Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant List

Find landscaping options for controlling coastal erosion and preventing storm damage, provided by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) StormSmart Coasts Program.

The plants listed below are good choices for the rugged coastal conditions of Massachusetts. The Coastal Beach Plant List, Coastal Dune Plant List, and Coastal Bank Plant List give recommended species for each specified location (some species overlap because they thrive in various conditions). For a printer-friendly version of this web page, see the PDF copy of the Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant List (PDF, 605 KB).

PDF fact sheets with photos and additional information for selected species are available for:

CZM recommends using native plants wherever possible. The vast majority of the plants listed below are native (which, for purposes of this website, means they occur naturally in eastern Massachusetts). Certain non-native species with specific coastal landscaping advantages that are not known to be invasive have also been listed. These plants are labeled “not native,” and their state or country of origin is given in parentheses. (See definitions for native plant species and non-native plant species at the bottom of this page.)

Coastal Beach Plant List

For PDF fact sheets with photos and additional information for most of the plant species listed below, see Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant Highlights and Images.

Plant List for Sheltered Intertidal Areas

Sheltered intertidal areas (between the low-tide and high-tide line) of beach, marsh, and even rocky environments are home to particular plant species that can tolerate extreme fluctuations in water, salinity, and temperature. The following plants are appropriate for these conditions along the Massachusetts coast.

  • Black Grass (Juncus gerardii) (native)
  • Marsh Elder (Iva frutescens) (native)
  • Saltmarsh Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) (native)
  • Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) (native)
  • Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum or nashii) (native)
  • Spike Grass (Distichlis spicata) (native)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) (native)
Plant List for a Dry Beach

Dry beach areas are home to plants that can tolerate wind, wind-blown sand, salt spray, and regular interaction with waves and flood waters. Certain plants actually thrive on accumulations of sand to help them grow. The plants listed below are appropriate for dry beach conditions in Massachusetts.

  • American Beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) (native)
  • Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) (native)
  • Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) (native)
  • Sea Rocket (Cakile edentula) (native)
  • Seabeach Sandwort (Honckenya peploides) (native)
  • Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) (native)

Coastal Dune Plant List

For PDF fact sheets with photos and additional information for most of the plant species listed below, see Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant Highlights and Images.

Plant List for Exposed Areas of a Coastal Dune

Fronting dunes and exposed secondary dunes are habitat for plant species that can tolerate wind, wind-blown sand, and salt spray; endure interaction with waves and flooding; and often even thrive on sand inundation. The plants listed below, as well as those listed above for Dry Beach areas, are appropriate for these environments along the Massachusetts coast.

  • American Beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) (native)
  • American Dunegrass (Leymus mollis) (native)
  • Beach Heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) (native)
Plant List for More Sheltered Areas of a Coastal Dune

More protected secondary dunes are able to host a greater variety of plant species, because they are more sheltered from wind, salt-spray, and wave action. The plants listed below, as well as those listed above for Exposed Areas of a Coastal Dune, are appropriate for these more sheltered dune environments in Massachusetts.

Grasses, Perennials, and Vines
  • Black Grass (Juncus gerardii) (native)
  • Coastal Panic Grass (Panicum amarum var. amarulum) (not native; native to New Jersey south to Mexico)
  • Eastern Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabilis) (native)
  • Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) (native)
  • Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum or nashii) (native)
  • Spike Grass (Distichlis spicata) (native)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) (native)
  • Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) (native)
Shrubs and Groundcovers
  • Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) (native)
  • Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) (native)
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) (native)
  • Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) (native)
  • Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) (native)
  • Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) (native)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) (native)
  • Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) (native)
  • Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana) (native)
Trees
  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) (native)
  • Downy Serviceberry/Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) (native)
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) (native)
  • Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) (native)
  • Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) (native)
  • White Oak (Quercus alba) (native) and other Quercus species (many native)

Coastal Bank Plant List

For PDF fact sheets with photos and additional information for most of the plant species listed below, see Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant Highlights and Images.

Plant List for Exposed Areas of a Coastal Bank

The top and face of the coastal bank is where the landform is most exposed to wind, salt spray, and storm waves. The plants listed below are appropriate for the rugged conditions of an exposed coastal bank in Massachusetts.

