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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 IllustrationServiceberry, 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.

Read More...

For more information on plants native to our region, an excellent source is books by H. Wayne Phillips, author of Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (2003), Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers (2012), Northern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers (2012), and The Wildflowers of Yellowstone and the Rockies Postcard Book (2003). All are available from Amazon.

Native Shrubs

Native Perennials

Native Grasses

Native Annuals

Native Trees Common Name Native Habitat Height Description
Acer glabrum Rocky Mountain Maple along mountain streams, canyons 20-25' multi-stem; reddish stems and striking orange-red fall color
Betula occidentalis Water Birch stream courses; moist sites 20-25' multi-stem; shiny cinnamon-red bark; leaves yellow to orange-red in fall; a Blake Nursery favorite!
Crataegus douglasii Douglas Hawthorn higher elevations; stream banks to 35' shrub or small tree; brilliant fall foliage; thorny; white flowers in spring
Juniperus scopulorum Rocky Mountain Juniper eastern foothills of the rocky Mountains in dry soils 15-20' native evergreen with upright branching and dense branching habit; colors vary from blue to green; drought tolerant
Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa Pine large variety of soils at varied locations 50-80' large open habit with 5-7" needles in bundles of three; drought tolerant; excellent xeriscape plant
Populus angustifolia Narrowleaf Cottonwood riparian areas at mid to high-elevations 50-70' long narrow leaves; more upright than Plains; extremely hardy
Populus deltoides Plains Cottonwood riparian areas at mid to lower-elevations 60-90' broad, open crown; furrowed bark; fast growing; more drought tolerant than other cottonwood
Populus sargentii Sargent Cottonwood riparian areas at mid to lower-elevations 70' broad, oval shape and furrowed bark; similar to Plains Cottonwood, except that it defoliates earlier
Populus tremuloides Quaking Aspen mid to high elevations; moist sites 60-90' delicate leaves "tremble" in the breeze; propagates through its roots to form large groves; fast growing
Populus trichocarpa Black Cottonwood moist soils along water courses 75-100' old bark is dark-colored, thus 'black' cottonwood; native to western and central MT; suckering
Populus x acuminata Lanceleaf Cottonwood riparian areas at mid-elevations 40-50' naturally occurring cross between Plains and Narrowleaf; leaves shaped like the head of a spear; fast growing like all Cottonwood
Quercus macrocarpa Bur Oak sandy plains, river bottoms, limestone soils 70-80' Large majestic tree with broad crown; acorns with mossy fringe, thus nicknamed "Mossycup Oak"; native to eastern Montana; long lived
Sorbus scopulina Dwarf Mountain Ash higher moisture areas, with good soil 6-12' deep green leaves turn orange-red in fall; clusters of orange berries attract birds

 

Native Shrubs Common Name Native Habitat Height Description
Alnus incana spp. tenuifolia Thinleaf Alder banks of mountain streams and canyons 15-30'

open crown; ascending branches; retains attractive catkins on branches into winter; a Blake Nursery favorite!

Amelanchier alnifolia Serviceberry or Juneberry often along streambanks, moist areas 10-12'

outstanding large shrub with fragrant white flowers and edible berries; orange-red fall color; excellent wildlife cover

Artemisia cana Silver Sagebrush open rangelands 2-5'

bright silver leaves; very drought-tolerant; important winter wildlife food

Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata Basin Big Sagebrush open, dry areas, rangelands and pastures 4-8'

silver foliage; yellow fall flowers; extremely drought tolerant, excellent xeriscape plant; found at higher elevations than Wyoming Big Sagebrush

Artemisia tridentata spp. wyomingensis Wyoming Big Sagebrush open, dry areas, rangelands and pastures 2-4'

silver foliage, yellow fall flowers; extremely drought tolerant; found at lower elevations than Basin Big Sagebrush

Cercocarpus ledifolius Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany dry, gravelly limestone areas to 20'

shrub or small tree, crooked trunk and branches, thin evergreen leaves

Chrysothamnus nauseosus Rabbitbrush open rangelands 2-3'

masses of yellow flowers in fall; twisted narrow leaves; very drought tolerant; xeriscape plant

Cornus sericea/stolonifera Red Twig Dogwood along stream banks or moist sites 8-10'

bright red bark provides striking contrast in winter; white flowers in spring; excellent for streambank restoration; wildlife will browse

Coryphantha vivapara Pincushion Cactus
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

Mahonia repens Creeping Oregon Grape shaded, forested areas 1-2'

evergreen; fragrant yellow flowers; shiny, dark green, holly-like leaves turn red in fall; blue edible fruits persist in winter; suckering makes it an excellent groundcover

Opuntia polyacantha Prickly Pear Cactus dry areas 4-12"

spinny, fleshy pads look like leaves but are actually modified stems; flowers range from yellow to pink in May and June; extremely drought tolerant; xeriscape plant

Philadelphus lewisii Lewis' Mockorange drier areas 6-8'

fragrant white flowers; scientific name honors Meriwether Lewis; collected on the L & C Expedition on the Clark Fork River in Montana; Idaho State Flower; Native Americans used its straight stems in making arrows

