12 Best Native Plants in Montana

People interested in planting in Montana won’t only make their yards look good. They’ll also nourish local animals and the environment.

Choosing the correct species to plant, and dealing with garden pests can be tough, so we’ll recommend the hardiest Montana natives, as well as provide tips on how to pick and grow them.

Montana is home to around 982 native plant species and about 2000 native plants. We have listed twelve of the state’s indigenous plants with their specific characteristics and environmental impacts.

Table of contents

  1. Fragrant Verbena
  2. Rattlesnake Fern
  3. Ponderosa Pine
  4. Bitterroot
  5. Western Columbine
  6. Douglas Fir
  7. Meadow Anemone
  8. Black Hawthorn
  9. Box Elder Box Elder
  10. Gaillardia
  11. Frost Aster
  12. Penstemon Pinifolius
  • Fragrant Verbena

    Kalispell-Fragrant-Verbena

    The Fragrant verbena is known by various names, including Abronia fragrans, sweet-scented sand-verbena, snowball sand-verbena and prairie snowball. This plant stands out from others due to its unique white flowers. Consequently, it’s earned the name “Four O’Clocks” because these flowers open in the evening and close by morning.

    This herbaceous perennial can grow between 8 to 40 inches in height with sticky, hairy stems and leaves positioned in pairs along the stem. Each stem has a cluster of up to 80 flowers at its tip that are largely white but sometimes have pink, purple or greenish colors. Fragrant verbena also produces black or brown achenes as well.

  • Rattlesnake Fern

    Whitefish-Rattlesnake-Fern

    The rattlesnake fern (Botrypus virginianus aka Botrychium virginianum), is an unusual dwarf perennial in the adders-tongue family which contains no other species.

    Typically, it doesn’t exceed one foot tall. It has soft bright green leaves and light tan or pinkish stems that turn green near the branches.

    It earns the name rattlesnake fern because it grows where rattlesnakes live, such as moist shady woods. Though mostly found throughout America, it also extends into Mexico, Asia, Australia and some parts of Europe. It’s adaptable to various shaded environments world-wide.

  • Ponderosa Pine

    Evergreen-Ponderosa-Pine

    The ponderosa pine, or Pinus ponderosa, is a common North American tree known by names like bull pine and western yellow pine. Notable for its impressive height with the tallest reaching about 268 feet, it has yellow-orange bark that is distinguish for its broad plates and black crevices.

    These trees have bright green needles and initially purple egg-shaped cones that turn brown upon maturing.

    Adapted to dry, fire-prone areas, ponderosa pines are drought-resistant but shade-intolerant. Native to mountains of western North America, they demonstrate how different environments can affect the adaptability of pine species.

  • Bitterroot

    Local-Bitterroot

    The Bitterroot is a small hardy perennial herb that thrives in Montana’s forests, shrublands and grasslands where soils are stony, and gravel filled. Its striking ability to rejuvenate from what appears like lifeless roots under harsh conditions underscores the enduring beauty of Montana’s native plants.

    From April through July, Bitterroot displays white to pink flowers, creating a delicate beauty in otherwise harsh landscapes.

  • Western Columbine

    Montana-Western-Columbine

    Also known as red columbine or crimson, the western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) is a wildflower native to western North America. Its range extends from Alaska to Baja California and then eastward to Montana and Wyoming.

    Throughout April until August this flower blooms with red and yellow petals while the sepals and spurs boast shades of red or orange.

    It starts blooming from April to August. The seeds contain poisons which can harm animals like hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees that are attracted to the flower.

  • Douglas Fir

    Big-fork-Douglas-Fir

    Douglas fir trees can live for more than 500 years. They are famous for their cones and can grow from 70 to 330 feet. These trees have soft and flat leaves. They come from western North America and are part of the pine family, called Pinaceae.

    The fir has several other names including Oregon pine, Douglas-fir, Columbian pine and Douglas spruce. There are three distinct varieties of the plant namely; coast Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, and Mexican Douglas-fir.

