Sunday, June 5, 2022

Planting Natives: Beautiful Colorado Flowers

The push to plant natives to make habitat for native animals, particularly birds (see previous post link) touches our often-negative attitudes toward native plants (wild plants). "Really, I should plant that stuff?"

Colorado grassland
A bit of native Colorado grassland in June 
The thistle in front is native, wavy-leaf thistle, the blue flax (Linum lewisii) are hard to spot, the red-orange hawkweed (Hieracium) is from Europe, the yellow is a wallflower (Erysimum), and a diverse collection of hardy grasses.

Our local plants are really beautiful! I'm writing about northern Colorado today, I wrote about central California last week (link). If I had the photos, I could write a "beautiful natives" post for every region in the country.

I think we make two, much-too-simple categories: "plants in gardens" and "all other plants." The "all other plants" group includes the conspicuous weeds, and we don't always look beyond them. The annoying weeds tend to be from Eurasia and, so, not native. Surrounding yourself with natives offers you hundreds of plants of fascinating shapes and vibrant colors. Take a look:

These are wonderful Colorado plants, native to moderate elevations on the Front Range (mountains have complex habitats so most Colorado plants are not suitable just anywhere in Colorado.) 

There are native trees like Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens. Oh, it gets big, but not very fast. And there are dwarf varieties that also provide good bird and insect habitat.

Colorado blue spruce
Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens

 For smaller trees, consider chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, attractive to pollinators and fruit-eating birds. 

big chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
big chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Colorado also has wild plums (Prunus americana) that are pretty small trees, and the very slow-growing, hardy, mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus americana). And many more, for example all the pines and junipers.

For shrubs, there's serviceberry or saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), with a burst of white flowers in May and fruits that attract robins in June. 

serviceberry, Amerlanchier alnifolia
serviceberry, Amerlanchier alnifolia

Another native shrub is creeping hollygrape (Berberis repens), variously called Oregon grape and Mahonia repens.  It has shiny holly-like leaves, yellow flowers that bees love, and attractive blue "grapes." 

creeping hollygrape, Berberis repens
creeping hollygrape, Berberis repens

Another striking native is rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosus. It gets about three feet tall and puts on a dramatic show of intense yellow late in the fall, drawing migrating butterflies and many other pollinators.

rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosus
 rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosus

Oh, and one more, shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa (Dasiphora fruticosa), with white or yellow rose-like flowers. So pretty! (Note red serviceberry fruits on the plants behind and in front of the cinquefoil). 

shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa (Dasiphora fruticosa)
shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa 

For flowering herbs, its easy. Some of our natives have been moved around the world as garden flowers, including blanket flower, Gaillardia. (I tried to choose photos of the plants in the wild, so they are scruffier than garden flowers. )

blanket flower, Gaillardia
blanket flower, Gaillardia aristata


Colorado columbine, Aquilegia coerulea
Colorado columbine, Aquilegia coerulea

Colorado columbines come in many colors, blue, purple, red, yellow, and white. Shown is the state flower.

Echinacea, cone flower, genus Echinacea, can be found as a garden plant all around the world. There are several species in North America, two in Colorado. Ours can have flowers from almost green, to pink, to strongly purple.  I saw this one when hiking near my home.

cone flower, Echinacea
cone flower, Echinacea

Wild geraniums (genus Geranium) are lovely plants with pretty divided leaves and flowers from purple to white. Colorado has several species. See the tiny bee in the flower?

wild geranium, Geranium viscossimum
wild geranium, Geranium viscossimum

Larkspurs, genus Delphinium, are dramatic plants in the Colorado grasslands and mountain meadows. There are several common species.
larkspur, Delphinium
larkspur, Delphinium

North America has about 150 species of evening primroses (Oenothera), some common, some quite rare. Colorado's grasslands have atleast 10 species. Here is a glorious one, blooming on natural area grassland in May. Evening in their name is because most open their flowers in the evening. This one will soon fade in the morning light. 

Oenothera, evening primrose
 evening primrose, Oenothera

Before this gets too long, one more group of attractive native plants that make good garden plants, the beardtongues, penstemons (genus Penstemon). Colorado has with more than 50 native species, in colors from white to red to blue and purple. The tall handsome flower spikes attract bees and butterflies. 

beardtongue, Penstemon
beardtongue, Penstemon
Wow, I can go on and on. There are so many more bright-colored, easy-to-grow Colorado native plants that make good garden plants. Natives are beautiful! 

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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More about some of these plants:

Colorado blue spruce link

chokecherry link

saskatoon, serviceberry link

creeping hollygrape link

rabbitbrush link

shrubby cinquefoil link

blanket flower link

columbine link

echinacea and other coneflowers link

wild geranium link

larkspur link

evening primrose link

Yes, I've been writing this blog a long time...

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