a brilliant display of autumnal colors which concludes with reddish-brown articulated bark that provides architectural interest in winter.  Viburnum rufidulum will grow 10 to 20 feet in USDA zones 5 to 9 in full sun or partial/deep shade.  It tolerates clay and poor soil and can be planted and naturalized in ravines and along rocky banks of creeks to prevent erosion.  It is resistant to disease, insects, and deer and, because it is tolerant of drought and pollution, it is an excellent option for public and urban areas.  You will probably not find this hearty, vibrant native in a big box store, but it is definitely worth asking your local nursery to get it for you for your home or community.

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Nashville, Zone IX

Special Recognition

Carnegiea gigantea Saguaro

Carnegiea gigantea (Saguaro - pronounced "suh-WAHR-oh") is a stately, tall columnar cactus with large branches (arms) curving upward and a limited growing range in the arid Sonoran Desert. The saguaro is the iconic plant of the American Southwest and is indeed 'special' as a foundation species that supports many other species in the specialized ecosystem by providing food and habitat.  The 3-inch, creamy white and yellow blossom of the saguaro is the state flower of Arizona. These night-blooming flowers have a mother-of-pearl glow that is visible under the moonlight and attracts a variety of pollinators, including nectar-eating bats, birds, moths, and honeybees.  The bright red fruit is a food source for birds and has been harvested for centuries by native peoples. When the fruit falls to the ground, it is eaten by animals, especially coyotes and foxes. Birds use the saguaro for nesting and when water sources are not available, pack rats, jackrabbits, mule deer and bighorn sheep will eat the saguaro's flesh.  A saguaro requires little or no water, can live as long as 150 to 200 years, and grow to 40 to 60 feet tall. The saguaro has woody xylem, but it does not have bark. Despite the saguaro's fleshy exterior, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, deemed the Carnegiea gigantea a woody plant.

Proposed by: Member of Arizona Columbine Garden Club, Zone XII

Seconded by: Member of Arizona Columbine Garden Club, Zone XII



Pycnanthemum muticum mountain mint

Pycnanthemum muticum, commonly known as mountain mint, is a native perennial that attracts such an abundance of diverse bees, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects that it has been described as providing "wildlife TV!"  It is an excellent source of nectar but also attracts predatory and/or parasitoid insects that prey upon pest insects. This easy-to-grow ornamental plant has noteworthy blue-green foliage, silvery bracts, aromatic leaves, and pinkish to white flowers that bloom from July through September.  It naturalizes politely and provides an attractive upright and tiered clump that is 2 to 3 feet high and just as wide. Pycnanthemum muticum grows in USDA Zones 4 to 8, in full sun to partial shade and both drought and wet conditions. It helps with erosion control, is resistant to diseases, insects, deer, rabbits and rodents and happily grows from Maine to Michigan and south to Florida and Texas. 

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Madison, Zone IV

Honorable Mention

Maianthemum racemosum false Solomon's seal

Maianthemum racemosum, formerly known as Smilacina racemosa, is commonly known at false Solomon's seal. Maianthemum racemosum is a three-season woodland beauty.  In the spring, it flaunts beautifully fragrant white panicle flowers. The graceful architectural form provided by the arching stems and ridged green leaves carries the plant through summer. In the fall, the foliage turns a warm rich yellow and the flowers turn into showy red berries. This natural colonizer grows in shade or partial shade and is extremely resilient, adaptable, low-maintenance and hardy.  It grows 2 to 3 feet high and just as wide in moist or dry conditions.  Maianthemum racemosum is hardy in USDA  growing Zones 3 to 9 and is located in every state in the U.S. except Hawaii. The fragrant flowers provide nectar for butterflies and bees, the foliage provides food for grazing elk and bear, and the berries become food for the birds and small animals in fall and winter.