Grasses, Perennials, and Vines
  • American Beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) (native)
  • Coastal Panic Grass (Panicum amarum var. amarulum) (not native; native to New Jersey south to Mexico)
  • Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) (native)
  • Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirons) (native)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) (native)
  • Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) (native)
Shrubs and Groundcovers
  • Beach Heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) (native)
  • Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) (native)
  • Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) (native)
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) (native)
  • Marsh Elder (Iva frutescens) (native)
  • Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) (native)
  • Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) (native)
Trees (only on low slopes or set back from the top of the bank)
  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) (native)
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) (native)
  • Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) (native)
  • White Oak (Quercus alba) (native) and other Quercus species (many native)
Plant List for More Sheltered Areas of a Coastal Bank

Areas landward of the top of coastal bank are more protected from wave action, but may still be significantly affected by wind and salt spray. The plants listed below, as well as those listed above for Exposed Areas of a Coastal Bank, are appropriate for these more protected areas of the coastal bank in Massachusetts.

Grasses, Perennials, and Vines
  • Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) (native)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) (not native; native to Eurasia, including China, Korea, Japan)
  • Eastern Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabilis) (native)
  • Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) (native)
  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (native)
  • Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) (native)
  • Pink Tickseed (Coreopsis rosea) (native)
  • Poverty Dropseed (Sporobolus vaginiflorus) (native)
  • Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabalis) (native)
  • Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) (native)
  • Red Fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. rubra) (native)
  • St. Johnswort (Hypericum spp.) (some native)
  • Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) (native)
  • Wavy Hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) (native)
Shrubs and Groundcovers
  • Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) (native)
  • Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) (not native; native to Japan)
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) (native)
  • Downy Serviceberry/Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) (native)
  • Eastern Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) (not native; native to New York south to Florida and the Midwest)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) (native)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) (native)
  • Inkberry (Ilex glabra) (native)
  • Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) (native)
  • Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) (native)
  • New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) (native)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) (native)
  • Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) (native)
  • Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) (native)
  • Viburnum, various species (Viburnum spp.) (some native)
  • Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana) (native)
  • Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) (native)
  • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) (native)
Trees
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca) (native)
  • Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) (native)
  • Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) (native)
  • Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) (native)
  • Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) (native)
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum) (native)
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) (native)
  • Willow, various species (Salix spp.) (some native)

More Information

For more information about many of the plants that are listed above, visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) PLANTS Database, the University of Connecticut (UConn) Plant Database of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database. The specific native status of each plant was determined by using The Vascular Plants of Massachusetts: A County Checklist (PDF, 6 MB) published by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Caution with a Very Common Coastal Plant - Rosa Rugosa

Photo of rugosa rose

Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) is considered to be non-native (native to eastern Asia) and potentially invasive in some regions or habitats of Massachusetts and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Though the shrub is extremely tolerant of sea spray and effective at directing pedestrian access away from dunes, it has the ability to form dense thickets that shade and outcompete other native bank, beach, and dune plants. Rugosa rose can also spread vigorously through both seed dispersal (carried by the rose hips) and underground rhizomes. Therefore, care should be taken when considering planting rugosa rose on coastal properties.

Definitions of Native and Non-Native Plant Species

A native plant species is a plant that is considered indigenous and naturally occurring to the region since pre-Colonial times (before 1500) or arriving more recently without human intervention. For purposes of this website, a native plant is one that occurs naturally in eastern Massachusetts.

A non-native plant species is a plant that is non-indigenous and not naturally occurring to the region. (For purposes of this website, the region is eastern Massachusetts with an emphasis on the coastal environments.) When non-native species enter into an ecosystem, they have the potential to disrupt the natural balance, reduce biodiversity, degrade habitats, alter native genetic diversity, and transmit exotic diseases to native species. However, not all non-native plants are invasive. Non-native plants that are not considered invasive are those that generally do not rapidly disperse, become established, or create self-sustaining or dominant populations that would be disruptive to the natural ecosystem. CZM recommends the use of natives wherever possible but has included certain non-native species in this website that have specific coastal landscaping advantages and no known environmental impacts. Be sure to check the Coastal Landscaping - Links to Additional Resources page for the most recent sources of invasive species information.

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