Blake Nursery has had a long standing love affair with Montana native plants, and the more we see and learn about them, the more intense our devotion. Some of the best aspects of landscaping with natives include their drought tolerance (though not always), adaptability to temperature fluctuations, acceptance of native soil conditions, and attraction to wildlife such as butterflies and song birds. With naturals like these, you'll have fewer headaches than when dealing with unacclimatized imports. Landscaping with native plants connects you with your local environment as you learn the plant names, discover their habitats and the wildlife that depend on them.
Rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus: A tough, silver leafed 3-4' shrub often mistaken for Sagebrush--until fall when it bursts into abundant bloom! Suddenly its zesty yellow flowers brighten the prairie. Rabbitbrush is drought and alkalinity tolerant, thus is well suited to much of Montana.
Gumbo Lily, Oenothera cespitosa: Also known as Gumbo Evening Primrose, it was collected “near the falls of the Missouri” by Meriwether Lewis, July 17, 1806. A low-growing, long-blooming perennial with startlingly beautiful, large white flowers that open in early evening and wilt the following day. Their sweet scent attracts the pollinating Hawk Moth. If you give them plenty of sun and do not overwater, they will deliver many weeks of enjoyment every year.
Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa: Montana’s state tree for good reason. Longlived — 350 to 500 years, this rugged evergreen with a straight trunk grows in difficult sites where most other plants would never venture. In fact its taproot can delve 30' into the ground seeking water. Its green needles, 5-10" long, are usually in bundles of three. We love its natural, open form, a pleasing contrast to the formal, nonnative Colorado Spruce. Birds also fancy Ponderosas for nesting and feeding.
Trilobe Sumac, Rhus trilobata: Sometimes unflatteringly called “Skunkbush Sumac”, because of its supposedly stinky leaves when crushed, we have never encountered anything unpleasant about this tough shrub. We appreciate its compound leaves with three oak-like leaflets, red-orange-yellow fall foliage, and cheery clusters of red berries albeit unpalatable to humans. This Sumac can form dense thickets where birds and mammals find cover for nesting and shelter. As if that’s not enough, this drought tolerant plant is commonly used for soil stabilization thanks to its tenacious, spreading roots.
Wax Currant, Ribes cereum: Also known as Squaw Currant, a compact, rounded, rather humble 3' tall plant that's a treasure of Montana’s native landscape. It's easy to identify by its greenish-white to pink, tubular flowers and unpalatable red berries best left for the birds! In the wild it's found in dry, rocky sites....an ideal Xeriscape plant.
Featured Plant: Serviceberry
Serviceberry, Juneberry, Shadblow, Sarvisberry, call it what you will, but by any name this plant, botanically Amelanchier, is one of the loveliest we know. In early spring before leaves appear Serviceberry’s white flowers make a delicate, airy display. Summer brings blueberry-like fruit that’s sweet, juicy and coveted by birds and jelly-makers.
Thank you to Drake Barton and H. Wayne Phillips for their generosity in allowing us the use of their native plant photos.
H. Wayne Phillips is the author of Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers (1999), Northern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers (2001), and The Wildflowers of Yellowstone and the Rockies Postcard Book (2003). These books can be ordered from www.falconbooks.com or phone 1-800-582-2665. Phillips' latest book, Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (2003), can be ordered from www.mountain-press.com or 1-800-234-5308.
|Native Shrubs ||Common Name ||Native Habitat ||Height ||Features
||Often found along streambanks, moist areas
||Shrubby tree with fragrant wt. flowers and edible berries, orange-red fall color; good wildlife cover
||Bright silver leaves; very drought-tolerant; important winter wildlife food
||Open, dry areas, rangelands and pastures
||Evergreen, silver foliage, yellow flowers in fall, strong sage fragrance; very drought tolerant
||Curlleaved Mountain Mahogany
||Dry, gravelly limestone areas
||Shrub or small tree, crooked trunk and branches, thin evergreen leaves
||Yellow flowers in fall, twisted narrow leaves; very drought tolerant
||Shaded, forested areas
||Lovely, low growing plant with edible red berries. Red fall foliage.
||Along stream banks or moist sites
||Bright red stems, white flowers in spring; good for streambank restoration; wildlife will browse
||Open sites, moist to dry soils
||Sweetly scented flowers in spring. Silver-leafed upright shurb suckers freely to form thickets - good for erosion control. Provides food and cover for birds and nectar for bees. Great alternative to Russian Olive.
||Hardy but beautiful plant for tough sites. Silvery foliage is a great contrast to deep green foliage plants or warm colored flowers. Attractive cottony seedheads. Resembles a "woolly sagebrush".
||Creeping Oregon Grape
||Shaded, forested areas
||Excellent groundcover. Fragrant yellow flowers. Shiny, dark green, holly like leaves become red in fall. Blue edible fruits persist in winter.
||Prickly Pear Cactus
||Clump and sometimes mat forming spiny perennial; Flowers range from yellow to pink in May and June.
||Higher elevation; moist areas, north slopes
||Upright spreading shrub with peeling bark, white-pink flowers
||Beautiful flowers with an orange blossom- like fragrance. Attractive natural form that does not require shaping, just remove dead or broken branches.
||Wet or dry open ground
||Yellow flowers over a long period, widely branching
||Tolerates hot, dry conditions; well-drained soil
||Dense, winter hardy shrub; gray-green leaves, many wt. flowers, black edible berries
||Mtn. slopes, streambanks
||Shrub or small tree that suckers, fragrant spring flowers, bright red to black berries used for jelly, syrup and wine, brilliant fall foliage
||Low, woody shrub; important wildlife species
||Tri-lobed or Skunkbrush Sumac
||Dense, thicket-forming shrub with yellow flowers and orange-red berries; brilliant fall color; browsed by wildlife
||Along streams, prefers sunny, moist sites
||Yellow flowers in spring, black berries, arching branches; suckers readily; red to orange fall foliage
||Spreading shrub with orange or red berries that attract birds. Spring flowers are a hummingbird favorite.
||Adaptable but prefers stream banks and other moist areas
||Single pink flowers bloom in June, red hips in fall and winter; suckers readily
||Poor, dry, alkaline soils to moist sites
||Silvery foliage, red-orange edible fruits, thorny; thicket-forming
||Higher elevations, needs adequate moisture
||Dense shrub with persistent bronze fall color, white flowers in summer; good soil stabilizer
||Plains and valley bottoms, moist, sun and shade
||Prominent white berries; suckers and forms thickets; useful for stabilizing stream banks
||Dry plains and slopes
||Evergreen, sword-like leaves arise from clump; wt. flowers on a 1-3' stalk
See also Native Perennials and Grasses
Below is a native plant display garden planted at the Big Horn County Historical Museum in Hardin, Montana in the summer of 2012. The focus was on using native plants with a significant historical use, mainly for food and medicine. Some plant species selected were Silver Buffaloberry, Golden Currant, Narrowleaf Coneflower, and the native Bitterroot.