As I sit watching the snow fall, huge flakes piling on top of one another until the branches on the evergreens droop with the weight, I marvel at the predictable unpredictability that is springtime in Colorado. During the summer-like dryness and temperatures in February and March, gardeners were thinking dire thoughts of scorched landscapes and water restrictions. Those of us who have lived in Colorado all or most of our lives said, “Wait for it…” Weather along the Front Range always seems to be feast or famine. When I consider the harsh reality of such a fickle climate, I become more and more appreciative of the native plants that have been at home here much longer than we have been.
According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, a native plant is one which existed on the North American continent before European colonization. Colorado’s native plants then, are those that existed here before the settlers came from the east or the Spanish moved north from Mexico and South America. These plants that have grown in our ultra-lean soils since long before we came along, are monuments to tenacity. Unaided, they have endured through drought, flood, fire, wind, extreme temperature fluctuations, and intense sunlight. They remain stalwart, lending character and beauty to the region we call home.
We often bring with us favorite and familiar plants when we move from place to place. It gives us a sense of home. However, the regional differences of this continent often prevent these plants from surviving. This can be quite a dilemma for gardeners coming from those regions with greater precipitation and richer soils. I say, “Look to the natives!” Many of them are suited to a landscape and they are already comfortable with our climate. Native plants can co-exist with the hearty imports we bring with us creating a transition between our urban neighborhoods and the naturally open spaces around us that attracted us to the Front Range to begin with. Our climate extremes may claim the lives of some of the imports, but most of the natives will live on.
The snow has warmed to rain and the ever-present breeze is gathering into a wind. No doubt the temperature will plummet tonight, but the Ponderosa pines, the Douglas firs, and the Gambel oaks won’t mind. The Pasque Flowers I saw blooming yesterday won’t mind either. They are Colorado native and they’ve been accustomed to this weather for centuries.
Native Plant Master and Master Gardener