I love it when local experts, who know our climate and growing conditions, recommend plants that will thrive in Philadelphia-area gardens. It helps that those doing the recommending aren't selling anything. These suggestions come from the folks at Jenkins Arboretum in Devon, which has been making three annual Green Ribbon Native Plant awards since 2003:
Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) - pictured here in a photo by Beth Miner, formerly of Jenkins, now at Awbury Arboretum - is a great color for the garden and has this added curiosity: Tiny white hairs on the tightly curled fiddleheads unfurl and mature and turn into this "great color."
Hummingbirds collect the hairs to line their thumb-size nests. Cool! Cinnamon fern likes wet woodland habitat and its fronds can get up to 4 feet long. You can see lots of examples at Jenkins.
Other winners: Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha), discovered by John Bartram in 1765 in Georgia and characterized by a white and yellow blossom resembling a fried egg; and white wood aster (Aster divaricatus), which thrives in sun or shade and self-sows.
If you're a Jenkins member, you can pick up one of these free plants any day of the week between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you're not a member, you can buy them in the gift shop.