Proposed by: Member of Seattle Garden Club, Zone XII

Special Recognition

Caltha palustris marsh marigold

Caltha palustris is a special spring ephemeral plant commonly known as marsh marigold.  This charming yellow plant produces both nectar and copious amounts of pollen which attract pollinating insects including flies, bees and butterflies. The seeds provide food for small wildlife and ducks. Caltha palustris grows in shade to sun, in wet and marshy areas, and along edges of streams, wetlands and rock crevices where it provides natural erosion control. For home use, it is well suited for rain gardens, water's edge and ephemeral ponds. Hardy in USDA Zone 2 to 7, it is one of the first to bloom and is often called "a harbinger of spring." Special Recognition was awarded to raise awareness that Caltha palustris needs promoting, planting and protecting.  An invasive plant, Ficaria verna, commonly known as lesser celandine, is a weedy, tuberous rooted, perennial that is also yellow, grows in wetlands and blooms in spring.  Native to Europe and eastern Asia, it is now naturalized in 19 states and can form large colonies covering several acres of wetland.  This aggressive growth displaces less vigorous native spring ephemerals.  If they grow side by side, the marsh marigold will lose. Caltha palustris is the better option for our native American gardens. 

Proposed by: Member of Saint Paul Garden Club, Zone XI



Magnolia ashei Ashe magnolia

Named after U.S. Forest Service forester, William Willard Ashe, Magnolia ashei or Ashe magnolia is a spreading, deciduous, understory shrub or small tree endemic to 8 counties in Florida but capable of growing in Zones 6 to 9 in rich, moist, well drained, acidic soil. An outstanding specimen in a shady woodscape, the dark green glossy leaves can grow up to 2 feet long. Large citrus scented, creamy white, saucer shaped flowers with purple stains at the base of the 6 to 9 pedals are characteristic of this plant.  The flowers can reach up to 12 inches across during blossom in early spring. The flowers set fruit borne in cone shaped aggregates that are an attractive pink-purple color adding fall interest to the plant. Seeds should be collected when the fruit turns bright red and stratified with a minimum of 60 days cold, moist storage to ensure germination. 

The Florida Department of Agriculture lists the Ashe magnolia as endangered due to its small population and restricted area of growth in Florida though the tree can be grown in a wider geography. The flowers support pollinators and the fruit is eaten by wildlife. Long-lived, tolerant of heat and resistant to diseases, deer and insects, this magnolia is an ideal specimen tree in a small garden.

Photograph courtesy of Steven P. Christman

Proposed by: Member of Late Bloomers Garden Club, Zone VIII

Honorable Mention

Carpinus caroliniana American Hornbeam

Michael Dirr states, “This plant has a lot to offer our landscapes in subtle beauty.” Carpinus caroliniana, also known as American hornbeam, ironwood or musclewood, due to its closely grained heavy, hard wood, is a small, deciduous hardwood, understory tree or multi-stemmed shrub native to eastern North America. Found in the wild along stream banks, moist woods, and in ravine bottoms, preferring moderate soil fertility and moisture, this species tolerates a wide range of temperatures, soils and moisture conditions, even several weeks of drought once established.  Slow growing in USDA Zones 3 to 9, American hornbeam can grow 20 feet high and 35 feet wide at maturity. 

Much admired for the bark, the smooth, grey trunk and branches exhibit a unique muscle-like fluting hence the other common name for the tree. In the spring, flowers bloom with male and female catkins.  The female catkins produce clusters of winged nutlets as they mature.  Long, oval, dark green, textured leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall.

An attractively shaped globular tree, the catkins are a food source for numerous animals including squirrels, rabbits and beavers as well as turkeys, ducks, songbirds and grouse. The blossoms are a nectar source and the leaves a larval host for butterflies.

Resistant to disease, insects, ice damage and deer browsing, Hornbeam is suitable in a woodland setting, along a street, in a garden or as a bonsai specimen. 

