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Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtail Nectaring on DianthusEvening Primrose - Gumbo LilyBlue Flax and Native GrassesCommon Checkered Butterfly on BlanketflowerChokeberry in FallDrought Tolerant GardenDwarf Korean LilacNative Riparian Plants

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Montana Native Plants

Native PlantsBlake 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.

RabbitbrushRabbitbrush, 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. Gumbo LilyRabbitbrush 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 PinePonderosa 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 Trilobe  Sumac“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 CurrentWax 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 Illustration 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.

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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
Amelanchier alnifolia Serviceberry, Juneberry Often found along streambanks, moist areas 3-15' Shrubby tree with fragrant wt. flowers and edible berries, orange-red fall color; good wildlife cover
Artemisia cana Silver Sagebrush Open rangelands 3' Bright silver leaves; very drought-tolerant; important winter wildlife food
Artemisia frigida Fringed Sagebrush Open rangelands 8-12" Mound-forming; drought tolerant
Artemisia tridentata Big Sagebrush Open, dry areas, rangelands and pastures 2-6' Evergreen, silver foliage, yellow flowers in fall, strong sage fragrance; very drought tolerant
Cornus canadensis
Bunchberry Shaded, forested areas 1' Lovely, low growing plant with edible red berries. Red fall foliage.
Cercocarpus ledifolius Curlleaved Mountain Mahogany Dry, gravelly limestone areas to 20' Shrub or small tree, crooked trunk and branches, thin evergreen leaves
Chrysothamnus nauseosus Rubber Rabbitbrush Open rangelands 2-3' Yellow flowers in fall, twisted narrow leaves; very drought tolerant
Cornus stolonifera Red-twigged Dogwood Along stream banks or moist sites 8-10' Bright red stems, white flowers in spring; good for streambank restoration; wildlife will browse
Eleaegnus Commutata Silverberry Open sites, moist to dry soils 8' 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.
Krascheninnikovia Lanata Winterfat 1-3' 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".
Physocarpus malvaceus Ninebark Higher elevation; moist areas, north slopes Upright spreading shrub with peeling bark, white-pink flowers
Philadelphus Lewisii Lewis' Mockorange 6-8' Beautiful flowers with an orange blossom- like fragrance. Attractive natural form that does not require shaping, just remove dead or broken branches.
Potentilla fruticosa Potentilla, Cinquefoil Wet or dry open ground to 4' Yellow flowers over a long period, widely branching
Prunus besseyi Sandcherry Tolerates hot, dry conditions; well-drained soil 5' Dense, winter hardy shrub; gray-green leaves, many wt. flowers, black edible berries
Prunus virginiana Common Chokecherry Mtn. slopes, streambanks to 30' Shrub or small tree that suckers, fragrant spring flowers, bright red to black berries used for jelly, syrup and wine, brilliant fall foliage
Purshia tridentata Antelope Bitterbrush Dry areas to 10' Low, woody shrub; important wildlife species
Rhus trilobata Tri-lobed or Skunkbrush Sumac Limestone outcroppings 1-5' Dense, thicket-forming shrub with yellow flowers and orange-red berries; brilliant fall color; browsed by wildlife
Ribes aureum Golden Currant Along streams, prefers sunny, moist sites to 4' Yellow flowers in spring, black berries, arching branches; suckers readily; red to orange fall foliage
Ribes cereum Wax Currant to 6' Spreading shrub with orange or red berries that attract birds. Spring flowers are a hummingbird favorite.
Rosa woodsii Woods Rose Adaptable but prefers stream banks and other moist areas to 6' Single pink flowers bloom in June, red hips in fall and winter; suckers readily
Shepherdia argentea Silver Buffaloberry Poor, dry, alkaline soils to moist sites to 15' Silvery foliage, red-orange edible fruits, thorny; thicket-forming
Spiraea betulifolia White Spirea Higher elevations, needs adequate moisture 2' Dense shrub with persistent bronze fall color, white flowers in summer; good soil stabilizer
Symphoricarpos albus Snowberry Plains and valley bottoms, moist, shady areas 2-5' Prominent white berries; suckers and forms thickets; useful for stabilizing stream banks
Yucca glauca Yucca, Soapweed Dry plains and slopes 1-3' 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.