Native Plants Spotlight: Enhancing Colorado Landscapes with Indigenous Flora


Plant Reference



January 8, 2024

Native Plants Spotlight: Enhancing Colorado Landscapes with Indigenous Flora

Introduction to Native Herbaceous Perennials in Colorado

Pink perennials

Colorado's landscapes are renowned for their stunning natural beauty, a significant part of which is attributed to the diverse native herbaceous perennials. These plants, defined as those existing in the region prior to European settlement, are not just aesthetically pleasing but also play a crucial role in the local ecosystem. 

The unique plant communities, varying due to differences in exposure, elevation, rainfall, soils, and temperature extremes, make Colorado visually distinct and remarkably diverse.

Benefits of Growing Native Herbaceous Perennials

A Sustainable Choice

Choosing to grow native herbaceous perennials in home and commercial landscapes offers numerous benefits. These plants are naturally adapted to Colorado's climates and environmental conditions, making them ideal for sustainable landscaping. They require fewer external inputs such as watering and fertilizing, particularly when planted in conditions that mimic their natural habitats.

Enhancing Biodiversity

Native plants contribute significantly to local biodiversity, which is increasingly threatened by rapid urbanization. By creating habitats for various wildlife, including mammals, birds, butterflies, and native pollinators, native gardens help maintain the ecological balance. This approach to landscaping preserves the biodiversity that might otherwise be lost to development.

Highlighted Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Gardens

Incorporating native herbaceous perennials into your Colorado landscape not only enhances its beauty but also supports local ecosystems. Here are some remarkable native plants to consider:

Highlighted Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Gardens

1. Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

  • Description: A low-growing, drought-tolerant perennial with bright yellow flowers.
  • Ideal Conditions: Thrives in full sun with low moisture requirements.
  • Benefits: Attracts pollinators like butterflies; perfect for rock gardens or as a groundcover.

2. Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)

  • Description: Known for its striking blue to purple flowers, this perennial is a staple in Colorado gardens.
  • Ideal Conditions: Prefers well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade.
  • Benefits: Attracts hummingbirds and bees, adding dynamic wildlife interactions to your garden.

3. Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens)

  • Description: A charming early spring bloomer with purple flowers and feathery seed heads.
  • Ideal Conditions: Does well in partial shade and well-drained soils.
  • Benefits: One of the first flowers to bloom in spring, providing early nectar for pollinators.

4. Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)

  • Description: Colorado's state flower, with distinct blue and white blossoms.
  • Ideal Conditions: Prefers moist, well-drained soils in light shade to full sun.
  • Benefits: Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies; a quintessential symbol of Colorado’s natural beauty.

5. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

  • Description: Offers clusters of small, fragrant flowers in shades of white, yellow, or pink.
  • Ideal Conditions: Adaptable to a variety of soils; thrives in full sun.
  • Benefits: Drought-resistant and attracts a variety of beneficial insects.

6. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

  • Description: Showy, daisy-like flowers with red petals tipped in yellow.
  • Ideal Conditions: Prefers full sun and well-drained soils.
  • Benefits: Long blooming period and highly attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.

7. Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Description: Distinctive lavender flowers with a strong fragrance.
  • Ideal Conditions: Thrives in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soils.
  • Benefits: Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds; also has medicinal uses.

Suitable Locations for Native Herbaceous Perennials

Right Plant, Right Place

To ensure the successful cultivation of these perennials, it's crucial to consider Colorado's diverse topography and climate zones. Select plants that match your site's life zone, along with its specific moisture, light, and soil requirements. For instance, a plant like prairie zinnia, which thrives in full sun and requires low moisture, should not be placed in shaded or moist areas.

Integrating Natives with Non-Natives

While focusing on native perennials, it's also possible to integrate them with adapted non-native plants, provided their environmental needs are similar. Creating native "pocket gardens" in non-irrigated areas within a non-native landscape can enhance the overall aesthetic and ecological value.

Culture and Maintenance

Establishing Your Garden

There are three primary ways to establish a native herbaceous garden: using nursery-grown transplants, direct seeding, or a combination of both. Regardless of the method, providing supplemental moisture during the early stages of plant growth is essential. However, native plants often thrive in unamended soils and may require less care once established.

Soil Considerations

Most native plants do well in soils that aren't nutrient-rich or high in organic content. For plants that require well-drained soil, amending clay soils with compost and small aggregates or creating a berm for planting can be beneficial.

Supporting Wildlife

A diverse planting of native herbaceous perennials can support a wide range of wildlife throughout the year. Leaving vegetation standing after the first frost provides overwintering sites for beneficial insects and birds.

Reduced Maintenance Needs

Once established, native plantings require less maintenance. They often need little to no fertilizers or pesticides and help conserve water. This approach not only benefits the environment but also reduces the gardener's workload.

Embracing native herbaceous perennials in Colorado landscapes is more than just a gardening trend; it's a commitment to preserving the natural beauty and ecological balance of the region. These plants offer a sense of place, connect us to our environment, and remind us of the importance of conserving our natural heritage. 

By choosing natives, gardeners can enjoy a vibrant, sustainable, and uniquely Colorado garden that thrives year after year​​.

FAQs for Colorado Native Plants

What are the advantages of planting native herbaceous perennials in Colorado?

Native herbaceous perennials offer several benefits. They are naturally adapted to Colorado's climate and soil, requiring less water and maintenance. They also support local biodiversity by providing habitat and food for native wildlife, including birds, insects, and mammals.

How do I choose the right native plants for my garden?

When selecting native plants, consider your local climate, soil type, and sun exposure. Match the plant's natural habitat requirements with the conditions in your garden. Also, consider the plant's water needs and whether it prefers full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

Can native plants coexist with non-native species in my garden?

Absolutely! Native plants can be integrated with non-native species as long as their environmental needs are similar. This can create a diverse and resilient garden. However, be cautious about invasive non-natives that may outcompete the native species.

Are native plants less susceptible to pests and diseases?

Generally, native plants are more resistant to local pests and diseases compared to non-natives. They have evolved over time to adapt to local challenges, which often means they require fewer pesticides and less care.

How can I ensure the successful establishment of native perennials?

For successful establishment, start with healthy plants or seeds suited to your local conditions. Provide supplemental water initially, especially during the first growing season. Also, ensure good soil preparation, considering the specific needs of each plant. Over time, these plants will require less care as they adapt to their new environment.