Plant Communities

a dozen pink low-growing bitterroot flowers among grasses, white mountain sandwort and arrowleaf balsamroot leaves

bitterroot, mountain sandwort, arrowleaf balsamroot and fescue – example of foothills community

Click on these links for lists of plants that are found together in each of these community types in Montana:

In the wild, plants are part of an ecosystem that includes insects, birds, fauna and the climatological conditions that favor a  particular ‘community’ of plants. Within each community plants have established an equilibrium sharing resources including water, soil nutrients and light.

Plants protect each other from dessication, provide shade for seedlings, and help attract pollinators to their neighboring plants. Within a habitat the natural succession of plant bloom times often provides pollinators with food for periods that extend beyond the bloom time of individual species.

A successful garden or landscape often replicates these community types and attempts to group together plants that grow in similar habitats.  Doing so creates a balance in which no one plant overruns another, all plants are able to thrive, and there is a natural succession of bloom times.

Look at local native plant communities on sites similar to yours as a model of the plant communities that will work for your site.  Survey these plant communities several times during the year will provide good idea of the many plant species that exist in your ecosytem.

pink wild geranium with purple lupine, sagebrush and yellow agoseris

sticky geranium, silvery lupine, yellow agoseris, fescue

When planting in communities:

  • Avoid monocultures
  • Survey local native plant communities several times during the year to identify species that will thrive on your site
  • Plant shorter shade-tolerant plants beneath taller, bushy plants
  • Place tall plants at the north end of the plot and smaller species at the south end so all will get needed sun
  • Plan for various bloom times for continuous color and interest
  • Plant deep rooted species next to fibrous rooted species
  • Place early blooming species next to late blooming species