Native plants support pollinator populations

Clusters of Rocky Mountain Penstemon thriving in the Carson Valley.

Clusters of Rocky Mountain Penstemon thriving in the Carson Valley.

June is National Pollinator Month, a time to regard the critical role that bats, beetles, bees, birds, moths, and butterflies play in moving pollen from plant to plant. Pollinator activity aids in plant fertilization and is responsible for the reproduction of many fruits, vegetables, crops, and seeds that we enjoy.

We can help support pollinator populations by cultivating outdoor habitats where wildlife can thrive. One Carson Valley gardener, aptly named Rose, has made it her mission to create a haven for pollinators in her yard.

A lifelong plant enthusiast, Rose recalls a childhood spent helping her mother in the garden. As an adult, she successfully grew her own thriving garden in California, but found the wisdom and experience she’d earned over the years didn’t translate well once her family made a move to Wyoming. Plants she’d brought from California to her new home succumbed to the area’s more extreme weather patterns and temperatures.

“I was working in a (climate) zone where I had no clue,” she said, reflecting on the struggles of her initial gardening attempts in Wyoming. “I lost everything I had outside; it was a big learning curve.”

Rose said it took her five years to determine some of the plant varieties that could grow successfully in Wyoming and that there was “a lot of watching involved.” This included paying attention to the different microclimates around her property, impacts of wild animals including rabbits and deer, weather patterns, soil quality, sunlight exposure, and protection offered from other surrounding plants.

Her persistence paid off, and Rose eventually developed several thriving outdoor areas in the spaces around her home.

“That garden took me a good ten years,” she said, explaining the creative approach of her gardening style. “I can’t plan gardens; I have a better time with seeing (the plants that are) already out there and working with that…looking at what grows naturally and going from there.”

After 13 years in Wyoming, Rose and her husband came to Nevada to be closer to family. The move provided a whole new opportunity to expand her gardening knowledge.

“Wyoming was the second zone I learned to grow in,” she said. “I kind of got it down, then we moved here…the most surprising thing (about Nevada) was the wind and the heat, in that order,” she said.

Rose had a vision to create a yard filled with native plants that would encourage local pollinator populations, lessen water usage, cut down on weeds, and reduce the number of highly flammable plants on her property. She pursued educational opportunities that included an irrigation class through the UNR-Extension program in Reno and a butterfly workshop at River Fork Ranch. Both emphasized taking hints from the existing environment and paying attention to what grows naturally and where it thrives.

Rose noticed clumps of native grasses sprouting up in the field surrounding her home, along with wildflower varieties including penstemon, phlox, mallow, and gaillardia.

These observations helped her understand “what grows with the least amount of work and time.” She also planted milkweed to support monarch butterfly populations.

The hardy beauty of these native wildflowers is appealing, and Rose is particularly enthralled with penstemon. She has embarked on a goal of incorporating as many varieties as she can into her landscape (penstemon species number in the hundreds).

“Penstemon are prolific seeders,” she said, noting that birds, deer, and rabbits will consume the plant’s dried seed pods which further helps it spread. Penstemon can also be propagated by dividing the roots and shoots of established plants.

A couple of years ago, Rose came across what she thinks might be a new penstemon variety growing in her yard. She said it seems to be a cross between a Rocky Mountain and a Palmer’s penstemon as evidenced by its pinkish-purple blooms and succulent-like leaves. She plans to connect with The American Penstemon Society ( to investigate this possibility of a new variety.

“The American Penstemon Society provides a wealth of knowledge,” she said, adding The Nevada Native Plant Society ( and local VitalBeeBuds nursery ( as helpful sources of information regarding penstemon and other plant species native to Nevada.

On Sunday, June 26 between 8 am-3 pm, Rose is offering an open garden tour for anyone interested in seeing her native- and pollinator-friendly landscape. RSVP to or 307-880-2803 for location and other details.

Amy Roby can be reached at


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