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The Polly Hill Arboretum



Acid Soil Tolerant Acid soil tolerant plants are generally well suited for Martha’s Vineyard. As a result of the Island’s geological formation, the predominant morainal soils are sandy and acidic. Acid soils support a rich diversity of plant life but can be detrimental, in some instances, to plants that have originated in alkaline soils. Acid soils often lack the important plant nutrients calcium and magnesium; amending the soil with organic limestone can help provide necessary nutrients.

Bark Trees and shrubs may exhibit attractive bark characteristics that add to their appeal, such as colored, peeling, or fissured bark.

Botanical Plant Name The scientific name (genus and species) that is used universally to refer to a plant. For New England native species we used the New England Wild Flower Society’s Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England by Arthur Haines. For other plants we used The Plant List (www.theplantlist.org/about/).

Broadleaf Evergreen A plant with leaves that persist year-round. Rhododendrons and southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are examples.

Common Plant Name The local reference name for a plant. A Martha’s Vineyard example is beetlebung for Nyssa sylvatica, whereas other cultural regions refer to this tree as black gum or tupelo.

Cultivars Available Nurseries may offer cultivars (cultivated varieties) that differ in shape, color, size or general performance from species included in this list. Consult Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr for a thorough description of cultivars.

Cultivated at Polly Hill Arboretum These plants are growing at Polly Hill Arboretum and can be used as examples for how they perform on Martha’s Vineyard.

Deciduous A tree or shrub that loses its leaves annually.

Deer Resistant Deer generally will not choose these plants as a preferred source of food; however, no plant is completely immune to deer browse.

Drought Tolerant The ability to tolerate low soil moisture levels. An important clarification: all newly planted plants or seeds will need supplemental water for successful growth until established.

Dry Soil These soils drain readily and do not retain moisture due to soil structure. On Martha’s Vineyard, these soils are common in the outwash plain, the general area of the south shore and interior of the island. This soil condition can be modified by soil amendments such as compost or the use of moisture-conserving organic mulch.

Dune Plant “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.” (Coastal Landscaping Plant List, Mass.gov)

Eastern North America Not native to Martha’s Vineyard, but occurs elsewhere in New England and the mid-Atlantic region.

Edible Plants that have leaves, fruit, flowers, bark or roots that are edible to humans. Specific edible part not listed. Always be certain of what plant you are consuming. To avoid potential poisoning, never consume plants without proper identification.

Erosion Control Plants that have extensive underground root systems that aid in the soil retention and prevent washout during flooding or storms.

Evergreen Commonly used interchangeably with “conifer,” evergreens have leaves known as needles that persist throughout the year.

Fall Color Plants that exhibit colorful foliage during the autumn season.

Flowers Attractive flowers that are noticeable at time of bloom.

Foliage Attractive leaves through color, variegation, shape, size or other distinctive characteristics.

Form Tree or shrub that has an attractive architectural quality: weeping, upright, or other distinctive branching habit.

Fragrant Plants that produce a noticeably pleasant fragrance.

Fruit Attractive fruit including those with unique color or shape, but also fruit that attract wildlife.

Groundcover Low-growing shrubs, perennials, ferns or grasses that densely cover the ground.

Invasive Plant “Non-native species that have spread into native or minimally managed plant systems in Massachusetts, causing economic or environmental harm by developing self-sustaining populations and becoming dominant and/or disruptive to those systems.” (Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group)

Island Appropriate Plants native to regions other than Martha’s Vineyard that perform well without excessive fertilizer and maintenance if planted in the appropriate conditions.

Island Native Has occurred naturally on Martha’s Vineyard since pre-European settlement. As site conditions permit, these may be planted throughout all Island habitats.

Martha’s Vineyard Plant Designation Classifies a plant’s usability on Martha’s Vineyard.

Moderate Soil Free-draining soil with some moisture-holding capacity.

Native Region
A plant’s naturally occurring location prior to European settlement.


Non-native Native to regions outside of North America. Plants in this category that are categorized as “Island Appropriate” generally come from similar habitats as Martha’s Vineyard, but do not display invasive tendencies.

North America A plant native to regions in North America beyond Martha’s Vineyard and eastern North America.

Not Recommended A plant not recommended for planting on Martha’s Vineyard. Some are non-native plants observed spreading into natural areas by PHA staff and other Island conservation groups. Currently these plants have not been designated as invasive by Massachusetts state guidelines. Others have been observed to be very invasive in warmer regions south of Martha’s Vineyard. It is likely with predicted warmer average winters these plants will spread and become widely established. Alternately, they may be landscape plants available at local nurseries that do not adapt well to our Island conditions.

Part Sun Four to six hours of sunlight per day, preferably in earlier part of the day.

pH Adaptable Plants that grow well in both acid and alkaline soils.

Plant Characteristics Reliable qualities of a plant that help in plant selection (eg. fall color, flowers) and potential usage (eg. wildlife, restoration, erosion control, etc.)


Plant Type Categories based on habit and specified size.


Shrub, Low (<5’)

Shrub, Intermediate (5’-8’)

Shrub, Large (>8’)
Tree, Small (15’-25’)
Tree, Intermediate (25’-40’)
Tree, Large (>40’)


Rabbit Resistant
Rabbits generally will not choose these plants as a preferred source of food; however, no plant is completely immune to rabbit damage.

Rain Gardens A rain garden is a planted depression in the ground specifically designed to mitigate pollutants and cool run-off from impermeable surfaces or to move water away from building foundations through absorbing runoff. Plants well suited for rain gardens must withstand wet soils created by runoff from parking lots and rain gutters. Important note: Rain garden plants are not synonymous with wetland plants. Rain garden plants must be adaptable to both periods of excessive moisture and drought.

Restoration Native plants used to revegetate a degraded ecosystem.

Salt (Na) Soil Tolerant Plants that have evolved in salt-laden soils or in areas frequently inundated with saltwater are naturally salt tolerant. Plants that are not salt soil tolerant can exhibit inhibited growth due to damaged roots when exposed to salt.

Salt (Na) Spray Tolerant Plants able to withstand moderate spray from saltwater during storms. Salt can be debilitating to trees and shrubs both as airborne particles and salt spray. The effect is salt burn of the foliage. After severe storm events total defoliation may occur, but the plant may recover.

Screen Plants valued for the ability to buffer wind, block views, or create privacy. Trees and shrubs that are capable of being planted in close proximity to create a dense vertical wall or hedge (natural or sheared). Such screens also create valuable habitat for birds.

Shade Less than four hours of sunlight per day.


Shade Tree A tree with a canopy that casts desirable shade.


Soil Moisture The moisture in soils required for healthy plant growth.


Sun At least six hours of sunlight per day.


Sunlight The amount of exposure to natural light that optimizes plant growth. Siting a plant in a landscape to accommodate for sunlight is necessary.


Urban Trees that have the ability to tolerate urban conditions including a limited rootzone, compacted soils, high soil salinity, and radiant heat from pavement.


Wet Soil Soil that is predominantly wet; normally found in swamp or wetland habitats or soil with high clay content.


Wildlife Plants that support biodiversity by providing a food source, habitat, or protection for wildlife. These plants may feed important pollinating insects such as a milkweed providing food for monarch caterpillars.


Wind Tolerant The ability to maintain structural integrity in high winds. Typically slow-growing trees are structurally stronger (eg. oaks) compared to fast-growing trees (eg. maples).


Winter Interest Attractive characteristics such as persistent seedheads, fruit, attractive bark, or unique habit that in addition to flowers and foliage create year-round interest.