By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Northwestern native plants grow in an amazingly diverse range of environments that includes Alpine mountains, foggy coastal areas, high desert, sagebrush steppe, damp meadows, woodlands, lakes, rivers, and savannahs. Climates in the Pacific Northwest (which generally includes British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon) include cold winters and hot summers of high deserts to rainy valleys or pockets of semi-Mediterranean warmth.
What are the benefits of native gardening in the Pacific Northwest? Natives are beautiful and easy to grow. They require no protection in winter, little to no water in summer, and they co-exist with beautiful and beneficial native butterflies, bees, and birds.
A Pacific Northwest native garden may contain annuals, perennials, ferns, conifers, flowering trees, shrubs, and grasses. Below is a short list of native plants for Northwest region gardens, along with USDA growing zones.
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In the land of palm trees, Mediterranean climates and rain forests, there is another plant for the wildlife gardens.
Now you may be thinking Exotic plants from far away places. Indeed, natives perform better with less effort on your part.
There are several natives to choose from in fact.
Many of these long leafed beauties grow native from Alaska and British Columbia to southern California.
Some are regional and restricted to wet areas or warm climates.
No matter where you may live, they offer food and protection for wildlife and help to keep the land stable and minimize washouts during heavy rains.
Either way, there is a native species that is right for you in your gardens and landscapes.
I can't put them all on this page, but you should get the idea on what 'Nature' has to offer.
Here is a profile of grasses for the Pacific and Northwest region of North America.
Achnatherum coronatum (Needle grass):
Native from California to British Columbia on well drained or sandy soils in desert shrub-lands, sagebrush, an pinyon/juniper woodlands.
This delicate, airy plant has suffered from severe habitat destruction.
Fine textured to 2 feet (60 cm) tall, it is a cool-season grower, producing attractive, open flower panicles in early spring.
Grows well in extremely dry situations, but will favor a drink from time to time, but succumbs to excess moisture.
Calamagrostis canadensis (Bluejoint):
Native to marshes, wet places and open woods across northern North America.
Not real attractive as an ornamental, but does well to restore land and offer food and protection for wildlife.
Calamgrostis foliosa (Leafy reedgrass):
A highly ornamental species native to coastal bluffs, cliffs, scrub and open forests in northern California and Southern Oregon.
Tufted clumps to 2 feet (60 cm) tall.
blooms May to august, producing feather flowers above blue-green foliage.
In warmer climates of California, it prefers light shade and moderate moisture.
Calamagrostis nutkaensis (Pacific reedgrass):
Native to the Pacific Coast in moist soil or wet forested hills from Alaska to central California.
Tufted clumps grow 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m) tall and foliage is semi evergreen.
Flowers in spring with feathery blooms that turn a straw color later in the season.
Calamagrostis ophitidus (Serpentne reedgrass):
Grows on serpentine soils in northern California.
Tufted and strictly clump-forming to 3 feet (1 m) tall.
Upright in form, resembling the introduced species 'Karl Forester' but more delicate and better adapted to infertile soils in a warm climate.
Eriophorum angustifolium (Common cottongrass):
Native to bogs across North America.
Grows up to 2.5 feet (80 cm) tall
Rhizomes and creeping, plant this only where you want large stands.
Festuca califonica (California fescue):
Native to dry open ground, chaparral, thickets and open woodlands to 5,000 in elevation in Oregon and in California west of the Sierra Nevada, occasionally on serpentine soils.
Often found on north facing slopes.
A beautiful medium sized clump of glaucous blue-green to blue-gray.
A loose mound that grows 2 to3 feet (60-90 cm) tall.
Flowers in April though June, This cool weather grower is often evergreen in milder climates
A great specimen plant or in mass.
Fairly drought tolerant, but does best with some moisture.
Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue):
Despite the name, this native ornamental grows in open woods and rocky slopes from British Columbia to Alberta, south to Central California and Colorado.
A cool season clumping ornamental that grows to only 14 inches (35 cm) tall.
More tolerant to wet winters.
Hierochloe occidentalis (California sweetgrass):
Native to most dry coniferous forests in California to Washington.
Crushed leaves have a wonderful sweet fragrance.
Upright to 3 feet (1 m) tall in flower.
Spreads by rhizomes, prefers light to dense shade and moisture.
Hierochloe oderata (Vanilla grass):
Native to wet sites, meadows and bogs in North America.
