When my wife and I moved to the PNW our house was already landscaped for us with native plants…courtesy of nature.
In other words, it was an unkempt mess that hadn’t been cared for or looked after for 15+ years.
By the time we got done hacking and trimming it turned out that we didn’t have nearly as many plants as we thought.
This put us on a path to finding and cultivating as many of the PNW’s beautiful native plants as we could in our own yard.
So, which ones are best? Well, I have a few thoughts.
However, even if you aren’t planting any of these, anyone that lives in the PNW would benefit from recognizing the native plants. Some of them are edible and some are poisonous, but they’re all beautiful. So let’s jump in!
But First, Why Should You Plant Only Native Plants?
When many people start planning out their yard they think about what they would like and then go find a plant that fits the description.
A much more environmentally conscious approach is to consider what options are native to the area and then choose from those.
Some of the advantages of using native plants include:
- They are well-suited to the climate and growing conditions in your area, so they are more likely to thrive and require less maintenance.
- They are adapted to local pests and diseases, so they are less likely to be damaged or killed by these factors.
- They provide habitat and food for local wildlife, such as birds, butterflies, and bees, which can help to support local ecosystems.
- They can help to preserve local plant diversity, as many native plant species are under threat due to habitat loss and other factors.
- They avoid introducing competition from invasive species of plants that native fauna are ill-equipped to defend against.
In general, using native plants in your yard and garden can be a sustainable and eco-friendly choice, as they are adapted to the local environment and can contribute to the health and biodiversity of the area. Which is why we’re planting plants in the first place, right?
21 Native Pacific Northwest Plants You Should Plant
1. Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
This small tree is native to the Pacific Northwest and is known for its showy white flowers in the spring and red fruit in the fall.
Known to grow quickly and persist in difficult conditions, it blooms with creamy white flowers between April and May. What many may not know is that its berry-like drupes are not only edible but also used for medicinal purposes.
Traditionally, Pacific dogwood bark was used in healing salves and teas for colds, headaches, and sore throats; additionally, due to its high vitamin C content, it can be used as a supplement for immunity. These beautiful trees are so much more than a pretty face – even their wood is valuable due to its strength and grain!
Pacific dogwood is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and fruit, as well as its small size, which makes it well-suited to smaller spaces.
2. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)
This tall, coniferous tree is native to the PNW and is a popular choice for privacy hedges due to its dense, upright growth habit.
It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
Western red cedar is known for its strong, aromatic wood and is often used in construction and furniture-making. It is also a popular choice for landscaping due to its attractive appearance and ability to provide privacy.
3. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Douglas fir trees are a defining feature of the Pacific Northwest landscape. This tall, coniferous tree is a popular choice for Christmas trees due to its pleasant scent and good needle retention.
These majestic trees can tower up to 300 feet high and their roots can grow down adaptable to shallow or deep soils.
It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil.
Douglas firs provide valuable habitat for native species as well as commercial lumber value as it’s used in both construction and paper-making. It is also a popular choice for landscaping due to its attractive appearance and ability to provide privacy.
4. Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
This deciduous native shrub is known for its showy red flowers in the spring and dark purple fruit in the summer.
It thrives in full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Red flowering currant is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and fruit, as well as its ability to attract birds and other wildlife.
5. Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)
Pacific ninebark is a native shrub in the Pacific Northwest. It stands out from other types of shrubs with its airy foliage and fragrant white-pink blossoms. The bark of this species peels away in strips which gives it a distinct look and feel to any garden or yard.
Though hardy against cold and intense sun, it requires regular watering, especially during dry summers.
Pacific ninebark is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive appearance and ability to provide privacy.
6. Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
The Western Sword Fern is one of many ferns native to the PNW and is one of the best options for a yard or garden (as it likely won’t try to overrun everything).
It is known for its tall, upright fronds and thrives in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Western sword fern is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive appearance and ability to thrive in shaded areas.
7. Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
This perennial is native to the Pacific Northwest and is known for its showy red and yellow flowers in the spring and summer.
It thrives in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Western columbine is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its beautiful flowers and ability to thrive in shaded areas.
8. Pacific trillium (Trillium ovatum)
Pacific trillium is well known in the PNW for its unique three-petal structure that blooms in bright white with a maroon-red center.
They make a perfect centerpiece in any garden, provided they’re planted in rich soil and partial shade.
Pacific trillium also serves as food for some birds, insects, and deer — making it a great accessory to attract wildlife!
They don’t require much water or maintenance and will keep blossoming year after year. So if you’re looking for something special to add to your garden this spring, why not consider giving Pacific trillium a chance?
9. Western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
For all you lonely heartsick gardeners out there, the Western bleeding heart might be exactly what you want to plant. It is known for its showy pink or white heart-shaped flowers in the spring.
It thrives in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Western bleeding heart is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and ability to thrive in shaded areas.
10. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
This deciduous shrub is native to the Pacific Northwest and is known for its pink or orange flowers in the spring and edible fruit in the summer. It is one of the most well-known edible berries in Washington and Oregon and is typically easy to find in the spring along hiking trails.
