Have you found the books Clark gave to elementary school libraries? This year’s book is Drop: An Adventure through the Water Cycle

Native plants in Clark County, Washington

The Pacific Northwest is rich in plant life — from towering Douglas firs and dozens of fern species to seemingly endless shrubs and flowers. The flora in Clark County changes with the diverse landscapes. River valleys, narrow canyons, wetlands, forests, and mountains can all be found in our backyard, and each area has its own ecosystem with its own types of plants.

Not all plants are equal, however! While your favorite park or hiking trail might have lots of Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, or baby’s breath, these plants are not native to the area. What are native plants and why are they important? Let’s learn about the important role native plants play in our world.

What are native plants?

The term ‘native plant’ generally refers to plants that are indigenous to a particular geographic region. Over time those plants have evolved and adapted to local environmental conditions such as soil types, hydrology and microclimates. Even more importantly, they have coevolved with insects (especially bees and butterflies!), and other animals that depend on these very specific native plants for food and shelter. And often times the plants depend on specific animals for their survival. These symbiotic relationships are the backbone of many ecosystems.

Why plant native plants?

The natural areas we enjoy are made up of native plants. These plants are great for planting in yards and parks as well! Native plants feed many of the small creatures at the bottom of the food web and they thrive in the local ecosystem.

If you plant native species in your yard or school natural area, they’re likely to thrive without needing much help from humans. From soil to moisture to pests, native plants survive well without needing much watering, fertilizer, or pesticides. They also help the soil by managing runoff from rain and preventing soil compaction thanks to their deep root systems.

Native Plants on a Nature Trail

How to plant a garden with native plants

Whether you’re planting a garden to attract butterflies and bees or you’re helping on a project for your school, church, or community, there are some basic tips that will ensure your garden will look beautiful for a long time.

Ferns in the Forest

Pick the right plant for the right location

Does your garden get full sun or is it partially shaded? Once you’ve determined the amount of sun and shade it receives, select plants that are well-matched. Don’t plant sun-loving plants in an area that’s fully shaded, for example.

Man Holding Soil in His Hands

Give your soil a boost of nutrients

Depending on your location, the soil might not have a lot of organic material. Adding some fresh compost can help give your plants the extra boost they’ll need to succeed.

Plant Arrangement and Trees

Consider the arrangement of your plants

Some plants grow taller than others. Plant tall ones in the back of your garden area and shorter ones in the front. Read the label that comes with the plant to find out how tall it will grow and how much space you should leave around it. Always take safety into consideration when planting – don’t plant bushes or large trees around or under power lines or electrical equipment.

Man in a Nursery

Lean on plant experts to learn more

Local native plant nurseries or extension offices can help you decide what to plant. They can help figure out what will grow well in your space, as well as what your goals are, whether it’s to enjoy fresh huckleberries, watch butterflies, or help native birds thrive.

Benefits of native plants

Once your native plant garden is complete, what benefits can you expect?

  • Little maintenance: Once these plants are established, they normally don’t need much in the way of watering or fertilizing because they’re adapted to our ecosystem. (Although you may want to help them out during extreme heatwaves and cold spells!) This conserves water while keeping pesticides and fertilizer out of the water system.
  • More wildlife: Your native garden will attract birds, bees, butterflies, and more! Not only will there plenty of nectar for pollinators, but your garden can provide habitat and seeds and fruit for other small creatures.
  • Lots of beauty: Native plants often have colorful petals and beautiful seasonal changes, as well as showy flowers and fruits. You’ll love your colorful garden!
Native Plants

Native plant identification

Image for Acer macrophyllum

Bigleaf Maple

Acer macrophyllum

photo credit: Patrick Godfrey

In Washington, the bigleaf maple is a common deciduous tree on the west side of the cascades and can reach 30 m. When in bloom, one tree provides as much nectar and pollen to native bees as an acre of wildflowers. Birds eat the samaras in the winter.
Image for Struthiopteris spicant

Deer Fern

Struthiopteris spicant

photo credit: McKenzie Kargel

The deer fern is an important winter food for deer and elk in areas where other forage is not available. This evergreen perennial is an understory plant found in moist forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Image for Bidens frondosa

Devil's Beggarticks

Bidens frondosa

photo credit: McKenzie Kargel

Devil's beggarticks are annual, erect, native herbaceous plants that lacks ray flowers. Muskrats use the plant as a food source, and waterfowl eat the fruits.
Image for Chamaenerion angustifolium


Chamaenerion angustifolium

photo credit: Brennan Kessenich

Named for its propensity to grow following fires, Fireweed grows well in disturbed sites such as burns, clearcuts, and along roadsides. First Nations people ate the stems or peeled, dried, and twisted the stems for use in fishing nets
Image for Canadanthus modestus

Great Northern Aster

Canadanthus modestus

photo credit: Brennan Kessenich

The great norther aster can be found in moist woods along the banks of streams as well as lake margins, at middle-elevations in the mountains. This native perennial is a favorite nectar source of summer longhorn bees.
Image for Berberis aquifolium

Oregon Grape

Berberis aquifolium

photo credit: Brennan Kessenich

Oregon grape is an evergreen shrub with holly-like leaves. It blooms very early in the year which benefits newly emerging bumble bee queens and is a larval host of many moth species. The blue berries are eaten by robins, waxwings, juncos, towhees and grouse.
Image for Anaphalis margaritacea

Pearly Everlasting

Anaphalis margaritacea

photo credit: Brennan Kessenich

The flowers of pearly everlasting are either entirely male or mostly female. This adaptation promotes cross-pollination by insects such as butterflies and moths. This native perennial is the larval host for the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)
Image for Cornus unalaschkensis

Western Bunchberry

Cornus unalaschkensis

photo credit: Brennan Kessenich

Western bunchberry is a low growing woodland species with a clever pollen distribution method. There is a tiny projection on each closed flower bud and any insect contacting it triggers the flower to spring open and the insect to be engulfed in a cloud of pollen.
Image for Adiantum aleuticum

Western Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum aleuticum

photo credit: McKenzie Kargel

Western maidenhair ferns grow in shady, moist, humid forests and is often found on rocks and cliffs next to waterfalls where they get misted by the spray. First Nations people used the stems of the fern in basketry designs.