Upright, grows to 2 feet (60 cm) tall in bloom, running aggressively by rhizomes.
Easy to grow in sun or part shade in most soils.
Crushed leaves have a strong sweet fragrance.
Leymus cinereus (Gray wild rye, basin wild rye)
Native to meadows, canyons, stream-sides, sage scrub and open woodlands From Minnesota to British Columbia, south to Colorado, Nevada and California, typically in higher elevations.
Stems and foliage are a gray-green grows 6 to 8 feet (@-2.4 m) tall in bloom.
Clump forming mostly evergreen in milder climates.
Excellent in large drifts or sweeps.
Prefers full sun and low humidity.
Melica imperfecta (Coast range melic, foothill melic):
This native grows on dry hillsides, chaparral, and open woodlands at low to moderate elevations in the coastal ranges of California.
Foliage tufted, mostly basal.
Grows 2 feet (60 cm) tall in bloom.
Dormant in summer if it is dry, but is quick to green up in winter rains.
Very attractive in early spring.
Nassella cernua (Nodding needle grass):
Native to sandy, dry slopes in, chaparral and juniper woodlands in California.
Clump forming tufts, a true cool-season grower that goes dormant in summer.
Blooms in late winter to early spring.
Grows 3 feet (1 m) tall in bloom.
Prefers full sun and does best on well drained soil.
Ideal for naturalizing in meadows and meadow gardens
Nassella lepida (Foothill needle grass):
Native to dry slopes in oak meadows, chaparral, and coastal scrub in California.
Clump-forming and tufted, a true cool-season grower that goes dormant in the heat of summer.
Blooms in late winter to early spring, prefers full sun, tolerant of other growing conditions
Nassella pulchra (Purple needle grass):
This one also can be found in drylands, chaparral and coastal scrub in California.
A delicate yet beautiful grower, an emblem of the dry native grasslands that once covered much of the state.
Blooms in late winter and grows 3 feet 1 m) tall, purple at first, turning a silvery color later on.
A cool-season ornamental that goes dormant in the summer, but greens up in the fall.
Prefers full sun and well drained soil.
Ideal for meadows and meadow gardens.
Pleuraphis jamesii (James galleta):
Native to deserts, canyons and dry plains from California to Texas to Wyoming.
Spreads by rhizomes to create a dense mass of upright stems 1 to 2 feet (30-60 cm) tall.
the foliage on this warm-season grower are a gray-green
Blooms in late spring to early summer.
Sporobolus airoides (Alkali dropseed):
Native to meadow and valleys, especially in alkaline soils, from South Dakota, west to Washington and south to southern California and beyond.
Clump forming with green-gray foliage that turns yellow in the fall.
Blooms in April to July, but sometimes as late as October.
Grows to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall in bloom
Durable and drought tolerant. Easy to grow on a wide range of soils
Hardy to Zone 5 and possible colder.
Here are a few sedges (Carex) for the coastal region.
Carex Nudata: North California.
C. Pana: Pacific Coast.
C. Spisso: South California.
C. Tumulicola: Coastal regions.
Well, there is your list of Pacific and Northwest native grasses.
While others do exist, most lack form and texture for your landscapes.
As with all native plants, they offer much more for your wildlife than exotics will.
Be sure to check with garden centers, your state or province and on-line specialty sites.
When creating your gardens and wildlife habitats, always look at nature for ideas.
Natives can be very ornamental.
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Our Pacific Northwest region is rich in diversity of native plants. This section of Rainy Side is devoted to bringing our wonderful native plants back into our gardens, to give us a new appreciation for plants we often times view as common. Whether you integrate them in with exotics in your garden or plan a native-only garden, natives will add beauty to your landscapes.
This section also features plant lists or articles about specific wildife.
From My Journal — The Holman Vista Trail
This is a rare day to cherish, as I walk the easy Holman Vista trail in near silence.
February 14, 2020
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Stumps, huckleberries, and salal are often a threesome in the forest.
June 18, 2020
A short video featuring native plants from the Pacific Northwest.
October 11, 2013
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March 20, 2013
Veratrum californicum — Proud Giants of the Lily Family
Veratrums have stalks covered with hundreds of tiny, green or white flowers.
June 21, 2012
Lesser Known Shrubs of the Klamath Mountains
This region in Southern Oregon hosts a high diversity of plants.