Photograph courtesy of Julie Makin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Proposed by: Member of Rochester Garden Club, Zone III

Halesia carolina Carolina silverbell

Native to the southeastern United States, mostly in the Piedmont and mountains of the Carolinas, Halesia carolina, commonly known as Carolina silverbell, is a small, deciduous tree with lovely white, pendulous, bell shaped flower clusters blooming from April through May. Grown in USDA Zones 4 through 8, this lovely specimen requires moist, slightly acidic soil in sun or part shade and will reach heights of 40 feet with a spread of 35 feet at maturity. Tolerant of wind and heat, Carolina silverbell is resistant to diseases, insects and deer. This tree is useful in establishing and maintaining riparian forest buffers. Note that the species can be grown as a shrub also.

In the fall, four-sided winged, brownish, nut like fruits appear and often persist well into the winter. Squirrels use the seeds as a food source and the trees for dens. The wood of the silverbell is soft and close-grained making it a favorite wood of craftsmen. This genus honors the Reverend Stephen Hales (1677-1761), an English chemist and inventor. 

Photograph courtesy of R.W. Smith, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Proposed by: Member of The Palmetto Garden Club of South Carolina, Zone VIII

Seconded by: Member of The Palmetto Garden Club of South Carolina, Zone VIII

Special Recognition

Aristolochia californica California pipevine

Endemic to northern California and native to the Sacramento Valley, San Francisco Bay area, Sierra Nevada foothills, USDA Zones 8 to 10, Aristolochia californica, commonly known as the California pipevine or California Dutchman’s pipe, is the exclusive food source for the larvae of the California pipevine swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsute. The red-spotted caterpillars eat the leaves of the pipevine and then use the flowers as a secure enclosure to undergo their transformation from larvae to butterfly. The leaves of the plant contain a toxin, which when eaten by the caterpillars, makes them unpalatable to predators.

 A deciduous woody vine, pipevine grows from rhizomes to a length of about 5 feet but can reach over 20 feet. The vine prefers part-shade and regular watering but can tolerate some drought. Common in moist woods and along streams in northern and central California, pipevine will spread out over open ground in the wild but can be trained on trellises or along paths in a garden providing a groundcover. The plant produces large green to pale brown, unpleasant, musty smelling pipe shaped blooms January through April that attract tiny carrion feeding insects that aid in pollination.  After the blooms, the vine sends out green heart shaped leaves. The leaves tend to dry and hang on the vine in the winter so it is suggested, in some sources, that one plants the pipevine with other plants. 

Photograph courtesy of UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Proposed by: Member of Orinda Garden Club, Zone XII



Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustatus 'Raydon's Favorite' Aster 'Raydon's Favorite'

Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is a cultivar named in the 1980’s and recognized for its marked improvement over most better known asters by presenting a more compact form, fragrance and a dazzling bright blue-purple flower with a yellow center in the fall. Ranging from zones 3 to 9, this cultivar can be grown in almost any sunny or partial shady location as it is tolerant of wind, heat, pollution, and soil compaction, and resistant to diseases, including powdery mildew, deer, rabbits, rodents and insects.  While the aromatic compounds of this aster may make it resistant to wildlife, it is a pollinator plant attracting hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Commonly referred to as the aromatic aster, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ lives up to its name as when brushed against, the plant releases a nice hint of mint.  Named by Allen Bush after plantsman Raydon Alexander of San Antonio, Texas, this cultivar is believed to be originally from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Photograph courtesy of Caroline Borgman, Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII.

Proposed by: Member of Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII

Seconded by: Member of Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII

Honorable Mention

Sarracenia flava Pitcher Plant

The carnivorous yellow pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava, traps insects by using a vibrant yellow rolled leaf on top of a pitcher form bloom which can reach up to 3 feet in height. The upper part of the leaf is flared into a lid covering the tubular pitcher preventing excess rain from entering and diluting the digestive secretions within. Once the insect has landed on the upper regions of the pitcher, it is guided down towards the opening of the pitcher tube by short, stiff, downwards pointing hairs and brightly patterned guiding markings. The surface of the opening of the pitcher tube is studded with nectar-secreting glands. These nectars contain not only sugars, but an alkaloid which intoxicates its prey causing it to lose its footing and tumble to the bottom of the pitcher from which there is no escape. Because the pitcher plant traps insects for food, it does not require fertile soil and grows in acidic, low nutrient, damp wet bogs along the eastern seaboard from Alabama, through Florida and Georgia up the coastal plains to Virginia. It spreads by rhizomes and can be propagated easily by seed. In the life cycle of this plant, first the pitcher is produced; then large yellow flowers with long, strap like petals hanging umbrella style at the end of a two-foot scape. In the fall, the plant stops producing carnivorous leaves and produces a flat non-carnivorous leaf called a phyllodia. Photograph courtesy of W. D. and Dolphia Bransford, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Proposed by: Member of New Orleans Town Gardeners, Inc., Zone IX

