Rocky Mtn Penstemon

I was born here in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am native. My parents were not born here; therefore, I am native but not indigenous.

Classifying plants as “native” or not is much more difficult. Just using the definition “a plant that grows here naturally” isn’t concise enough. Plants that grow here without human intervention might be indigenous (they’ve been here for millennia), introduced (they were brought in by humans, other animals, or by natural spread), or invasive (introduced plants that have a negative ecosystem impact). Since there isn’t a clear fossil record of plants, it’s not possible to distinguish plants as indigenous or introduced. Further, many plants propagate themselves by wind blown seed, which basically means they may have introduced themselves to an area!

Nevertheless, I frequently hear the word “natives” in regards to good, sustainable landscaping. First, be aware that just because a plant is considered native, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for your yard. Cottonwood trees are native to our area, but we find them to be less-than-desirable trees – especially the female, cotton-producing ones. Second, plants and animals are not affected by geo-political lines such as state lines. A plant that is marked as “native to Kansas” will likely do fine here as well.

Gardening with “natives” is just the current buzzword for working with nature instead of against it. Plant Select® is a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists. Their mission is to seek out and distribute the very best plants for landscapes and gardens from the intermountain region to the high plains and beyond. Plant Select recommends plants that are considered native to North America and also recommends plants that are from other international steppe regions. Their website is an excellent resource for choosing plants.

One last thought regarding native plants. These plants often don’t do well in a greenhouse setting. When you do find them in a nursery container, they often look pathetic. For this reason, retail outlets often sell them in smaller pots or you may need to purchase seeds.

If by using the word “natives,” what we really mean is plants that are well adapted to our environment and will grow here without a lot of human intervention, then these are plants we should seek out and use in our yards!

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Garden Self-Evaluation: May