Native Alternatives

Common plant families and their native alternatives

Here is a small list of common plant families that you probably know, and the native options that support habitat and food for wildlife. Use these plants will greatly enhance the habitat of your home.


Aquilegia formosa

The trademark nodding heads of columbines have been selected by breeders to produce all colors of the rainbow and then some in between. The unique design of the flowers actually prevents bees and other insects from accessing the sweet nectar in the flowers, as they have an evolutionary relationship with the hummingbird, who chooses this plant for the high nectar rewards. Careful in selecting, as columbines are promiscuous plants and will easily hybridize. Use Aquilegia formosa, or Western Columbine.


Oregon Iris, Iris tenax

I love the Iris from the Pacific Northwest, which rival their Siberian relatives in form and flower. The name is deriven from the classical goddess whose visible sign was the rainbow. The neighbours will be wondering what kind of Iris you have, and the bees will appreciate your efforts. Iris setosa, or Wild Flag Iris, is the showiest of our land: bold purple flowers and green sheathed leaves for a moist, sunny spot. An iris for the dry to moist forest is Iris tenax, or Oregon Iris, which uncharacteristic for the species, can be drought tolerant.


Lupinus polyphyllus, Large leaved Lupin

Stately spikes of blue pea flowers are characteristic of this , species, reaching up to 5 feet in stature in the tallest species. Lupins often favour moist soil and sun. A fine specimen plant to use is Large leaved Lupin, or Lupinus polyphyllus, which reaches 5 feet and was a parent to the popular Russel hybrids. For a miniature lupin with a beautiful two colored flower, choose Bicolor lupin, L. bicolor, which excels in a dry, sunny setting, perfect in a rock garden.


Yellow Monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus

Monkeyflowers get their name from the flower, which upon close inspection resembles the face of a monkey. Further south they may be annuals, but often survive as perennials in our milder climate. They often carpet subalpine streambanks and meadows en masse. At home they will self seed generously, perfect for a wet or irrigated area. Try Yellow or Pink Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus, M. lewisii) for a vibrant splash of color. Both like a moist spot in the garden, but Pink Monkeyflower prefers more shade.


Penstemon strictus

Perennial snapdragon-like flowers, pest-free and a species to suit any garden habitat -- what more could you want? Most bloom in summer, and are a magnet for bees and beneficial insects. The best penstemon for the Vancouver garden may be Penstemon serrulatus, or Coast Penstemon, which can tolerate our wet season. P. ovatus, or Broadleaved Penstemon, likes a well drained area with some irrigation on our coast, but will also flower under deciduous trees in some shade. If you have a dry, rocky area, try P. procerus or P. davidsonii, a true rock garden plant. Although not a true Northhwest native, another Penstemon to try is P. strictus, or the aptly named Rocky Mountain Bee plant.


Sedum lanceolatum, Lanceleaved Stonecrop

Stemming from the Latin sedeo, to sit, sedums appear to squat upon the exposed rock and stone of their usual haunts. These succulents are truly a gardener's best friend. Complete freedom from pests, a gentle yet never invasive spreading habit, evergreen attractiveness, and golden flowers that rise above a compact canopy of succulent drought tolerant rossetes. Sedum spathulifolium, Broad leaved stonecrop, is perhaps the best of our selection of natives, able to take full sun to light shade in the driest of soils. S. oreganum, Oregon stonecrop, spreads quicker, and prefers soils slightly more moist, perfect for the coastal Vancouver garden. Try Lanceleaved stonecrop, S. lanceolatum, formerly S. stenopetalum, for a unique pointed succulent, planted commonly in the containers around Victoria harbour.


Early blue Violet, Viola adunca

The well-known garden pansey has roots in this genus. The dainty little flowers and heart shaped leaves are not only showy, but edible and can be used in salads. Butterflys select native violets as host plants for their eggs. They have the peculiar delight of flowering twice - once in the spring by cross-pollination relying on insects, and a second bloom of smaller, cleistogamous (closed) flowers appear in Fall that produce self-fertilized seed. Try Early Blue Violet, Viola adunca for sunny locations in the garden, and Stream Violet, V. glabella for shady moist places.