The Best Books

All of the books here are valuable resources for learning. While this list is long, we have not included every publication on the subject of native plant landscaping, but only those we feel are the most useful, well researched, and based on sound ecological science. Enjoy your reading!

  • Discover the Joy of Gardening in Harmony with Nature — Two Recommended Books by Nancy Lawson
    Nancy Lawson book covers

    The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife

    Using six case studies of wildlife-rich garden habitats and the gardeners who nurture them, The Humane Gardener is an indispensable guide for anyone looking to cultivate a garden that is full of flourishing native plants and also serves as a sanctuary for wildlife. For all of us who strive to support biodiversity, the notion that wildlife belongs everywhere is on its face easy to embrace. But making space for the larger herbivores who chow down on our prized plants can be difficult. Lawson gently reminds the reader that these animals are a part of our ecological communities just as much as butterflies and birds. Stewarding landscapes in a way that leaves space for them while also sustaining healthy, diverse plant life is not only possible, but also the most effective way to build an enduring, vibrant ecosystem.  Lawson offers step-by-step guidance, focused on organic and sustainable practices, to help us transform our gardens into thriving, biodiverse habitat while minimizing harm to all of our fellow creatures. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or just starting out, The Humane Gardener is a valuable resource that inspires us all to become better stewards of the land and advocates for wildlife.

    Buy The Humane Gardener


    Wildscape: Trilling Chipmunks, Beckoning Blooms, Salty Butterflies, and Other Sensory Wonders of Nature

    Wildscape is a delightful immersion into the intricate tapestry of nature and a unique sensory tour of our landscapes. From the scent of wildflowers to the symphony of bird songs, Lawson expertly guides readers through the multi-faceted ways in which we and other animals experience and connect with the natural world through scent, sound, taste, touch, and sight. Lawson's ability to illuminate this interconnectedness through vivid descriptions and scientific insights underscores the importance of gardening in harmony with nature in a way that is not just educational, but inspiring. She not only explores the fascinating wonders of nature but also provides practical tips for fostering biodiversity in our own gardens. This book is a perfect companion to The Humane Gardener, for anyone looking to deepen their appreciation for nature and contribute positively to their local ecosystems.

  • These books are grouped in categories to help distinguish their purpose and focus. Of course, many books do not fit neatly into a single category, so you can also filter them by topic or subject matter. To search by author, enter his or her last name into the keyword search field.

Essential Reading

Nature's Best Hope book cover.

Douglas W. Tallamy. Timber Press, 2019.

This persuasive call-to-action implores us to transform the landscapes where we live and work into functioning habitat— embracing a new, grassroots approach to conservation that is our best hope for reversing the alarming declines in biodiversity that threaten our survival. It is the most thorough discussion yet about the essential importance of native plants to all of us, and Tallamy emphasizes the joy of stewardship, reminding us how resilient our ecosystems can be when given the means to recover.

Garden Revolution book cover

Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher. Timber Press, 2016.

This guide helps us to fundamentally re-think our approach to gardening—to see our landscapes as part of a broader ecological system and to manage them by working with natural processes. It explains concepts of plant physiology and community that are crucial to successful landscape management. The chapters on creating and managing meadows and shrublands are uniquely valuable.

Native Plant References: General

Wildflowers book cover

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

The first of Bill Cullina’s excellent trio on native plants, this guide describes over 1,000 wildflowers. Book sections are organized by genus, with general discussions about the ecological value, horticultural use, and propagation of each— then followed by greater detail on the preferred growing conditions and native ranges of individual species.

Native Trees, Shrubs & Vines book cover

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

An information-rich reference on several hundred woody plant species native to North America, with an emphasis on those from the east. Cullina’s lively, expressive writing style makes this book, and the others in the trio, a joy to read.

Native Ferns, Moss & Grasses book cover

William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

This is a tremendous resource about the more obscure plant groups— mosses, ferns, clubmosses, horsetails, grasses, sedges, and rushes. It includes details that are hard to find elsewhere, about species’ propagation and use of these plants in garden settings.

Native Trees for Northeast Landscapes

Heather McCargo and Anna Fialkoff. Wild Seed Project, 2021.