Physocarpus malvaceus Mallow Ninebark higher elevation; moist, north slope 3-6'

upright spreading shrub with exfoliating bark; white-pink flowers; brownish-red fall color; one of the first plants to repopulate after a fire; provides excellent wildlife cover

Potentilla fruticosa Native Yellow Potentilla wet or dry open ground to 4'

long blooming, showy yellow flowers over grayish-green, pinnately compound leaves; widely branching; deer resistant

Prunus besseyi Western Sandcherry prefers drier sites 5-6'

fragrant white flowers in spring, purple-black edible fruits attract songbirds; drought tolerant; excellent xeriscape plant

Prunus virginiana Common Chokecherry mountain slopes, streambanks to 30'

shrub or small tree that suckers; fragrant white flowersbright red to black berries used for jelly, syrup and wine; brilliant fall foliage; fast growing

Purshia tridentata Antelope Bitterbrush dry areas to 10'

low, woody shrub; collected on the Lewis & Clark Expedition July 6, 1806 in Powell County, Montana; is an provides excellent forage and cover for wildlife

Rhus trilobata Trilobe or Skunkbrush Sumac limestone outcroppings 3-4'

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 site 4-6'

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 riparian areas to 6'

single pink flowers bloom in June; red hips in fall and winter; suckers readily; excellent for streambank stabilization

Salix bebbiana Bebb's Willow riparian areas in subalpine and montane 3-12'

medium shrub; younger twigs red-purple, older twigs with white streaks (cracks); mid elevations

Salix boothii Booth's Willow streams and ditch banks 3-20'

small to large shrub; twigs yellow, orange, or brown; no waxy layer on underside of leaves; mostly mid elevations, sometimes high

Salix exigua Coyote/Streambank/Sandbar Willow streams and ditch banks 5-25'

medium to large shrub; leaves six times or more long than wide; mostly mid elevations

Salix lutea Yellow Willow well drained stream and ditch banks 10-25'

medium to large shrub; twigs distinctly yellowish when young turning gray with age; waxy layer on underside of leaves; lower elevations

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 riparian areas at higher elevations 2'

dense shrub with persistent bronze fall color, white flowers in summer; good soil stabilizer

Symphoricarpos albus White Snowberry plains and valley bottoms; moist areas 2-5'

prominent white berries; suckers to form thicket; excellent for streambank stabilization

Yucca glauca Yucca/Soapweed dry plains and slopes 1-3'

