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Choosing Native Plants

Woods Rose
(Rosa woodsi)
Woods Rose

Plants have evolved over the centuries to adapt to climate, elevation, soils, water and sunlight availability. Different species that are uniquely suited to similar conditions will form a distinct “community” of plants. With so much variation in elevation, temperature, and water availability, there are a great variety of plant communities in the Intermountain West.

The dominant plant communities found in Salt Lake County can be more or less roughly correlated with elevation, as follows:

  • Subalpine and Alpine: 10,000 feet and higher
  • Upper Montane: 9,000-10,000 feet
  • Mid-Montane: 6,000-9,000 feet
  • Foothill: 4,800-6,000 feet
  • Valley: 4,200-4,800 feet

Elevation is a good climate predictor. Lower elevations are generally hotter and drier. Higher elevations are cooler and moister. Keep in mind there are other factors that play a role in creating microclimates within the elevation zones. The north-facing slope of a canyon will support plants that prefer cooler and moister conditions, versus a south-facing slope at the same elevation will support plants that favor warmer, drier conditions.

Stream corridors are another type of microclimate, given the regular presence of water and a greater abundance of shade. This is particularly true in the hottest and driest areas of the watershed, where the riparian corridor is visibly obvious as a “green ribbon” of trees and shrubs. Native plants of the Intermountain West occupy an amazing range of microhabitats.

Use the map of elevation zones in Salt Lake County and the native plant lists (Trees, Small Trees Shrubs & Vines, Grasses & Wildflowers) as a guide to determine which plants could be best suited for improving native plant diversity in your landscape. Use what you know about the unique microclimate of your property—sun, shade, water availability (do you have irrigation for the drier upper slopes?), soil type, etc.—to select plants that will thrive in your landscape.

Let’s say, for example, you live at the lower edge of the Foothill Zone (at approximately 4,900 feet) on a north-facing slope and you have a nice canopy of big shade trees along your stream. Your shady streamside microclimate may support plants that occur naturally at higher elevations (cooler, moister) in the Mid-Montane Zone.


Selecting Plants by Elevation Zone

The dominant plant communities found in Salt Lake County can be more or less roughly correlated with elevation. Use this map, and the native plant lists on the following pages, to identify the best plants for your landscape.

Elevation Zones

Subalpine & Alpine 10,000+ ft

Upper Montane 9,000-10,000ft

Mid Montane 6,000-9,000 ft

Foothill 4,800-6,000 ft

Valley 4,200-4,800 ft

Native plant lists

Our plant lists provide recommended native trees, small trees/shrubs, and ground cover species for the riparian corridor. Included to help further refine your plant selections are: preferred sun, preferred moisture, tolerance to saline and/or alkaline soils, and the elevation zone(s) in which plants are naturally occurring in Salt Lake County. 

These plant lists are adapted from those included in the Salt Lake City Riparian Corridor Study Management Plans. Additional sources include Flora of the Central Wasatch Front; Waterwise-Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes; Landscaping on the New Frontier-Waterwise Design for the Intermountain West; and the USDA PLANTS Database.

Note: Plants from the Subalpine and Alpine elevation zones are not included, given that no streamside residential properties are found in these zones.

Native Species for Planting in the Riparian Zone