by David Salman
Bringing Native Perennials into Cultivation
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 Garden Native Perennials
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.
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.
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.
The second list, Top Ten Native Perennial Hybrids are plants that myself or others have discovered as garden-created hybrids that 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.
I have heard from some misinformed native plant enthusiasts that hybrids aren't "native" plants. I counter that they have clearly not spent any time studying native perennials in their habitats. If they had, they would 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.
Native Perennial Hybrids in the Garden
- 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 Beardtongue (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/Fire Chalice (Zauschneria garrettii cultivar)
Top Ten Western Native Perennials
- 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)
Top Ten Native Perennial Hybrids
Red Dwarf' Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Dwarf Red') is a showy native selection with big pink flower clusters in late summer. Its name refers to the fantastic burgundy-red ste...Learn More
Valley Lavender® Plains Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida) blooms much of the summer with gorgeous purple flowers held over compact green foliage. This groundcover grows best in poor s...Learn More
Hot Lips Littleleaf Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') is a long-blooming Sage that blooms all summer with eye-catching red and white bicolor flowers. The nectar-rich flowers attra...Learn More
Superb Beardtongue (Penstemon superbus) is an early season spring bloomer with stunning coral-orange flowers and evergreen grey-green foliage. Best grown in the mild winter areas of ...Learn More
'Raydon's Favorite' Aster (Aster oblongifolius) is an essential fall-blooming perennial with showy violet-blue flowers that attract butterflies. A highly rated garden performer that ...Learn More
Bluebird Smooth Aster (Aster laevis 'Bluebird') covers itself with a profusion of violet-blue flowers that bloom in late summer through fall. It is a highly-rated wildflower that att...Learn More
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