This compact, generously illustrated paperback guide profiles 31 native tree species that perform well in garden settings. Each entry provides a succinct summary of the tree’s physical characteristics, preferred growing conditions, potential landscape uses, and ecological value. Instructions on growing native trees from seed are also included.

Native Ground Covers for Northeast Landscapes

Heather McCargo and Anna Fialkoff. Wild Seed Project, 2022.

A second portable paperback guide from the Wild Seed Project that profiles 48 vigorous, low-growing plants and helpfully lists twenty plant “guilds”— groups of groundcovers that pair well together because they share similar growth rates and light and moisture requirements. Lovely drawings and photographs demonstrate that ground level plantings can create a beautiful, textural tapestry of foliage, flowers, stems and seeds.

Native Shrubs for Northeast Landscapes

Anna Fialkoff. Wild Seed Project, 2023.

The Wild Seed Project’s third paperback guide profiles 43 native shrubs, noting their typical height and spread, growth habit, ornamental features, and preferred sunlight and soil moisture levels. Each entry calls attention to the way a shrub’s stems, foliage, flowers, berries and/or nuts support pollinators, birds and mammals throughout the year.

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast book cover

Carol Gracie. Princeton University Press, 2012.

This book covers thirty northeastern wildflowers, with a comprehensive chapter detailing the unique life history of each species. The pages are replete with Gracie’s remarkable photographs, which beautifully illustrate everything from a plant’s physiology to its ecological relationships with insects. A great resource for naturalist and gardener alike.

Summer Wildflowers of the Northeast book cover.

Carol Gracie. Princeton University Press, 2020.

Another beautiful guide from Gracie, this wonderful resource includes a wide range of more than 35 species, with wonderful detail about botanical characteristics and fascinating explanations of complex ecological relationships. It focuses on native plants, with the additional inclusion of a few notable non-natives long naturalized and commonly found in the landscape.

Wild Orchids Across North America book cover

Philip E. Keenan. Timber Press, 1998.

A great reference for North American orchids, grouped by region, and including several dozen species native to the northeast. Interesting highlights are woven into stories of the author’s travels, bringing the descriptions to life. Very valuable for learning about these beautiful and mysterious plants that are always magical to discover when exploring the woods of New England.

Native Plants of the Northeast book cover

Donald J. Leopold. Timber Press, 2005.

This one-volume reference covers the gamut— including trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, grasses, and ferns. It profiles several hundred species, discussing native ranges, preferred growing conditions, and other attributes. If you want to start with just one guide to northeastern native plants to help you consider their suitability for your landscape projects, this is a great choice.

Cover of the Northeast Native Plant Primer.

Uli Lorimer. Timber Press, 2022.

A new guide to plant selection dedicated to species native to New England and the mid-Atlantic region, replete with information on wildlife value as well as physical characteristics and growing conditions. The introductory chapters are essential reading for new gardeners. We love the inclusion of many promising but relatively unknown species, especially in the annuals and vines sections, which will hopefully become more available in the nursery trade.

Mighty Giants: An American Chestnut Anthology book cover

Chris Bolgiano and Glenn Novak, Editors. American Chestnut Foundation, 2007.

This anthology has everything that you could possibly want to know about this species, once one of the most common trees in our eastern forests, but now functionally extinct. It also includes interesting discussions about efforts to nurture this species' return.

The Native Plant Primer cover.

Carole Ottesen. Harmony Books, 1995.

A helpful one volume resource on native plants. Although a bit older (and out of print so harder to find) we include it here because it has an especially good section on native azaleas.

Native Plants for New England Gardens book cover

Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe. Globe Pequot, 2018.

This valuable book offers concise profiles of approximately 100 herbaceous and woody genera or species that work well in garden settings. Drawing on the authors' experience as horticulturists, plant characterizations are lively and informative. Includes good suggestions on companion plants that pair well together visually and have similar light and moisture requirements.

Native Trees for North American Landscapes book cover

Guy Sternberg with Jim Wilson. Timber Press, 2004.