    Young Douglas firs have thin grayish smooth bark. In contrast mature trees (approximately 80 years old) exhibit deep vertical fissures on their thick corky barks. They grow well on acid or neutral soils and occur in many forest types throughout their range.

  • Meadow Anemone

    Lakeside-Meadow-Anemone

    Anemonastrum canadense is also known as Anemone canadensis or Canada anemone and is an herbaceous perennial in the family Ranunculaceae.

    It is commonly called round-headed anemone, round-leaf thimbleweed, meadow anemone, windflower, or crowfoot. These names reflect its preference for moist areas such as meadows, lakeshores, thickets and open lawns. In this case it spreads quickly through underground rhizomes which makes it one of the more adaptable and durable Montanna perennials.

    The meadow anemone plant exhibits erect, hairy stems with pointedly serrated leaves. They have white flowers with five segments and more than eighty yellow stamens. These flowering ornaments begin to bloom in the late spring and last until summer, attracting a wide range of pollinators.

  • Black Hawthorn

    Somers-Black-Hawthorn

    The black hawthorn is a densely branched shrub, and its trunk can be up to four inches thick. Covered in lush green leaves, the hawthorn can reach a height of 30 feet. It blooms with white flowers that have green centers and bears fruit that turns black, each containing about five stone-like seeds.

    Black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) or Douglas’ thornapple is an American variety largely found in the Pacific Northwest.

    The black hawthorn provides sustenance to a wide range of animals. For instance, cattle and sheep consume its foliage, which is a valuable source of nutrition for them. Furthermore, the plant is vital for the diet of various bird species, bears, and other wildlife, which rely on its fruit for food.

  • Box Elder

    Hungry-horse-Box-Elder-Box-Elder

    Box elder trees can grow up to 80 feet tall. They live for about 60 to 75 years. These trees have smooth green branches and bark that is pale grey or light brown.

    The box elder, or Acer negundo, is also called Manitoba Maple. It is native to North America and grows quickly, but it does not live very long.

    The box elder is often seen as a weedy plant, which explains why it is so widespread around the world. This plant thrives in sunny places with plenty of water, especially in North America. They are commonly used to form hedges around homes.

  • Gaillardia

    Local-montana-Gaillardia

    The Blanket Flower, or Gaillardia, belongs to the sunflower family and resembles a daisy. It is known for being drought-resistant and blooms well. This plant is mostly found in North and South America, particularly on the prairies and in the Western US. It often results from crossbreeding between Gaillardia pulchella and Gaillardia aristata, leading to colorful varieties suitable for gardens.

    It forms tiny mounds with gray-green foliage that are lance-shaped and grow 12-36 inches high. The warm-toned flowers of this plant, which come in various shades from yellow through wine red, bloom throughout USDA zones 3-10 during summer till late autumn.

  • Frost Aster

    Native-local-Frost-Aster

    October is a very interesting month for heath aster, also known as Symphyotrichum pilosum. The Frost Aster earns its reputation for a “double life” because it changes a lot with the seasons. It seems plain in summer but becomes full of beautiful flowers in fall.

    It is found in central and eastern North America. The flowering herbaceous perennial from Asteraceae family can be mistaken as a common weed during summer but turns into a spectacular cluster of hundreds of beautiful flowers in autumn.

    Frost aster, which naturally grows across North America including Montana has narrow stalkless leaves and can reach 3 feet tall. From Late summer, it will have white composite flowerheads with yellow centers that remain even after winter sets in.

  • Penstemon Pinifolius

    Kalispell-Penstemon-Pinifolius

    The Pine-Leaved Penstemon, known scientifically as Penstemon pinifolius, is a compact evergreen shrub characterized by its needle-like leaves. From late spring to summer, it produces vivid reddish-orange flowers that are especially attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

    It grows up to 20 cm high and is native to the Southwestern United States including the rocky uplands of Arizona and New Mexico. It does best in well drained sunny positions with winter frost protection, being able to withstand temperatures as low as -10 °C.

    The Royal Horticultural Sgarociety has honored both the species and the ‘Wisley Flame’ cultivar with its Award of Garden Merit.