The Best Tried & True Native Perennials for Western Gardens
By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder
I've been gardening with ornamental plants for more than three decades in the challenging, high elevation, USDA zone 5/6 climate of northern NM. This is a place where tough, resilient plants are mandatory, and where weak, poorly adapted performers quickly perish.
I was frustrated when I first got into the nursery and greenhouse business many years ago by the lack of native plants being offered in the commercial marketplace. That got me to focus on exploring native habitats and botanic gardens in NM and the surrounding states, to find, observe in habitat, and collect seeds of native plants that I felt had good potential for home gardeners.
Top Performing Native Plants
The two lists here are the culmination of my experiences searching for and selecting superior native plants for western gardens. They are my recommendations to fellow gardeners as some of the best 'tried and true' plant selections that have become my favorites.
Below you'll find lists of my top 10 native plants as well as my top 10 native hybrid plants.
In general, the plants listed are best grown in the western half of the US such as the Great Plains, Intermountain West, Southwest (where summer temperatures aren't excessive), and West Coast. However, some of them can be grown east of the Mississippi River in containers or in the ground where soil conditions are sandy and fast-draining, and where rain/snowfall amounts are under 25" annually.
Shop David Salman's Top Ten Western Native Perennials
The first list, Top Ten Western Native Perennials, represents native species that are found in the wild. The species with cultivar names (such as 'Blonde Ambition' or 'Perfect Pink') are selections that myself or others have made, by choosing the best plant(s) in a native population or group of garden-grown seedlings and reproducing it through selective propagation techniques such as division, cuttings or tissue culture.
- Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' PP# 22, 048)
- Thrift Leaf Perky Sue (Hymenoxys scaposa)
- 'Coral Glow' Texas Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora 'Coral Glow' PPAF)
- 'Marion Sampson' Scarlet Monardella (Monardella macrantha cultivar)
- Ruby Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia reverchonii)
- Pineleaf Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius)
- 'Perfect Pink' Santa Fe Phlox (Phlox nana cultivar)
- Pawnee Buttes® Sand Cherry (Prunus besseyii cultivar)
- Desert Purple Sage (Salvia dorrii)
- Orange Carpet® Creeping Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii cultivar)
Bouteloua gracilis ‚Blonde Ambition‚ PP#22,048 (Blue Grama Grass) is a native ornamental grass with a completely new look. The horizontal eyelash-like chartreuse flowers ...Learn MoreBlonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass Bouteloua gracilis Blonde Ambition PP#22,048As low as $15.99 Sale $12.79Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Hymenoxys scaposa (Thrift-Leaf Perky Sue) is one of our very best native wildflowers. Drought tolerant, the tidy mound of evergreen foliage is covered with bright yellow daisies in l...Learn MoreThrift-Leaf Perky Sue (Hymenoxys) Thrift-Leaf Perky Sue Hymenoxys scaposa$11.99 Sale $10.79Sale Price I Save 10%Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
This new cultivar of Texas Yucca blooms all summer with six-foot tall spikes of glowing coral-orange flowers. A cross between a yellow and red flowered variety, Hesperaloe parviflora...Learn MoreCoral Glow Texas Yucca (Hesperaloe) Coral Glow Texas Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora Coral Glow PP#29,626As low as $14.99 Sale $12.74Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
A dazzling selection of this California native wildflower species, Monardella macrantha ‚Marian Sampson‚ (Hummingbird Coyote Mint) has clusters of brilliant red, tubular ...Learn MoreMarian Sampson Scarlet Monardella Scarlet Monardella, Hummingbird Coyote Mint Monardella macrantha Marian SampsonAs low as $13.49Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‚Undaunted® Ruby‚ (Muhly Grass) has an impressive late summer display of see-through amber-pink flower spikes. This is the one Muhly grass wi...Learn MoreUndaunted® Ruby Muhly Grass Undaunted® Ruby Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia reverchonii PUND01SAs low as $12.99 Sale $11.69Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
This is an exceptional small growing, evergreen plant that covers itself with hundreds of bright light orange, yellow throated flowers in late spring-early summer. A western native p...Learn MoreLuminous Pineleaf Penstemon Luminous Pineleaf Beardtongue Penstemon pinifolius LuminousAs low as $12.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Exclusive. Perfect Pink Phlox (Santa Fe Phlox) is a one of the very best Western wildflowers. Blooming in late spring with hundreds of large deep pink, white eyed flowers, it continu...Learn MorePerfect Pink Santa Fe Phlox Perfect Pink Santa Fe Phlox Phlox nana Perfect PinkAs low as $15.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
An outstanding selection of our western native sand cherry, Pawnee Buttes® is a low growing, groundcover shrub with a profusion of fragrant white flowers in early spring and show...Learn MorePawnee Buttes® Sand Cherry (Prunus) Pawnee Buttes® Sand Cherry Prunus besseyi P011SAs low as $13.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Zauschneria garrettii ‚Orange Carpet®‚ (Fire Chalice) is a vigorous perennial groundcover that blooms in mid- to late summer with a profusion of bright orange trumpet...Learn More
Shop David Salman's Top Ten Western Native Perennial Hybirds
The second list, Top Ten Native Perennial Hybrids, are plants that myself or others have discovered as garden-created hybrids. These occur when different native species are grown in proximity to each other and the pollinators (such as bees and hummingbirds) move pollen between the species to create a natural hybrid.
