Gardening with Native Plants

Why garden with native plants?

Native plants have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to a particular geographic region, ecosystem, and habitat. Wyoming is home to more than 2,500 native vascular plant species that are well-adapted to our:

  • wide-ranging elevations, 
  • dramatic temperature fluctuations, 
  • variable snow and rainfall patterns, 
  • wind,
  • and soil conditions

All of these environmental factors present significant gardening challenges, but once established, native plant gardens require less water, no fertilizer, and rarely pesticides. They also need less maintenance—there’s no need for mowing and blowing which contributes carbon to our atmosphere.  

Native plants are critical to Wyoming’s abundant wildlife and the overall health of its ecosystems and habitat. Nectar, pollen, seeds, and foliage from native plants provide nutritious food and necessary shelter for insects, birds, and mammals. For example, Wyoming native Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a host for the American Lady butterfly. Native penstemons, columbines, paintbrushes, and phlox provide nectar and pollen to Broad-tailed (Selasphorus platycercus) and Rufous (Selasphorous rufus) hummingbirds. Seed dispersal of our native whitebark pine is done almost exclusively by Clark’s nutcracker, which collects and caches the seeds, and although it has exceptional spatial memory, not all seeds are collected s0. 

During the long snowy winters in Grand Teton National Park, native antelope bitterbrush is a vital food source for moose, which also rely on native willows, aspens, and cottonwood. Native Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Wyomingensis) hosts an array of insects, birds (including the endangered Greater sage grouse), and mammals (including pronghorn, elk, bison, moose and grizzlies). When native plant habitat is lost, it can have a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem. For example, if a particular insect species loses its native plant host, it may be unable to reproduce and survive, which can in turn impact the birds and other animals that rely on that insect for food. 

Native plants are essential to maintaining healthy, diverse, and resilient ecosystems—they filter water, clean air, stabilize soils, support wildlife, and increase biodiversity. By planting native plants in our gardens, we can proactively support the rich biodiversity of Wyoming, Wyoming’s robust agricultural economy, and help protect Wyoming’s clean air, water, and land.

How to Choose Native Plants

You will have the most success if you choose plants that are native to your geographic region.

Robert Dorn, preeminent Wyoming botanist, has published 40 articles in Castilleja, from 2011 to 2022, bringing attention to to more than 200 Wyoming plants that should be considered for Wyoming gardens. A searchable index to all of the species is available.

Search for species by name or habitat

Wyoming’s Conservation Districts can provide you with information and resources.

Locate a conservation district near you here >

Plants with Altitude: Regionally Native Plants for Wyoming Gardens, Amy A. Fluet, Jennifer S. Thompson, Dorothy E. Tuthill, Brenna R. Marsicek.

For Teton County, see the TCD website: Teton County Conservation District offers on the ground support and a cost-sharing program to support and encourage the planting of natives.

The US Department of Agriculture provides a list of native plants (many with photos) searchable by state and county.

The National Wildlife Federation provides an online tool to search for native plants by zip code.

The Audubon Society also provides an online tool to search for native plants by zip code and identifies birds that are attracted to each native plant.

The Rocky Mountain Herbarium of the University of Wyoming has a searchable database by county and species:

Pollinators are critical to our ecosystems and our food supply. Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about one-third of all the food we eat depend on insect pollination. Pollinators–bees, butterflies, birds, bats, moths, and beetles– visit flowers in search of protein-rich pollen to feed their young brood and sugar-rich nectar to fuel their flight. During this foraging, the pollinator brushes up against the flower’s reproductive parts, unknowingly depositing pollen and thus, enabling the plant to produce fruit and seeds. Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen brought to them by pollinators.

Native wild bees—not the honeybees that were imported from Europe–don’t get much as much attention as they deserve, but they are important pollinators for valuable food crops, including apples, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, watermelons, eggplants, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins. Native wild bees are primarily solitary bees whose species number about 4,000 in North America. Some bees are generalists, while some are specialists that visit only a single plant family or genus. For example, the alfalfa leaf-cutter bee (Megachile rotundata) is a very effective pollinator for alfalfa, a valuable field crop in Wyoming. Another well-known example of a specialist pollinator is the Monarch butterfly whose larvae feed only on milkweed. Without milkweed, the larvae would perish.

Not only are pollinators vital to agriculture, they are important to maintaining the biodiversity of our ecosystems. When a bumble bee feeds on the nectar and pollen of huckleberry flowers, it pollinates the flowers which will produce fruit eaten by songbirds, grizzly bears, and dozens of other animals, including humans. According to the Xerces Society, 25% of all birds and mammals rely on fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination for a significant portion of their diet.

Increasing pollinator habitat is something we can all do by planting pollinator-friendly gardens.  Planting native plants that have co-evolved with pollinators over thousands of years provides pollen, nectar, and floral oils, necessary for pollinators to thrive and reproduce. Ensure your garden includes a diversity of native species that will provide a succession of blooms to attract a greater variety of pollinators and wildlife and offer needed resources over a long blooming period.

Promoting Pollinators on Your Place, A Wyoming Guide,


Tiny Bird, Big Appetite, Jacelyn Downey


Ten Steps to a Pollinator Garden, Amy Yarger, Horticultural Director of the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver


Native Bees of Wyoming Field Guide, Lusha Tronstad and Michael Dillon


Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants, Susan Reel

The Xerces Society

Audubon Society:

Articles on Wyoming Native Plants:

University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute offers advice and information about gardening with natives.


University of Wyoming, Barnyards & Backyards provides resources on native plants

Videos on native plants and pollinators of Wyoming:

Dorothy Tuthill, Associate Director of the UW Biodiversity Institute leads a tour of fabulous wildflowers with a focus on the Laramie area. Wildflowers of Wyoming

Jenny Thompson, the Small Acreage Outreach Coordinator, University of Wyoming Extension discusses native plants for gardens (with a focus on the Laramie area). Native Plants for Gardens

Scott Schell, University of Wyoming Extension Entomologist Specialist discusses some of the many pollinators that call Wyoming home. Wyoming Pollinators