Seconded by: Member of Garden Study Club of New Orleans, Zone IX

Trillium grandiflorum Great White Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum, (Common names: white trillium, great white trillium or white wake-robin) is a herbaceous perennial native to eastern North America ranging from Nova Scotia south to northern Georgia and west to Minnesota. Common in rich, mixed upland forests, T. grandiflorum is a spring ephemeral recognized by a whorl of three leaf like bracts standing up to 20 inches above the ground above which blooms its single large white three-petaled flower. T. grandiflorum is a slow growing plant whose seeds require two years to fully germinate, and flowering is usually determined by the surface volume of the leaf and the size of the rhizome which can take up to seven to ten years to reach optimal size for flowering. Due to the popularity of T. grandiflorum conservation concerns have been raised as a vast majority of the plants sold in nurseries are believed to be wild collected. When buying T. grandiflorum one must ensure that the plants are raised from seed. T. grandiflorum is thought to be self pollinating and its seeds are spread by ants. Occasionally it is thought that deer will spread the seed. As this plant is particularly attractive to deer, trillium foraging is often used as a gauge of the size of the deer population. Photograph courtesy of Elaine L. Mills.

Proposed by: Member of Dolley Madison Garden Club, Zone VII

Seconded by: Member of Dolley Madison Garden Club, Zone VII

Special Recognition

Amsonia hubrichtii Bluestar

Three feet wide and high, Amsonia hubrichtii is a clump forming, herbaceous perennial with multiple willow-like, leafy stems emerging from a semi-woody rootstock. This graceful, long-lived, shrub-like plant produces feathery, bright green foliage in the spring that remains neat and attractive throughout the growing season. Terminal clusters of steel blue flowers appear in May and June and pendant, chocolate hued seed heads present well into the fall. The mounding billows of this plant’s foliage turn a brilliant pumpkin orange color in October and November, particularly when grown in full sun. Snow and ice on the stems in the winter provide additional textural interest to the landscape in the winter. Suited for mass plantings in sun or partial shade throughout zones 4 to 9, Amsonia is extremely drought and wind tolerant once established and supports butterflies, bees and moths. Photograph courtesy of Rick Darke.

Proposed by: Member of The Garden Club of Wilmington, Zone V

Seconded by: Member of The Garden Club of Wilmington, Zone V



Quercus macrocarpa Bur Oak

Quercus macrocarpa , Bur Oak, is the 2015 GCA Plant of the Year.  This majestic oak is found in USDA zones 4 to 8. It commonly reaches 200 to 300 years of age and often is 100 feet tall and wide. The fiddle-shaped, shiny green leaves are 8 to 10 inches in length and the acorn is the largest of all native oaks. The Bur oak is both pollution and drought tolerant. It provides food and shelter for pollinators, birds, and animals. It is an anchor for all ecosystems.

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Cincinnati, Zone X

Honorable Mention

Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' Manzanita 'Howard McMinn'

Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ was awarded Honorable Mention. This manzanita cultivar is a California native shrub that reaches 7 to 10 feet. Easily identified by its reddish bark that peels to a smooth surface, ‘Howard McMinn’ is environmentally adaptable. It tolerates average soil conditions and does not require heavy summer watering. Its mounding evergreen foliage has showy clusters of small white flowers tinged in pink during the spring. Its berries in the fall provide food for birds. Hardy in USDA zones 7b to 10. 

