Shrubs of the Mountains and Basins

Attract Birds and Other Wildlife



Native Shrubs of the Mountains and Basins are as wide spread and diverse as the region itself. Yet in this fragile environment, many are being destroyed or over taken by invasive aliens.

In Colorado birds may like the fruits of Autumn olive and Russian olive, but the small trees are very invasive.

The vast landscape of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho was once covered by native shrubs, grasses, and herbaceous plants. This area is now largely a monoculture of an exotic and invasive annual grass called Cheatgrass.

And the list goes on.

Some Natives cover the whole range while others are very limited in their natural habitat.

The region of the Mountains and Basins encompasses a large area of Western North America between the West Coast and the Prairies, and extends from northern Arizona and New Mexico North to parts of Canada and Alaska.

The major geological features are the mountain ranges (most notably the Rockies).

In between are relatively dry valleys and broad basins.

These basins are often called cold or high deserts because of the minimal rainfall and cold winters. Snow is common in most areas and rain in the summer, but the region is decidedly arid.

Lower areas can experience intense heat in the summer months, while higher elevations remain cool.

Vegetation can vary from Grasslands to Shrubs of the Mountains to open Forests.

Knowing and understanding the topography of your land will help in planting Native Shrubs of the Mountains and Basins in your region.

Natives offer food and cover for birds and other wildlife and thrive in this rugged terrain.

American Indians relied on many of these bushes for a source of food, in lodging and as weaponry

Strong root systems keep soil from erosion and many run deep to find water when nature provides little.

The most common shrubs which might be considered in the Inter-mountain West include Winterfat, Fourwing saltbush, Forage kochia, Bitterbrush, and Sagebrush species.

For some bushes of the Mountains and Basins, take a look at:

Golden currant (Ribes aureum):

Golden or Clove currant has bright yellow blooms in the spring that smell like cloves or a spice cabinet.

A bush that grows to around 10 feet tall and provides edible berries of orange to black in color.

It is zone 2 hardy and a life zones 10,000 feet

Plant in full sun to partial shade and give it a hard pruning to keep it in a nice shape if desired.

Golden currant can be found through out most of the Mountains and Basins.

Fruits are desired by humans, birds and small mammals. Be sure to plant several of these.

Silver Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia argentea):

A great native plant substitute for the invasive exotic plants, 'Autumn Olive' and 'Russian Olive'.

Buffalo Berry has attractive silver-green foliage and bark and produces lots of orange-red fruits that are edible by people and sought after by birds.

The fruits make an excellent jelly.

Buffalo Berry needs both male and female plants to produce fruit. One male will take care of three to five female shrubs.

Buffalo Berry is a thorny shrub with upright, mounded growth. The thorns provide excellent protection for nesting birds.

It's also a Xeriscape plant, tolerating extreme drought, cold and alkaline conditions. This is one tough plant that grows from the Mojave Desert in the southwest to Alaska in the north. Not bothered by insects or disease. Easy to grow.

Buffalo Berry is a mountain shrub that seems to do better on moist hillsides and bottom lands, but is drought tolerant and does well in western Colorado and Wyoming.

This plant is hardy in zones 2 to 8 and to 7,500 feet above sea level.

Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata):

Bushes of the Mountains must include Twinberry.

Hardy to zone 4 It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from July to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

The plant grows in light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist soil.

Berries are great for birds and small mammals. American Indians used several parts of Twinberry bush for medicinal purpose.

Twinberry does well in open woodland gardens, along streams and river beds and a sunny edge. A medium bush that grows to around 6 foot tall. Adapts well to pruning.

Redstem (Ceanothus sanguineus):

This native of the Mountains is also known as Buckbrush and Oregon tea shrub.

A deciduous bush growing to 6 feet , it is hardy to zone 5 and Has a limited native habitat of British Columbia South to Northern California and West to Idaho and Montana.

Redstem can also be found in south Dakota and is a rare plant in Michigan.

It is in flower from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by bees and other insects.

The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant will grow in acid neutral or alkaline soils.

It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires dry or moist soil.

Fruits or seeds are brown in color and offer a food source for birds and animals. Plant in woodlands, cultivated beds or a sunny edge.

These bushes of the Mountains do not like to be pruned. If you must prune, do it in early spring.

A tea is made from the leaves.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa):

Elderberries range beyond of the Mountains and Basins, you can find them throughout most of the United States and parts of Canada.

Hardy in zones 4 - 7, Elderberries enjoy moist humus soil and can grow to 20 feet if not kept pruned. Heavy pruning each spring will keep them in shorter and bushier.

Left unmanaged, they get quite leggy.

White flower heads appear in Spring turning to red berry clusters in mid to late summer.

So valued were the fruits by American Indians, that archaeological digs on sites have produced caches of elderberries that are several hundred years old.

For human use, berries should be cooked first.

When Gardening-for-Wildlife, Elderberry is a must in your landscape as the fruits are high on several birds list and small mammals also feed on them.

In the Southern most part of the region, plants of the Mountains and Basins would include

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa):

The most distinguishing and attractive feature of the Apache Plume is the feathery, red-pink seed heads that come on the plant after flowering.

The seed heads can remain all season long.

A close relative of Cliff rose, both plants bear similar, deeply lobed small leaves.

Apache plume offers pink to white flowers from May through September and is very attractive to butterflies and bees.

Birds eat the seeds and the bushes also offer protection for ground birds and small animals.

Hardy to zone 4, this shrub of the Mountains and Basins can be found through out the southwest in all four American deserts and the Great Basin.

It grows in elevations between 3,000 feet to 8,000 feet.

Apache plume thrives in arid conditions and is quite drought tolerant.

Its deep roots make it difficult to dig and transplant.

Apache plume grows to about 6 feet tall and wide.

The branches were once used by American Indians to make arrows.

Orange gooseberry (Ribes pinetorum):

Orange gooseberry are popular shrubs of the Mountains and Basins in northern Arizona and New Mexico.

These shrubs will grow any just about any soil condition that is moist and well drained.

Attractive red/orange flowers are pollinated by insects and produce fruits that birds and people love.

A medium sized bush that performs and looks best pruned.

Because Orange gooseberry is only hardy to zone 6, it is limited on where it will prosper.

You don't want to plant this shrub near pine trees as it is a carrier of "White pine fungus".

Another to look at is Cliff rose (Cowania mexicana). Native to the north edges of the Mojave desert to Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

A 4 ft. high evergreen (it can get bigger if happy) with creamy yellow 1" flowers in April - June followed by an intricate mass of feathery fruits that turn the plant into an electrifying blond.

Full sun from zones 5 to 9.

There are so many shrubs of the Mountains and Basins to choose from that I only touched on a few wildlife favorites.

Be sure to check out local garden centers for native shrubs.

Remember, native plants are hardier all the way around.

Return to Top of Shrubs of the Mountains

Native Shrubs Home Page

Turn your Yard into a Wildlife Habitat

Trees of the Mountains and Basins.

Flowers of the Mountains and Basins.

Native Grasses for Your Gardens

Native Vines of the Mountains and Basins

Be Sure to Offer Water.

Feeding Birds

Feeding Hummingbirds

About Your Hummingbirds

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