evergreen, sword-like leaves arise from clump; white flowers on a 2-3' stalk

Purple Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

Sulphur Buckwheat

Sulphur Buckwheat

Silvery Lupine

Silvery Lupine

Native Perennials Common Name Height Description
Allium cernuum Nodding Onion 12" nodding white to pink round flower heads in summer; low growing and tolerant of moist and dry conditions
Anaphalis margaritacea Pearly Everlasting 8-36" upright perennial with papery, round, white flowers in fall; foliage woolly and silver; excellent dried flower
Antennaria microphylla Little-leaf Pussytoes 4-12" low, mat-forming groundcover; white flowers
Antennaria rosea Rosy Pussytoes 4-12" low, mat-forming groundcover; rosy-colored flowers; spreads slowly by trailing stems
Aquilegia caerulea Rocky Mountain Columbine 30" thrives in cool, moist locations; blue spurred blossoms with white corollas; hummingbirds, butterflies and hawkmoths pollinate flowers
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnickinnick 3-6" forest groundcover prefers acidic soil; leathery, evergreen leaves; pink urn-shaped flowers hang downward from stem; red berries eaten by birds and mammals
Artemisia frigida Fringed Sage 18" fast growing with silver leaves; drought tolerant; mixes well with native grasses and wildflowers
Asclepias speciosa Showy Milkweed 3-4' striking and unusual, star-shaped, pink flowers; large, lance-shaped leaves; only plant that contains materials monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars) need to mature; also excellent nectar source for monarch butterflies
Campanula rotundifolia Harebells 12" delicate purple blooms in spring; tolerant of shade and sun, but needs moist soils
Clematis hirsutissima Mountainspray Clematis 2' distinctive, bell-shaped, purple flowers on erect stems; fuzzy seedheads; hairy, finely-divided foliage
Cornus canadensis Bunchberry Dogwood 12" lovely, low growing perennial with edible berries; red fall foliage; found in moist, shady forests
Dalea purpurea Purple Prairie Clover 2-3' produces many purple ball-shaped flowers with elongated centers on upright stems; fixes nitrogen in the soil
Echinacea angustifolia Narrow-leaf Purple Coneflower 1-2' pink to purple petals fall gracefully downward from bronze center; attracts beneficial insects and butterflies; seedheads attractive in winter
Eriogonum umbellatum Sulphur Buckwheat 6-12" ideal groundcover for sunny, dry spot; evergreen; vibrant yellow flowers turn rust in fall; birds eat seeds; excellent for dried arrangements; withstands wind
Gaillardia aristata Blanket Flower 2-3' bright, daisy-like flowers, yellow with red centers; attracts butterflies and bees; excellent for dry, sunny spots; clump forming with upright, spreading stems
Geranium viscosissimum Sticky Geranium 12-36" deeply-lobed, dark green stick leaves and pink to violet flowers; blooms early summer
Geum triflorum Prairie Smoke Geum 24" soft-textured red flowers; feathery, pink seedheads blow in wind like smoke; attractive, deeply-lobed foliage turns red in fall; distinctive groundcover
Heuchera sanguinea Coral Bells 12-18" bell-shaped pink to white flowers on slender stems; blooms into early summer if deadheaded; lends an airy appearance to the landscape
Hymenoxys acaulis Sundancer Daisy 1-2' extremely hardy, drought tolerant rangeland native that thrives in poor, well drained soils; compact size with golden yellow flowers that appear suspended in mid-air; excellent rock garden perennial; will not tolerate heavy soils or over-watering
Iris missouriensis Rocky Mountain Iris 12-30" delicate flowers vary in color from white to dark blue; grass-like foliage; spreads via rhizomes
Lewisia rediviva Bitterroot narrow, succulent leaves appear with fall rains, resume growth in spring and disappear when flowers are in full bloom; Montana State Flower
Liatris punctata Gayfeather 6-24" bright pink to lavender flowers borne on 6" spikes; blooms attract butterflies and bees; seedheads attractive in winter and excellent in floral arrangements
Linum lewisii Blue Flax 12-18" self-sows readily so let it spread in a naturalized short or mid-grass meadow; dainty sky-blue flowers open in morning and fall by mid-afternoon
Lupinus argenteus Silvery Lupine 2-3' extremely hardy rangeland native with distinctive silvery palmate leaves; discovered 1806 in Montana by Meriwether Lewis
Lupinus polyphyllus Bigleaf Lupine 12-30" deep-blue blossoms appear over bright green foliage; attracts butterflies
Lupinus sericeus Silky Lupine 1-2' soft blue blossoms above hairy, silky foliage
Mimulus lewisii Pink Monkeyflower 1-3' magenta to pink flowers similar to snapdragons, but more open; attracts hummingbirds and beneficial insects
Oenothera caespitosa Gumbo Lily growing in gumbo! 10-12" lemon-yellow flowers open from red buds towards end of day and last until following morning; lovely summer groundcover; great bloomer even in the heat of summer; deer resistant; prefers rocky, dry sites
Penstemon eriantherus Fuzzy-tongue Penstemon 8-18" attracts butterflies; lilac-purple flowers
Penstemon fruticosus Shrubby Penstemon 1-2' lavender flowers over semi-evergreen foliage; prefers dry, well drained sunny site
Penstemon procerus Littleflower Penstemon 10-18" an abundance of small blue to purple flowers on short stalks
Penstemon strictus Rocky Mountain Penstemon 2-3' attracts butterflies; dark "guidelines" on purple flowers direct insects into petal tube for pollination
Pulsatilla patens Pasque Flower 6-12" delicate, cup-shaped purple flowers
Ratibida columnifera Prairie Coneflower 18-24" yellow to red flowers top slender stalks; excellent in naturalized settings
Townsendia hookeri Hookers Townsend Daisy 1-3" matt-forming; drought tolerant; purple to white flowers and prominent yellow centers; blooms early spring

Flowers Flowers Flowers

 

Native Grasses Common Name Height Description
Achnatherum hymenoides Indian Ricegrass 20-30" cool-season bunchgrass; narrow, rolled leaf blades; seeds coveted by birds; moderately salt and alkali tolerant; drought tolerant
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem 3-6' warm-season bunchgrass with distinctive three-parted seedheads resembling a turkey foot; green leaves and stems turn a red-bronze in fall, providing excellent winter interest; highly adaptable to soil types, including wet clay; ideal for screening
Bouteloua gracilis Blue Grama 10-20" warm-season bunchgrass; attractive eyebrow shaped seed heads retained through the fall; excellent drought tolerance
Festuca idahoensis Idaho Fescue 1' cool-season, Montana native bunchgrass that is densely tufted; blue-green, wiry leaves
Koeleria macrantha Prairie Junegrass 6-18" cool-season bunchgrass; small-stature
Leymus cinereus Basin Wild Rye 5-8' cool-season bunchgrass; long-lived
Pseudoroegneria spicata Bluebunch Wheatgrass 1-2' cool-season bunchgrass; state grass of Montana; excellent accent plant with upright flowering spikes
Schizachyrium scoparium Little Bluestem 1-4' warm-season bunchgrass with striking red fall color
Sorghastrum nutans Indiangrass 5' warm-season bunchgrass common in the tallgrass prairies
Stipa comata Needle and Thread Grass 2' cool-season bunchgrass with unusual seedhead

 

Native Annuals Common Name Height Description
Euphorbia marginata Snow-on-the-Mountain 2-3' unusual, graceful flowers that are long blooming if irrigated; will reseed if flowers are not cut back in the fall

Native Wildflower Seed Mix

We also carry a custom wildflower seed mix, which is adapted to Montana growing conditions.

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.



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