Proposed by: Member of Orinda Garden Club, Zone XII

Seconded by: Member of Orinda Garden Club, Zone XII



Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed

This native plant merits recognition for it combined beauty, hardiness, and environmental value.The brilliant clusters of fiery orange flowers are fragrant, long lived, and produce a pod that reseeds. Its nectar attracts a wide variety of pollinators, and is beneficial to insects, and birds. The plant requires well-drained soil and full sun. Because of its long tap root, it is difficult to move once established. The greatest value of the Butterfly Weed is serving as the larval host plant to the endangered Monarch butterfly that migrates from Mexico to Canada every year. By growing Asclepias we can make a statement regarding the ethos of our mission of gardening and protecting our environment. Root hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

Proposed by: Member of The Garden Club of Houston, Zone IX

Honorable Mention

Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven'

Polemonium reptans is notable because it is thought to be the best variegated Jacob’s Ladder ever introduced. This native variety is vigorous and heat-tolerant. It forms low mounds of medium-green fern-like leaves that are broad, bold, and cream colored. The leaf will take on a pink tinge in direct sun or cool weather so that the plant is showy in an autumn garden. Clusters of lightly fragrant lavender blue bell-shaped flowers rise about the foliage in the mid to late spring and attract insects and butterflies. This plant is ideal for edging a shady path or growing in a pot.  It requires average to moist soil conditions and is root hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.

Proposed by: Member of Little Compton Garden Club, Zone I

Special Recognition

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustus 'Raydon's Favorite' Aster 'Raydon's Favorite'

This stunning aster has a yellow center and vivid blue-purple flowers. It makes a remarkable statement in the landscape from late spring to mid fall and emits a minty-scented perfume. The cultivar received top ranking from the Chicago Botanic Garden for disease and pest resistance, winter hardiness, cultivated adaptability and flower production. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ requires minimal maintenance and attracts desirable bees, beneficial insects, and birds. This aster prefers sun to partial shade and dry soil. Named by Allen Bush after the plantsman, Raydon Alexander, of San Antonio, Texas. The cultivar is believed to be originally from Lookout Mountain, TN. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

Proposed by: Member of Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII



Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud, Judas Tree

A small deciduous tree that is often useful for small properties, urban situations, and at the edge of woodlands. Blooms for two weeks in the spring with pink blossoms followed by heart shaped leaves that turn a gentle yellow in the fall. It grows 30’H x 30’W in most soils and likes full sun to partial shade. Avoid wet and poorly drained soils. This tree does not transplant well. Cultivars include “Forest Pansy” and “Appalacia,”. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. 

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Mount Desert, Zone I

Honorable Mention

Nyssa sylvatica Black tupelo, Black gum, Sourgum

This stately tree grows on rocky woodland slopes. Its fruit and berries attract beneficial insects and birds. In the autumn the leaves turn spectacular colors. Hardy in USDA Zone 4 to 9, it can reach 50 feet tall at maturity. 

Proposed by: Millbrook Garden Club, Zone III

Special Recognition

Torreya taxifolia Stinking cedar, Gopherwood

An upright evergreen tree that can grow to 40 feet. This is an endangered tree because of a fungal disease,one of the first federally listed endangered plant species in the United States in 1984; the IUCN lists the species as critical. Seldom found in the wild and grows on bluffs and in ravines. Its cones and leaves have a strong resinous odor when crushed, therefore, the name 'Stinking Cedar.’ Hardy in USDA Zones 6 - 9. 

Proposed by: Member of Garden Club of Nashville, Zone IX



Muhlenbergia capillaris Pink Muhly

The exceptional fine textured foliage and dark pink blooms of this grass provide year round interest for this perennial. Seed heads float above textured foliage which stays green most of the year. It thrives in loamy soil from Massachusetts south to Florida and the Gulf Coast. It grows 1’ to 3' in full sun and provides seeds and cover for birds and other wildlife. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10. 

