At a Boston townhouse or prairie sod hut in early America, Thanksgiving was celebrated with plants gathered from field, forest and fen. The tradition derived from ancient European spirituality that gave the humble peasant’s home a festive natural beauty.

Wild grasses in Holland

In the fall, dried wild grasses retain their attractive seed heads, making wonderful naturalistic decorations for Thanksgiving and harvest parties.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

Pyracantha Berries

The berries of pyracantha shrubs bring colorful accents to fall arrangements.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

Broom corn

Looking to take your natural décor to new heights? Broom corn can meet your tall order.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

Fuller's Teasel green

Fuller’s teasel is a vigorous weed that produces beautiful seed pods at season’s end. Try them in fall arrangements for something different.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

Fuller's Teasel dry

Dried, prickly teasel pods make unique additions to fall wreaths.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

These old ways of decorating are the perfect answer to today’s cash flow crunch. We, too, can adorn our homes with plants from wayside places, and in the process help remove exotic introductions (plants that have naturalized here and can choke out our beloved native species). Décor-gathering expeditions are also great for educating the kids and grandchildren on the protection of native plants and the harm caused by exotic ones, which are often noxious weeds that are free for the taking. (Hey, they may be weeds, but they still offer beautiful – and affordable – fall decorating possibilities!)

The fall harvest celebration is all about spent plants that are typically in their final stages of life or death by November. Colors are earth tones and sunset hues in keeping with remnants of agricultural crops. Golden dry grasses, seed heads, woody vine runners, dry fruits and leafy branches are all ideal choices for decorating your home in autumn, right through to Thanksgiving.

How you decorate your home in fall is a matter of personal taste. Here’s a quick look at a few plants that offer particularly nice décor possibilities:

Corn stalks, broom corn (Zea mays) or cane (Arundo donax) are the essentials of the Halloween and Thanksgiving decorating style. In the agricultural regions of the Midwest, remnant corn stalks in the fields are often free for the taking. In the South, cut them from cane breaks planted with Arundo donax, or seek out broom corn stands.

At season’s end, the tall, gaunt stalks of Fuller’s teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) remain after their seeds have blown away and the leaves shrivel. Their prickly pods make beautiful additions to dried flower arrangements (as well as cute Christmas tree decorations). Introduced in Colonial times, this European immigrant weed has marched from coast to coast.

Mullein (Verbascum) has soft, fuzzy leaves that fade in the fall, but the texture of the spent flower stalk remains highly appealing. Bundle some or blend them with teasel for pretty dried sprays.

Whether a rose is truly wild or a cultivated variety that has naturalized, the bright red fruit of wild roses (Rosa) jump out at you in the fall. Use them to add color to autumn schemes or load them into bowls of potpourri. (The fruit can also be strung to create holiday garlands.)

Some other nice wild options to try in your natural décor scheme include redtwig dogwood twigs, birch twigs, honeysuckle runners, dock, liquidambar seed balls, milkweed, palm seed clusters, thistle heads, thornapple (Datura) pods, wheat or rye seed heads, and yucca and agave stalks. Combined with your imagination, these plant materials can dress up your autumn home beautifully, as well as affordably!

There are literally hundreds of plants out there to stimulate your creative juices. Just remember to obtain permission before gathering any plant material on private property. Your safest bet is to just stick to plants found along roadsides, drainage ditches and waste places where most vegetation is considered weedy anyway. In the process, you’ll discover a whole new world of free seasonal beauty that’s also a nice green alternative to paying for foil, plastic and other décor that will never decompose.