Top Ten Native Plants for the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountain Juniper
The Rocky Mountain juniper is a graceful ornamental, often with a narrow crown of drooping foliage. It does well in rocky soils, especially on limestone and lava outcrops, in open woodlands at the lower border of trees to the north, and in foothills with pinyons to the south. Its cones are berrylike, bright blue with a whitish coat. Wildlife eat these "berries."
Did you know? The aromatic wood is especially suited for cedar chests and is also used for lumber, fence posts and fuel.
Rocky Mountain Maple
The Rocky Mountain maple is a shrub or small tree. It prefers moist soils, especially along canyons and mountain slopes in coniferous forests. The northernmost maple in the New World, it extends through southeastern Alaska.
Did you know? Deer, elk, cattle, and sheep browse the foliage. The Latin species name, meaning "hairless," refers to the leaves.
The quaking aspen's leaves tremble in the slightest breeze. The soft smooth bark is sometimes marked by bear claws. A pioneer tree after fires and logging and on abandoned fields, it is short-lived and replaced by conifers. It is sometimes planted as an ornamental. Its wood is used to make pulpwood, boxes, furniture parts, matches and particle-board.
Did you know? The twigs and foliage are browsed by deer, elk, moose, sheep, and goats. Beavers, rabbits, and other mammals eat the bark, foliage and buds, and grouse and quail feed on the winter buds.
Dotted Blazing Star
Dotted blazing star is an attractive, drought-tolerant perennial with lavender spikes that usually grows in clusters in sandy soils. It can also be grown successfully in container gardens. It will grow in full to partial shade. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers, which appear in late summer, while birds will eat the seeds that appear later in the growing year.
Did you know? Dotted blazing star can be cut and dried for dried flower arrangements, so grow enough for yourself and the pollinators!
Red Osier Dogwood
(Cornus sericea ssp. sericea)
This plant is also called the red-twig dogwood. It is a large, spreading, thicket-forming shrub. The branch tips of this tree will root upon touching the ground and form new shoots.
Did you know? This tree is useful for erosion control on stream banks. The common name recalls the resemblance of the reddish twigs to those of some willows called osiers, used in basketry.
The golden currant is a thicket-forming shrub that can grow to six feet tall. Its flowers are yellow and bloom from February to April. Its berries are tiny and range in color from orange to yellow to blue-black. They are edible and ripe from April to June.
Did you know? The golden currant is native to the western United States but has been planted in more easterly parts of the country.
This aster has two to four pairs of heart-shaped leaves, topped by one to three broad yellow flower heads. It is sometimes also known as heartleaf leopardbane. It flowers from April to June and sometimes in September and prefers lightly shaded woods.
Did you know? In alpine areas or in open places along roads, the leaves may be narrower and without the notch at the base of the blade. All western species have paired leaves on the stems, but only this one has heart-shaped leaves.
Northern Mule's Ears
This plant seems varnished with resin. It has large yellow flowers on strong stems. It grows best on open hillsides and meadows or open woods, from foothills to moderate elevations in mountains. It flowers from May to July.
Did you know? The central flower of this plant will be the largest.
Colorado Blue Columbine
This produces beautiful blue and white flowers with petals shaped like sugar scoops. It blooms from June to August and grows best in aspen groves in the mountains.
Did you know? This is Colorado's state flower.
This plant is also known as skyrocket or skunk flower. It flowers from May to September and prefers dry slopes from sagebrush to forest.
Did you know? It is one of the most common western wildflowers and grows readily from seed. Its brilliant red trumpets are handsome in the native garden. Its beauty compensates for the faint skunky smell of its glandular foliage.