Native Plants for Colorado Wildlife


By Matt Edrich

It probably comes as no surprise that Fort Collins folks place a high value on the often exquisitely beautiful nature surrounding our city. Vast, open plains to the east; soaring, river-cut canyon prairies north and south; and of course, the towering, jagged Rocky Mountains to our west.

Our town sits at the confluence of a number of ecosystems, and as such, life in Fort Collins provides ample opportunity to interact with a huge variety of wildlife in an enjoyable, responsible manner. In honor of cultivating a healthy relationship between our society and our world, I’ve prepared a synopsis of plants and trees available at Fort Collins Nursery that help support local wildlife – because who doesn’t dream of spotting Bambi in their yard just once?

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi)

Also known as kinnikinnick (which really does roll right off the tongue), bearberry is groundcover shrub that can be found in dry shaded areas all over Colorado – it’s native! Many animals rely on bearberry: caterpillars, butterflies, and hummingbirds feed on its nectar; the berries themselves are a staple for animals including robins, thrushes, waxwings – and yes bears too; grazers such as deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep feed on the leaves. On top of all that, bearberry is well adapted to handle drought conditions, making it a great landscaping plant to add some coverage to bare areas. Its deep evergreen leaves and contrasting red berries make it a great addition to any yard!

Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)

We all know this beautiful and beloved symbol of the Colorado wild. You’ll find it growing in light shade everywhere from the low plains up to tree-line in the alpine ranges! Did you know that its nectar is an important food source for a whole slew of animals, from crucial pollinators (bees, butterflies, and moths) to hummingbirds? Native to Colorado, its soft blue and white color patterns are sure to bring that little extra something to your garden – whether you’re in it for beauty or for bees!

Giant (Tall) Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Another native perennial, giant goldenrod is just one of many goldenrod species native to Colorado. Usually blamed for hay fever, the pollen of the goldenrod flower is not actually airborne – it relies mostly on butterflies to spread its pollen, so if you plant some in a sunny spot in your garden you can expect a few pleasant visitors! Goldenrod blooms later in the summer, so its addition will keep the colors in your yard beautiful well past the summer solstice.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

The quaking aspen, a tree so beautiful and prolific that we’ve named cities, resorts, mountains and more after it, is probably one of the most iconic trees native to Colorado. Named for the way its leaves “quake” in the wind, aspen is browsed by beavers, squirrels, rabbits, porcupine, pika, deer, moose, black bears, and elk, to name a few. Aspens are great shade providers and make for truly dramatic backdrops during the fall color changes. Considering that you can get a whole aspen grove from just one tree….well…need we say more?

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

The serviceberry is a large shrub native to the foothills of Colorado. It is extremely well-suited to handle hot and dry conditions, and tends to thrive in rocky places where many other plants would struggle. Its fruits are attractive to deer and elk, as well as both resident and migrant birds, and its distinctive yellow color in the fall makes it a neighborhood favorite, both with your neighbors and your neighborhood critters!

Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus)

Mountain snowberry is a shrub commonly found in montane areas of Colorado. They do well with little moisture, and tolerate full sun to nearly full shade. Their loose open habit makes them great background plants. Snowberries attract small mammals and browsers, as well as songbirds – meaning that one of these outside your window could be a great way to wake up to three little birds outside your doorstep!

Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii)

Woods rose is a native wild rose that can grow up to 5’ tall and produces large thickets of thorny stems. Don’t let its prickly demeanor fool you, though, this woodland shrub is quite charming. Bearing pink single-petal blossoms in late spring and early summer that bees love, this plant is enjoyed by foraging animals in the autumn because of the orange-red rose hips that develop after the blooms fade.

If you’ve ever found yourself gazing into your yard, thinking something might be missing from all the beautiful colors, have you ever thought it might be the birdsongs or squirrel chatter, or perhaps animal tracks that are such an inseparable aspect of Colorado flora? This list is a great starting place, but remember that there are many options for you to explore if you wish to strengthen your connection with the environment.

May your roots reach deep and your petals stretch wide!


Originally published on June 1st, 2017.