An expansive volume covering more than 100 tree species native to the United States east of the Continental Divide. Chapters detail each species' characteristics, ecological niche, and use in horticulture. Very well written with useful photographs.

Book Cover: The Nature of Oaks

Douglas W. Tallamy. Timber Press, 2021.

A wonderfully rich exposition on why Tallamy promotes the genus Quercus as so critical to sustaining biodiversity and so important to our landscapes. Beautifully written, totally accessible, and full of fascinating ecological detail.

Essential Native Trees and Shrubs book cover.

Tony Dove and Ginger Woolridge. Imagine Publishing, 2018.

This guide highlights a curated collection of species that perform well in urban and suburban settings, detailing ecological value as well as landscape use and attributes. Many helpful photographs show each species planted in a garden or other landscape setting.

Native Plant References: Botanical Detail for the Fully Committed

Vascular Plants of Massachusetts book cover

Melissa Dow Cullina, Bryan Connolly, Bruce Sorrie and Paul Somers. Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, 2011.

First Revision, 2011. A complete checklist of all the plants growing in Massachusetts, showing county by county where they have been documented and whether they are native or introduced. This book is no longer available for purchase, but this links to a complete PDF. A CD of this publication can be ordered from MassWildlife.

Flora Novae Angliae book cover

Arthur Haines. New England Wild Flower Society and Yale University Press, 2011.

Illustrated by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Gordon Morrison.
This is the definitive botanical reference for the identification and classification of New England's flora, both native and naturalized.

Native Plant References: Regional

Cape Cod Wildflowers book cover

Mario J. DiGregorio and Jeff Wallner. University Press of New England, 2003.

This is the only comprehensive book on the Cape's wildflowers, covering everything from rare species endemic to the region, to more widespread species that are much more common. Full of beautiful color photographs, it organizes the species by habitat type.

The Ecology of Common Woody Plants of Cape Cod book cover

Gary R. Sanford. Self-published, 2013.

A useful reference on fifty of the most common trees, shrubs, and vines of Cape Cod. Each species is described in great detail, with helpful information on its typical growing conditions and habit, its importance to wildlife, and even its fire ecology.

Field and Identification Guides

Wildflowers of New England

Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society. Timber Press, 2016.

This field guide covers 1,000+ species of perennials, annuals, and small shrubs that are native to, or naturalized in, New England. It provides strong introductions to botanical nomenclature, plant families, and natural communities, as well as an easy-to-use key. Plants are grouped by flower color.

Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States book cover

Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie. Oxford University Press, 2006.

This expansive guide includes 1,400+ species of herbaceous wildflowers, covering a wide area from the northeast to the mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Features excellent color photos that illuminate the key structures of flowers and leaves that are needed for accurate identifications, as well as a helpful range map for each species.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America book cover.

David Wagner. Princeton University Press, 2005.

The pre-eminent guide to the caterpillars of 700 species of Lepidoptera found east of the Mississippi. It includes important information on the host plants of each species, and valuable images of both the caterpillar and the adult moth or butterfly that it will become.

Bark: A Field Guide to the Trees of the Northeast book cover

Michael Wojtech. University Press of New England, 2011.

The go-to guide for identifying 67 native and naturalized tree species found in the Northeast, using their most easily visible feature: bark. Includes excellent descriptions of bark structure and ecology, as well as a highly detailed and accessible key.

Landscaping and Ecology

The New American Landscape book cover

Thomas Christopher, Editor. Timber Press, 2011.

This book features writing from eleven authors on urgent environmental topics, such as water conservation, carbon sequestration, nitrogen efficiency, edible gardening, and the Sustainable SITES initiative. The chapter on "Managing Soil Health" is particularly valuable.

Climate-Wise Landscaping bok cover

Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt. New Society Publishers, 2018.

An in-depth manual covering all aspects of landscaping in the era of climate change. It includes a section devoted to native plants, and makes an eloquent case for managing our land to support other species as they adapt to a changing world.

Nature Wars book cover

Jim Sterba. Broadway Books, 2012.

A prescient look into the unexpected outcomes and ecological implications of wildlife conservation. For anyone frustrated by the flocks of Canada geese taking over local parks, who has been attacked by a wild turkey, or is tired of deer feasting in their garden, this book explains how we got here and how we might move toward a more balanced future. Eloquently written, with entertaining wit and rich detail.

Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East book cover

Carolyn Summers. Rutgers University Press, 2010.

A useful resource if you are designing native plant gardens, with good discussions about defining “native,” understanding horticultural cultivars and hybrids, and finding native alternatives to common non-native species. The suggestions about how to incorporate natives into traditional, formal landscapes are particularly helpful.

Bringing Nature Home book cover

Douglas W. Tallamy. Timber Press, 2007.

This groundbreaking book earned numerous awards for Tallamy and has had tremendous impact since its publication— a must read for anyone interested in native plants, ecology, and gardening. Drawing on his own research as an entomologist, Tallamy demonstrates the importance of landscaping with native plants to sustaining biodiversity. The book includes extensive information about which woody species are host plants to moths and butterflies, and other valuable insects.

The Living Landscape Book Cover

Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. Timber Press, 2014.

An excellent source of inspiration for creating gardens that capture the beauty and replicate the ecological functions of natural landscapes. It includes rich detail on the complex ecological relationships we must understand to build real habitat for insects and birds, and each section is brought to life with lovely, illustrative photographs.

Planting in a Post Wild World book cover

Claudia West and Thomas Rainer. Timber Press, 2015.

This book promotes using the principles of plant community ecology to create resilient landscapes that require less maintenance than traditional styles. It offers in-depth, practical guidelines for creating and managing a multi-layered, matrix planting that is highly designed and artistically “legible” to a public audience.

Urban & Suburban Meadows book cover

Catherine Zimmerman. Matrix Media Press, 2010.

A good primer for the home gardener on installing and maintaining meadow-style plantings. It provides helpful demonstrations of the various ways a site can be prepared and planted, depending on the size and resources available for a project.

Insects, Birds, and Pollinators

Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard cover

George Adams. Timber Press, 2013.

This book covers the basic principles of creating bird-friendly landscapes—providing shelter, water, and vertical habitat layers, and it rightly focuses on the single most important action: planting native plants. It includes a guide to common North American bird species and the plants they need, with an emphasis on fruit and nut producing species.

The Pollinator Victory Garden Book Cover.

Kim Eierman. Quarto Publishing Group, 2020.

This accessible guide will be particularly helpful to those new to understanding pollinators. It lays out, in a clear and compelling way, why we must all do our part to halt pollinator declines, and outlines all the key elements needed in a landscape that will support a diverse mix of insect pollinators.

Bees, Wasps, and Ants book cover

Eric Grissell. Timber Press, 2010.

For anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into some of the most common insects in our gardens, this is the book for you. It offers a fascinating look at the tremendous diversity of bees, wasps, and ants, as well as the vital and often unexpected ecological roles they play.

Pollinators of Native Plants book cover

Heather Holm. Pollination Press, 2014.

This richly detailed guide is a tremendous resource for understanding the complex interactions between native plants and insects. Holm highlights over 60 species of native wildflowers, and describes the variety of insects that pollinate them, disperse their seeds, use them as larval hosts, and more, all illustrated with remarkable photographs.

Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide book cover

Heather Holm. Pollination Press, 2017.

An in-depth guide to nearly 30 bee genera, with information on their life cycles and ecological interactions that is vital to creating truly valuable bee habitat. It also includes descriptions of 100 native plant species, particularly trees and shrubs, that provide forage for bees.

"Wasps" book cover.

Heather Holm. Pollination Press, 2021.

A comprehensive guide to 150 species of flower-visiting wasps found in eastern North America. Filled with remarkable photographs, it is valuable as a resource for identifying wasps, as well as for understanding their vital ecological roles and learning how to create habitat for beneficial species.

What Good are Bugs? Insects in the Web of Life book cover

Gilbert Waldbauer. Harvard University Press, 2003.

An excellent primer on the integral role that insects play in terrestrial ecosystems. Waldbauer paints a breathtaking portrait of the ways we depend on these creatures to perform basic ecological functions, like pollination and decomposition, that are vital to human existence.

Attracting Native Pollinators book cover

Xerces Society. Storey Publishing, 2011.