May 4, 2012
Going Native on the Olympic Peninsula
Indigenous plants adapt flawlessly in the garden, providing they are placed in a similar environment to where they grow in the wild.
Nectar Plants For The Pacific Northwest Hummingbird
Create a landscape of nectar-rich plants for butterflies. Not only will you enjoy their flittering about but your garden will benefit also. Here is a list of plants that provide food for the butterfly.
Many Pacific Northwest gardeners welcome the butterfly into their gardens by providing them with nectar plants. Another good way to welcome the butterfly is by providing plants to feed their hungry young. Here is a long list of host plants for the Northwest garden targeted for feeding the local caterpillars. Put away your pesticides, host your local caterpillar and watch the butterflies flock to your garden to feed and lay their eggs.
The reasons to choose natives in the Pacific Northwest, are as varied as the gardeners who grow them.
Another Look at Red Alder
You might think this is a weed tree, but take a closer look, Red alder may surprise you.
Bring the tranquility of nature to your garden.
Native Plant Gallery and Growing Guide
A comprehensive growing guide for over 50 Northwest native plants.
From ferns to flowers, we know native plants. Native plants are a big part of native animal habitat, and we work constantly to keep Northwest Trek a haven for local flora. Take a tram tour and gaze at our Douglas firs. Wander the trails to find wood sorrel or Pacific starflower.
This beautiful native plant has blue, purple or white petals. A perennial, it does well in sun and some shade. The Greater Camas flowers in mid to late spring, can grow around 48″ tall and is found on the west side of the Cascades in moist areas such as wetlands or meadows.
This native plant has bright red with yellow flowers. It is a perennial that grows in shaded and moist meadows and forests. The Red Columbine blooms throughout spring and summer and grows up to 48″ tall. When in bloom, it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. The seeds are eaten by sparrows, juncos, and finches.
This native plant has yellow flowers. It is a perennial that grows in woods, meadows and moist areas. Large-Leaved Avens bloom throughout the spring and summer and can grow up to 3 feet tall.
This purple-flowered perennial grows in grassy areas, in meadows, and on the coast. Douglas Iris blooms late spring and can grow up to 3 feet tall. It is not normally found more than 2 miles from the coast.
This native plant has orange, trumpet-shaped flowers. It is a woody vine that grows in forested areas. Orange Honeysuckle blooms in early summer and can grow up to 18 feet tall.
This native plant has pink, rose, or two-colored flowers. It is a perennial that grows by rivers and forested areas. Scouler’s Corydalis blooms late spring and can grow up to 50″ tall.
This native plant has star-shaped white flowers. It is a perennial that grows in shady wooded areas. The Pacific Starflower blooms in early summer and can grow around 8″ tall.
This large native plant has flowers shaped like a pea flower. Primary color is a bluish-purple, occasionally can be all white. The seeds are food for native birds and other small mammals. Silvery blue butterflies use the flowers. Can tolerate some partial shade if wet conditions can be avoided.
This perennial native wildflower has branched stems and purple star-like flower heads. Douglas Aster does well in full sun and moist conditions and attracts a variety of butterflies.
This native plant has clusters of small white flowers. It grows in moist woods and flowers in mid spring. Its berries are green with brown mottling at first and turn bright red as they age.
This native plant has clusters of yellow flowers and oval leaves with pointed tips. It grows in wet environments throughout the Northwest and can grow up to 36″ tall. It flowers all summer long.
This native plant has heart-shaped leaflets that are green on top and often maroon underneath. Its flowers are white or pink, with lance-shaped petals and pinkish-red veins. It is found in redwood or Douglas fir forests at low elevations and can grow up to 8″ tall.
This native perennial grows in moist deep soils in meadows, forests, and shrubby places. It has small greenish flowers and can grow up to 9 feet tall. Stinging Nettle can cause a painful rash if touched.
This native plant forms a tall evergreen grass-like clump of touch leaves topped by a large dense cluster of tiny, white fragrant flowers. Flowers irregularly every few years. Bears eat the fleshy leaf bases in springtime. Beargrass tolerates a wide-range of soils including clay, peaty and well-drained areas.
This perennial native plant has large purple tubular flowers. It grows in moist meadows, along streams, and in rocky areas. It acts as a soil stabilizer and attracts wildlife like bumblebees, night-flying moths, and many types of butterflies.