• Christine Lawson

Native Plants for Western Montana - top picks for 2022

We are lucky in Western Montana to be at the convergence of several unique ecoregions: the Great Basin, the Plains and the Maritime. Digging down into each ecoregion we find different ecosystems including Middle rocky mountain steppe, coniferous forests, and alpine meadows and foothills grasslands all of which host a myriad of interesting associated plant species. This intersection of different environmental and climatic conditions gives people in Western Montana the chance to successfully grow a huge selection of native species which can provide different ecological functions to their local landscapes.


Our local native plants can provide beauty, habitat structure, sustenance to people and wildlife, soil stability and interest in gardens or landscapes of all sizes all while requiring less inputs and maintenance from people. That is part of what makes working with native species so special and fun! They are conditioned to persevere through all the adversity that nature likes to throw at those of us who live in Western Montana: the long winters, the hot dry summers, the fierce winds blowing through canyons or across valley floors. Many of these species have also evolved to deter or deal other local conditions including pest pressure, diseases and soil conditions. They grow and thrive at the pace of life in Western Montana and that is part of what makes them such a pleasure to include in plant installations. So to kick off the growing season, we thought we would highlight some of our stand-out native species for Western Montana and encourage everyone to consider integrating more native plants into their garden and landscaping projects.


Keep in mind we do recommend planting species that are appropriate for USDA Hardiness zone 4A-5B in Western Montana, and you should always consider different aspects of your planting site including soil conditions, sun exposure, water availability and personal planting objectives before choosing the right plants for your project. Use the zone hardiness map below to determine your specific zone:


That being said, we encourage everyone to check out these standout natives:


Forbs - ideal for Full Sun

Antennaria microphylla (Rosy pussytoes) - a unique native ground cover with pink blooms and low water requirements. A great plant for edging pathways and rock gardens.







Dalea candida/purpurea (White and Purple Prairie Coneflower) - deer/rabbit resistant forbs that naturally grow in the plains. They are highly attractive to pollinators and, as legumes, they are nitrogen-fixing meaning they can help make soil more fertile.












Echinacea angustifolia (Narrow-leaf coneflower) - a tall, showy and drought resistant plant naturally found in plains, prairies, meadows and in woodland openings. The pink flowers of Echinacea will attract a variety of pollinators!








Gaillardia aristata (Blanketflower) - a fast-growing, drought tolerant forb with flashy red and yellow blooms. This plant makes good cut flowers, is highly attractive to pollinators and is very easy to grow.








Liatris punctata (Dotted gayfeather) - blooms a vivid lavender color in the fall and provides nourishment for pollinators at a time when they do not have many other options to choose from. Liatris also makes a good cut flower and can survive in dry, harsh open sites.













Monarda fistulosa (Wild bergamont) - this classic pollinator species produces a profusion of lavender colored flowers. Monarda is lightly aromatic, deer and rabbit resistant and can tolerate moist soils and sites with partial shade.

(photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie)




Penstemon eatonii (Firecraker penstemon) - this hardy native produces flowering spikes containing many bright red flowers that attract pollinators and. This penstemon is drought tolerant and can be planted on harsh sites.









Penstemon wilcoxii (Wilcox’s penstemon) - wilcox penstemon has bright purple flowers and shiny dark green foliage. Like other penstemons, it is attractive to native bees and can tough it out on some of our most rocky, dry sites.













Partial - ideal for partial Sun/Shade

Aquilegia species (Columbine species) - a charismatic woodland native that makes a great addition to partially- shaded areas. They produce showy, long-lasting blooms that attract hummingbirds.












Heuchera cylindrica (Roundleaf alumroot): alumroot produce showy and foliage and understated but unique flowers. The blooms are adored by bumblebees. These plants love growing in and amongst rocks, making them great additions to any rockgarden with pockets of shade.







Clematis occidentalis (Western blue virgin’s bower) - a vine species with large, violet flowers that drapes over other shrubs or tree species.

(photo credit: Thayne Tuason CC BY-SA 4.0)





Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry) - a spreading ground cover ideal for shaded areas. It produces edible berries that, despite their small size, pack a real tasty punch. (photo credit: USFWS)






Grasses - ideal for full sun


Koeleria macrantha (Prairie junegrass) - a versatile native bunch grass with beautiful seed heads, a personal GBNPs favorite!

(photo credit: Matt Lavin CC BY-SA 2.0)






Leymus cinereus (Great Basin Wildrye) - a large native bunchgrass which can top out at 5 to 6 feet tall at maturity while also being waterwise.

(photo credit: Matt Lavin CC BY-SA 2.0)














Pseudoroegneria spicata (Bluebunch wheatgrass) - our Montana state grass! A drought-tolerant and xeric species that is well-adapted to a range of conditions across Western Montana.

(photo credit: Matt Lavin CC BY-SA 2.0)





Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem) - a large-saturated bunchgrass that has beautiful foliage from blue-green in the summer to red-gold in the fall and is native to most of the continental US as well as the southern provinces of Canada.















Shrubs - ideal for full sun

Yucca glauca (Soapweed yucca) - a small xeric species with striking foliage and flowers. Yucca bloom in mid-late summer and these flowers support moth pollinators.









Philadelphus lewisii (Lewis’s mock-orange): this lovely native member of the hydrangea family produces delicate, fragrant blooms, lovely native shrub

















Shrubs - ideal for partial sun/shade

Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberry) - Grow your own native berry supply! With beautifully shaped and colored foliage, flowers and fruits, this Rubus species makes a great addition to shady, moist locations.






Interested in purchasing some of these natives for your garden or landscape? Check out these Western Montana retail nurseries that carry GBNP plants:


Bozeman/ Gallatin:

Cashman Nursery

Kenyon Noble


Kalispell:

Glacier Nursery


Helena:

Gardenwerks


Missoula:

Caras Nursery

Montana ACE Fancy Plants

Marchie’s Nursery


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