A good general guide on the importance of native pollinators to our ecosystem and our food supply that discusses the wide range of insects, from bees to beetles, that act as pollinators. It also offers helpful information about creating pollinator friendly gardens and landscapes.

Gardening for Butterflies book cover

Xerces Society. Timber Press, 2016.

A good book for any gardener enchanted by butterflies. It emphasizes the vital importance of native host plants to all species of Lepidoptera, and calls out some common misconceptions about the usefulness of non-native species (i.e. Buddleia). Of particular interest, the recommended plant lists note each species' value, both as host plant and nectar source.

Classics and Books for Inspiration

The American Woodland Garden book cover.

Rick Darke. Timber Press, 2002.

Replete with wonderful photographs, this book captures the splendor of landscapes in the eastern deciduous forest. Rick is a master at highlighting the effortless beauty and artistic structure of natural scenes, and showing how they can inspire the design of the woodland gardens we create.

Book cover: Florapedia

Carol Gracie. Princeton University Press, 2021.

A delightful compendium of botanical lore including botanical terms, notable botanists, interesting plant history, and highlights of a few remarkable plants to boot! The next time a botanical term stumps you, pick up this gem of a book—or simply peruse it for the love of learning and a bit of fun.

Native Landscape Reader book cover

Robert E. Grese, Editor. University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

A compendium of more than 40 essays from the nineteenth to early twentieth century, written by noted conservationists, landscape architects, and horticulturists. Essential history and context for the issue today.

Braiding Sweetgrass book cover.

Robin Wall Kimmerer. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

This inspiring book weaves together scientific knowledge, personal stories, and "indigenous ways of knowing" to help us find meaningful ways to "heal our relationship with the world." Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology at SUNY Syracuse.

Beauty of the Wild book cover.

Darrel Morrison. Library of American Landscape History, 2021.

Biographical and inspirational, Morrison reflects on how “the wild” has informed his work as a landscape architect over more than six decades— at the Curtis Prairie in Wisconsin, in the Georgia Piedmont, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and in other unique environments across the country. A wonderful read. Morrison's subtle understanding has much to teach us.

We Are The Ark book cover

Mary Reynolds. Timber Press, 2022.

A heartfelt appeal for us to save our planet by creating ARKs (Acts of Restorative Kindness)—patches of restored native ecosystems that act as sanctuaries for biodiversity. The author’s message is rooted in a deep sense of kinship with the Earth and all the beings that inhabit it— both the rooted and the unrooted— weaving together prose and illustrations that evoke a modern-day folktale.

American Plants for American Gardens book cover

Edith A. Roberts and Elsa Rehmann. University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Foreword by Darrel Morrison
This is a helpful book for thinking about plant communities. Chapters such as "The Juniper Hillside," "The Oak Woods," and "The Stream-side" were first published serially in 1929 in House Beautiful magazine. Morrison's foreword is exceptional, and this book is a historical treasure reminding us that native plants were once mainstream in American life.

Noah's Garden book cover

Sara Stein. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

A seminal book about gardening from an ecological perspective. It laid much of the groundwork for today's renewed awareness of native plants and attention to the ecological importance of our managed landscapes. Simply, a great read.

A New Garden Ethic book cover

Benjamin Vogt. New Society Publishers, 2017.

This deeply passionate and philosophical book asks us to re-think how we garden, urging us to act not just for ourselves and our ideas of beauty, but also for the other organisms that share our world. The author speaks to many contemporary issues, exploring novel questions in horticulture, biodiversity, social justice, and resilience.

Invasive Plant Identification and Management

Invasive Plants book cover

Sylvan Ramsey Kaufman and Wallace Kaufman. Stackpole Books, 2007.

A wide-ranging guide to invasive plants affecting various regions across North America. It is good general reference on identifying these plants, understanding their effects on local ecosystems, and finding species specific-control methods.

A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts book cover

Paul Somers, Rachel Kramer, and Bill Brumback. Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, 2006.

This inexpensive guidebook is the go-to source for identifying 66 of the most invasive plant species in Massachusetts, and understanding their negative impacts.