Proposed by: The Garden Club of the Halifax Country, Zone VIII

Seconded by: Brian Holley, Director of The Naples Botanical Garden,

Special Recognition

Echinacea Coneflowers

This genus has nine species that are commonly called coneflowers. It is noted for its tolerance of many environmental conditions and can be found in open wooded areas. The flowers are bright yellow or purple and attract beneficial insects and butterflies. The plant and its roots have medicinal usages. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. 

Proposed by: Member of Des Moines Founders Garden Club, Zone XI



Abies concolor White Fir

A columnar evergreen tree, the White Fir boasts soft bluish green needles and cylindrical cones while growing in full sun to partial shade. It prefers medium moisture and slightly acidic, well drained soil. This Fir thrives in long winters with cool summers. When grown in residential landscapes, it typically reaches 40-70’H x 20-30’W. Once established, White Fir is drought tolerant. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8. 

Proposed by: Akron Garden Club, Zone X

Special Recognition

Pinus palustris Longleaf Pine

A native to the southeastern United States, it can grow over 100 feet and can live to be over 100 years old. Growing in well drained soil, the tree is highly resistant to wildfire. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-10. 

Proposed by: Member of The Palmetto Garden Club of South Carolina, Zone VIII



Spigelia marilandica Indian Pink

An herbaceous clump-forming perennial, Pinkroot is easily grown and thrives in moist rich soil. It is drought tolerant. Its showy red flowers are trumpet shaped. Each flower has a yellow interior that flares to the top forming a five pointed star. They attract hummingbirds and prefer shade to full shade in the garden. Hardy in USDA Zone 5 to 9. 

Proposed by: Member of Hardy Garden Club, Zone VI

Honorable Mention

Sibbaldiopsis tridentata Three-toothed Cinquefoil

The three-toothed Cinquefoil is a short, woody perennial native wildflower growing on dry, rocky areas, including mountains. The white flowers cluster on an evergreen branch. It is a good addition to a rock garden. Hardy in USDA Zones 2 - 8. 

Proposed by: Member of The Stamford Garden Club, Zone II



Baptisia x 'Purple Smoke' False Indigo

This hybrid cultivar is drought tolerant and grows in full sun but prefers a dry acidic soil. It is a shrubby perennial that produces in the spring smoky violet lupine-like flowers. The flowers give way to a showy bean shaped seed pod which has ornamental interest. Baptisia grows 3- 4’H x 3- 4’W and may need staking. Attractive to butterflies and has no insect or disease problems. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. 

Proposed by: Member of Junior Ladies' Garden Club, Zone VIII

Seconded by: Member of Junior Ladies' Garden Club, Zone VIII

Honorable Mention

Rhododendron vaseyi Pinkshell Azalea

This deciduous shrub has large pink flowers that begin to bloom in April. It grows in moist, well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. Pink Shell can reach 8-12 feet and in the autumn its foliage will turn from bright green to orange and red. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. 

Proposed by: Member of Millbrook Garden Club, Zone III



Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ Silk-tassel bush

Silk-tassel bush is an evergreen shrub or small tree, native to the West coast. It prefers sun near the coast and part shade inland. It is drought tolerant. Its leathery leaves are glossy on the top and hairy underneath. In December it produces beautifully, showy foot long silvery catkins. Its growth habit is 12’H x 12’W and is a tough plant that can withstand wind, pollution, and seaside conditions. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11. 

Proposed by: Carmel-by-the-Sea Garden Club, Zone XII

Seconded by: Member of Carmel-by-the-Sea Garden Club, Zone XII

Honorable Mention

Illicium floridanum 'Ellis' Florida Anise

Florida Anise is a broad-leaved evergreen shrub that can grow to 10 feet. It has small maroon flowers that mature from a star shaped fruit that grows in moist ravines. Can be poisonous; do use caution! Hardy in USDA Zones 8 - 10. 

Proposed by: Member of Bedford Garden Club, Zone III




Plant of the Year

Since 1995 the GCA has identified a stellar North American native plant to receive The Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal: GCA Plant of the Year.

Cephalanthus occidentalis, buttonbush is The Garden Club of America's 2021 Plant of the Year.