Multi-Functional Plants for the Permaculture Garden

If you have a choice of planting a tree, shrub, vine, herbaceous plant, or groundcover that only has one function or another species that fills that desired function and also provides three other benefits, why wouldn't you plant the more functional species. In permaculture, elements of our designs should serve at least 3 functions. Many species can do much better than that. Below is a list of some of my favorite multi-functional plants that I am currently using on my permaculture site.

Medium & Large Trees

Alder: Nitrogen fixer, Insectary, leaf mulch, wildlife benefit, timber

Apple: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Apple with chives, garlic, and goumi planted at base (Also wheat that came in with the wheat straw)

Black Locust: Nitrogen fixer, Insectary, windbreak, hedgerow, wood, great for honey bees, durable long lasting wood, leaf mulch (Allelopathic)

Black & English Walnut: Edible nuts, timber, windbreak, wildlife benefit (Allelopathic)

Cherry: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Cherry Tree

Crab Apple: Wildlife benefit, insectary, edible, great apple pollinator, leaf mulch

Hackberry: Wildlife benefit, windbreak, hedgerow, good companion for walnut, food for wildlife, wood

Nectarine & Peach: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Northern Red Oak: Wildlife benefit, windbreak, hedgerow, wood, acorns provide food for animals, leaf mulch

Pear: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Pear Tree

Plum: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Sassafras: Wildlife habitat, wood, fuel, oil used for tea, medicine and perfume, leaf mulch

Shagbark Hickory: Wood, soil stabilizer, fuel to give a smoked flavor to meat, nuts can be used for oil and flour, wildlife benefit, leaf mulch

Shellbark Hickory: Wood, fuel, wildlife benefit, leaf mulch

Sugar Maple: Insect habitat, wildlife benefit, wood, maple syrup, leaf mulch

Virginia Pine: Wildlife benefit, pine mulch for acid loving plants, pioneer species for worn out farmland,

White Oak: Wildlife benefit, windbreak, hedgerow, wood, edible, acorns can be made into flour, leaf mulch

Small Trees

Bamboo: Is actually a grass, but I don't have a grass category. It's extremely fast growing, can be invasive and impossible to get rid of when established, but it is a great edible, timber species, windbreak, & wildlife habitat (Excellent for holding dams)

Choke Cherry: Fast growing pioneer species, provides food to birds and mammals, leaf mulch

Hazelnut: Edible nuts, windbreak, animal habitat & forage

Nanking Cherry: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit (Like a miniature plum)

Paw Paw: Edible fruit, dye, fiber, leaf mulch

Persimmon American: Edible fruit, hedgerow, leaf mulch

Red Mulberry: Wildlife benefit, great tasting berries, durable wood, attractive ornamental, leaf mulch

Serviceberry: Wildlife benefit, insectary, edible, early flowers good for beneficial insects, leaf mulch


Black Currants: Wildlife benefit, edible (sweeter than red currants), hedgerow,

Blueberry: Wildlife benefit, edible, hedgerow,

Elderberry: Wildlife benefit, edible, windbreak, hedgerow, leaves are toxic,

False Indigo: Nitrogen fixer, insectary

Gooseberries: Wildlife benefit, edible, hedgerow,

Goumi: Nitrogen fixer, wildlife benefit, edible, windbreak, hedgerow, tolerates air pollution, leaf mulch

Hyssop: Medicinal, tea, insectary, windbreak

Lavender: Medicinal, insectary, windbreak

Raspberry & Blackberry: Edible, insectary, hedgerow, wildlife benefit

Red Currants: Wildlife benefit, edible, hedgerow,

Siberian Pea Shrub: Nitrogen fixer, soil stabilizer, windbreak, hedgerow,

Herbaceous Plants

Alfalfa: Nitrogen fixer, animal forage, insectary, edible


Chicory: Edible, insectary, nutrient accumulator

Chives: Edible, insectary, nutrient accumulator, pest repellant

Clover: Insectary, nitrogen fixer, pollinator attractor, animal edible

Comfrey: Edible, mulch plant, nutrient accumulator, insectary, animal forage


Creeping Thyme: Edible, pest repellant, insectary

Thyme & Daylillys

Dandelion: Insectary, nutrient accumulator, edible

Daikon Radish: Edible, nutrient accumulator

Daikon Radish

Daylily: Edible, fiber product, hummingbird attractor

Garlic: Nutrient accumulator, edible, pest repellant

Jerusalem Artichoke: Edible roots, insectary, pig forage, mulch plant

Lupine: Nitrogen fixer, edible, insectary

Maximilian Sunflower: Edible, animal forage, insectary

Mint: Edible, pollinator attractor, pest repellant

Strawberry: Edible, insectary, nutrient accumulator

Yarrow: Nutrient accumulator, insectary, edible


Grapes: Wildlife benefit, edible

Hardy Kiwi: Wildlife benefit, edible

Grape vine with a living mulch of clover

Pole Beans & Peas: Insectary, Nitrogen fixers, Edible


"Gaia's Garden" Toby Hemenway

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at