For your yard, it thrives in full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Salmonberry is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and fruit, as well as its ability to attract birds and other wildlife.
11. Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum)
The Pacific rhododendron is a native evergreen shrub that is commonly found in the PNW. It is most easily recognizable by its showy pink or white flowers that come out in the spring.
It prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Pacific rhododendron is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and ability to thrive in shaded areas.
12. Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale)
If you’re hiking anywhere in Washington during the spring, you’re likely to see the pink and white flowers of the Western Azalea standing out among patches of wildflowers.
It is also a popular choice in landscaping as it is attractive and able to thrive in shady (or in our case, cloudy) conditions.
It prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
13. Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
This coniferous tree is native to the Pacific Northwest and is known for its delicate, drooping branches. If it helps you remember them, my daughter calls them “Dr. Seuss trees”.
Under a person’s care, Western hemlock prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
They are an extremely hardy tree and a common choice if you aren’t keen on maintenance. Although, if you’re not worried about changing anything in your yard it’s highly likely there’s one or more already there as they’re everywhere in the PNW.
14. Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
The Western redbud, also known as Cercis occidentalis, is a unique addition to any Pacific Northwest landscape. It’s often noted for its thickets of magenta flowers that bloom in early spring which can be found all through the region.
The Western redbud makes a great ornamental tree because it’s attractive and low-maintenance. Its interesting papilionaceous flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators while its heart-shaped leaves and spreading branches provide plenty of shade.
With proper care and maintenance, the Western redbud can live for decades, adding character to a garden or yard for generations to come.
15. Western thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
This deciduous shrub is native to the Pacific Northwest and is known for its white flowers in the spring and edible fruit in the summer.
It thrives in full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Western thimbleberry is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and fruit, as well as its ability to attract birds and other wildlife.
16. Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)
Western skunk cabbage is an evergreen wildflower commonly found in the Pacific Northwest’s moist and shady areas. With a unique (read, disgusting), skunky smell, this wildflower is an unmistakable presence welcoming springtime into the region each year.
Boasting conspicuous yellow and green blossoms, the Western skunk cabbage can add a vibrant pop of color to any area it inhabits and is not only a great source of food for small animals but is also pleasing to the eye.This plant can be seen near riverbanks, ditches, wetlands and woodlands from northern California all the way up into Alaska, making it a well-known regional flora.
Western skunk cabbage is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and ability to thrive in wet areas. Just don’t eat it…
17. Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
The Pacific madrone is a special plant on this list as it is not found anywhere but in the PNW.
Native to the region, these trees can easily recognize by their textured bark which ranges from smooth, light gray to orange-red. Coastal mountain areas where moisture is common, feature huge clusters of madrones, often growing very close together. These types of environments are ideal for supporting the Madrone’s desire for water.
Easily identified during winter months once the leaves have fallen off their branches and revealed red-orange stems instead. Although Madrones handle harsh weather with relative ease and superior durability, they have become increasingly vulnerable to deforestation due to human activity.
If it weren’t for conservation efforts that have been underway in recent years, this majestic tree wouldn’t still be around today. So do your part and plant one!
18. Western serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Not only is this plant beautiful with white-to-pinkish flowers that bloom in clusters right before the trees start to leaf out, but it also offers delicious edible berries around mid to late summer.
Boasting a subtly sweet flavor, Western serviceberry can be eaten raw, cooked down into – or used as a garnish for – jams and jellies.
If you’re looking for a berry plant to put in your yard, this is a great option!
It thrives in full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. Western serviceberry is a popular choice for gardens and landscaping due to its attractive flowers and fruit, as well as its ability to attract birds and other wildlife.
19. Western red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
Western red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is a native shrub of the Pacific Northwest. From August to October, its reddish-purple berry clusters ripen and provide an excellent source of nutrition for many types of wildlife.
It grows between 5 to 6 feet tall and is often found in sunny openings near streams, lakes, or canyons.
For humans, the leaves and flowers have been historically used to create teas and medicinal infusions while the fruit was used to make jams and pies.
It thrives in full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
20. Western mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
Western mock orange shrubs have infiltrated the Pacific Northwest as an ideal landscape plant and thrive in full sun and well-drained sandy soils.
The clusters of sweet-smelling white flowers and evergreen foliage give off a year-round look of beauty to any garden or yard. In late spring, the Western mock orange is covered in cream-colored fragrant blooms of four petals accompanied by attractive boxlike fruit. This low-maintenance shrub makes a great choice for screening or hedging, providing both lush greenery and bright dashes of color during its flowering period.
Not just easy on the eyes, it also provides much enjoyment to anyone fortunate enough to take in its heavenly scent.
Hopefully, this provided you with a good overview of some of the PNW’s native plants! Obviously, this is just scratching the surface of one of the most biodiverse places in the United States but it’s enough to get you moving!
If you found this list overwhelming, your best option is to simply find a plant nursery near you and ask a few questions. Any one of the workers are likely to be able to direct you to the plants that will both suit your specific needs and be good for your local ecosystem.