Pioneer Plant Species in the Northern U.S.

Pioneer species are especially hardy plants that are the first to colonize barren, disturbed, or damaged land. In the Northern U.S. these plants will follow a succession. First to colonize an area will be the annual “weeds”. These “weeds” bring valuable nutrients to the surface with their deep tap roots. They are also typically fast growing, so their biomass helps to restore the humus layer of the damaged land. After the annual weeds, the perennial weeds that are taller than the annuals will start to take over, followed by shrubs and vines followed by fast growing short lived trees. In the end after many decades you are back to native forest.


Many pioneer species can be used as nurse plants, nutrient accumulators, biomass accumulators, mulch plants, and nitrogen fixers.


Pioneering Species Native to PA


Annual “Weeds”



-Spotted Spurge

-Wild Lettuce






Plantain                                                                                 Lambsquarters


Perennial and biennial “Weeds”

-Orchard grass




-Wild Radish


-Wild Strawberry



Clover                                                                                Wild Radish 


Shrubs and vines





-Scot’s Broom

-Wild Lilac

Blackberry (Although this is domesticated blackberry)



-Honey locust

-Black locust




-Mimosa (From China originally, but is now a pioneer in PA)


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