- Acapulco® Orange Hummingbird Mint (Agastache hybrid)
- Desert Sunrise® Hummingbird Mint (Agastache cana x rupestris)
- 'Weston Pink' Coral Bells (Heuchera bryzoides 'Weston Pink')
- 'Pink Flamingo' Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris x lindheimeri)
- 'Blue Lips' Beardtongue (Penstemon crandallii x linariodes)
- Red Rocks® Beardtongue (Penstemon x mexicali)
- 'Maraschino' Sage (Salvia hybrid)
- Raspberry Delight® Hybrid Sage (Salvia greggii x microphylla)
- 'Ultra Violet' Sage (Salvia greggii x lycioides)
- 'Dark Violet' Skullcap (Scutellaria)
Agastache x ‚Desert Sunrise®‚ (Hummingbird Mint) is a hybrid native wildflower that blooms for months with tall spikes of orange and pink tubular flowers. The nectar-ric...Learn MoreDesert Sunrise® Agastache 'Desert Sunrise®' Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache xAs low as $14.99 Sale $13.49Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Muhlenbergia ‚Pink Flamingo‚ is one of the most spectacular native grasses for its big size, thin evergreen leaves and bright pink flower plumes that cover the grass in ...Learn MorePink Flamingo Muhly Grass Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia Pink FlamingoAs low as $15.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Exclusive. Blue Lips has beautiful flowers and foliage. It blooms in late spring with short spikes of blue-lipped, lavender throated flowers. Shear off the faded flowers to reveal th...Learn MoreBlue Lips Penstemon Blue Lips Hybrid Beardtongue Penstemon Blue Lips$9.99 Sale $8.99Sale Price I Save 10%Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
Penstemon Red Rocks (Beardtongue) is a superb hybrid variety that blooms most of the summer with large rose-pink flowers. The plants are vigorous and have attractive glossy green fol...Learn MoreRed Rocks Penstemon Red Rocks Hybrid Beardtongue Penstemon mexicali Red Rocks$10.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Exclusive. Raspberry Delight® is an outstanding native Salvia hybrid with a summer-long display of stunning raspberry-red flowers and excellent cold hardiness (once established)....Learn MoreRaspberry Delight® Salvia Raspberry Delight® Hybrid Bush Sage Salvia Raspberry Delight®$11.99Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Exclusive. Salvia Ultra Violet is a great new cold-hardy Salvia greggii hybrid with showy violet-pink colored flowers. This Sage selection has demonstrated exceptional cold hardiness...Learn MoreUltra Violet Salvia Ultra Violet Hybrid Sage Salvia Ultra Violet PP#21,411$12.99 Sale $11.04Sale Price I Save 15%Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Notes on Native Perennials & Native Hybrids in the Garden
I have heard from some misinformed native plant enthusiasts that hybrids aren't "native" plants. Having spent extensive time studying native perennials in their natural habitats, I counter that argument. I have observed that hybrids are a common occurrence in nature, and in fact, this is how new species often evolve.
Hybrids most often occur as climatic conditions change over time (such as rainfall amounts) and native plant populations expand and contract. When they expand and different species overlap, hybridization is often the result. Oaks, Yucca, and Opuntia (pad cacti) are three large native genera where natural hybrids are common.
However, when natives are hybridized with non-native (Old World) species, their value to feeding native insect populations can be greatly diminished. All the hybrids listed above are hybrids of native species.
The Legacy of David Salman | High Country Gardens founder David Salman was a pioneer of waterwise gardening, a passionate plant explorer, and a charismatic storyteller. His commitment to cultivating a palette of beautiful waterwise plants transformed gardening in the American West.
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