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Gardening With Our Native Plants

Gardening With Our Native Plants

Boulder's Fantastic Flora

Follow this link for specific tips to grow over 100 native Colorado plants.

Boulder County is located at the junction where the Great Plains abruptly end and the Rocky Mountains begin. The land rises from 5,000 feet above sea level to over 14,000 feet, and as a result, there is an amazing diversity of plants within a relatively small area. It is estimated that there are over 700 species of trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and ferns on Open Space and Mountain Parks. Many of the plants migrated to the area when the climate was quite different, others have evolved in this area, and some have been either accidentally or purposefully introduced by people since 1858. This has resulted in a tremendously diverse spectrum of plant species, including those common to the Great Plains tallgrass prairies as well as the Southern Rocky Mountains. Such Ice Age relicts as paper birch trees and Black Snakeroot can be found on OSMP, as well as a number of critical plant species of special concern.

BE CAREFUL! Poison Ivy grows in many places throughout Open Space and Mountain Parks, especially in moist drainages. Watch out for three shiny leaves.

Gardening with Boulder's Native Plants

See: Tips to Grow Over 100 Colorado Native Flowers, Shrubs and Trees

Why Garden with Colorado's Native Plants?

Beauty - Boulder's natives are gorgeous additions to any garden, providing a range of growth habits from ground covers to shrubs and trees, with lovely foliage plants and hardy bloomers included. A native garden will bloom from very early spring until well after the first snow flies. 

Uniqueness - Chances are, no one else on the block will have a garden like it. Many native wildflowers and grasses are more subtle than the run-of-the-mill hybridized petunias, marigolds and pansies that everyone else has.

Low Care and Low Water - Since they have grown here for millennia, Boulder's natives have evolved to shrug off anything the local environment can throw at them. Hail? Drought? Heavy spring snow? Early frost? No problem. Once established, most will never need to be watered.

Wildlife - Colorado's fauna and flora have developed countless symbiotic relationships. Native plants will attract a bevy of beasts, birds, bees and butterflies to your yard. Plus, you can feel good about providing animals with the habitat they need to survive.

Biodiversity - Native plants have suffered under an onslaught of exotic species. Some introduced garden plants, like dame's rocket, perennial sweet pea, myrtle spurge and purple loosetrife have escaped cultivation to become noxious weeds. They threaten to destroy the natural lands that you have purchased through the OSMP program. Give the natives a chance to reclaim the landscape by sowing them in your garden.

Our Heritage - Native plant gardens celebrate our biological and cultural heritage, helping to maintain a local and regional identity of which we can be proud. Learn about and pass on the lore and knowledge humans have gleaned from these plants over the centuries.

Success - If you provide these plants with the same care and environment they receive in the wild, they will succeed. That's good for you!

Photo of Bee Balm in flower


So What's a Native Plant?

Native plant - a plant species "that occurs naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions" (Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee, 1994). To clarify whether or not a plant species naturally occurs in Colorado, refer to Catalog of Colorado Flora by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann.

Where can I buy these plants?

Digging up wild plants is a NO-NO
We don't recommend transplanting vegetation from the wild and it may be illegal! All plants, including seeds and rootstocks, are protected on OSMP land and may not be collected.

Many plant nurseries around Boulder, and some vendors at the Boulder Farmers' Market stock Colorado natives but be careful! There are many non-native look-alikes for sale, often with similar names. To be certain you are really buying a native and not a potentially noxious masquerader, download and print out the Colorado Native Plant Society's List of Native Plants Recommended for Horticulture pdf and take it with you when you go shopping for plants and seeds. Also beware of so-called "wildflower seed mixes," which often contain non-native pests.

Colorado Native Plant Society also publishes a list of noxious plants to avoid in landscaping. pdf

The nursery trade uses the plant's full scientific, or Latin, name to be sure they are supplying you with the proper species. Carry your list of recommended plants with you when you shop, and verify those Latin names before you buy! For more information on specific look-alikes to avoid, see our Native Garden Growing Tips page.

Boulder Area Suppliers

These suppliers were found to carry at least 10 species on the Colorado Native Plant Society's list--we will update this list as we find more nurseries that carry natives.

Harlequin's Gardens - 303-939-9403, 4795 N. 26th Street, Boulder. Extensive selection of Boulder native shrubs, wildflowers, ground covers.

Sturtz & Copeland Florists and Greenhouses  - 303-442-6663, 2851 Valmont Road. Some native wildflowers and shrubs.