I just read the inspiring & hopeful book: Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy and now I want to grow lots more native plants and trees for wildlife like bees, birds and butterflies in our home landscape in Park Hill (Denver) as well as in a community garden. I’d also love to see if our parkways and parks could incorporate native plants as well. The book inspired me to started researching native trees and plants for Colorado, so I wrote this post about native trees in Denver to use as a resource. There aren’t a lot of resources that only identify native trees that do well in Denver, so I thought I’d collect a Denver Native Tree list (for myself and others) here:
Gambel (scrub) Oak
Native acorn-producing oak with great variability in size and shape. Here’s a good PDF newsletter about Gambel Oaks from Colorado State University.
Slow growing, Rocky Mountain native, shades of yellow, orange and red in fall. Also known as the Wasatch Maple.
Long needle pine, native to Colorado, hardy tree
Southwestern White Pine
Soft, dark bluish-green needles, native to Colorado
Native tree with medium green leaves turning yellow in fall giving way to cone-like fruits in winter
Colorado Blue Spruce
State tree, sharp stiff needles, color of needles range from
bright green to silver blue
Find more Recommended trees for the Front Range from this Colorado State Forest Service PDF, the above mentioned native trees are the only native trees they have in their recommendations, there are also other trees non-native to Colorado that they recommend for our climate. But why not go native when adding trees to landscapes? The more, the merrier for all wildlife, the soil and the planet. Source: static.colostate.edu/client-files/csfs/pdfs/trees_for_frontrange.pdf
Tallamy mentions oak trees as one of the cornerstone species that can help support native wildlife, but he lives on the East Coast, so they have different and more abundant choices of native trees than we do here in our high alpine desert. I believe our only native oak in Colorado is the Gambel Oak (also known as Scrub Oak). I was wondering if they grew well here… so I asked around.
Gambel Oaks do grow well in Denver!
I posted the question about growing Gambel Oaks in Denver in a Colorado Native Plant Gardening Facebook group, as I had not seen/recognized any growing in my neighborhood, and below are all the replies:
I have grown them in Denver and there are some happy Gamble oaks behind my house in Centennial. ~ KL
There is a lot of genetic variability in populations of Gambel Oak. There is a very nice single-trunk one at the Denver Botanic Gardens at York Street (right outside the entrance to Mitchell Hall next to Offshoots Cafe), and another that we saw on our recent tour of Kelly Grummons’ garden. His is a selection called ‘Gila Monster’, which is slowly making its way into the trade by way of growers in New Mexico (where it is native to). Our Front Range Gambel Oaks are highly variable; they tend to form a thicket anywhere from 8-20′ tall. They can be limbed up to enable understory plantings. I’m pretty sure they also have a clump of Gambel Oak at Kendrick Lake Gardens. ~LO
There are lots of homes around Colorado Springs that use gamble oak in the landscaping. Typically a large area where they can be allowed to spread is chosen so that a grove can be grown. ~PK
We planted Gambel Oaks in our backyard here in Fort Collins. They’re doing well but aren’t as tall or as bushy as those I remember from growing up in Durango. ~SS
We (Denver) are just north of their native range but Denver is such an artificially-created environment maybe it doesn’t matter. They’ll get big if you allow them supplemental irrigation; they also are prone to galls – but nevertheless, I love mine. ~ND
I have seen them do real well. For example they are one of the few trees that was originally planted in Stapleton central Park that are thriving. They just need a slop or gravely, well drained soil to survive. ~PM
So Gambel Oaks do grow here, and can hopefully start making more of an appearance in our Denver landscapes.
Here’s another good read from Colorado State University, talking about saving Gambel Oaks in urban landscapes:
Here’s a good detailed read about Gambel Oaks from Managing Gambel Oak in Southwestern
Ponderosa Pine Forests:
Gambel oak influences wildlife habitat by providing cover, acorns and foliage for food, feeding surfaces for insects and associated predators, cavities and surfaces for cavity excavation, and by affecting other ecosystem components such as soils, microclimates, and invertebrates (Harper and others 1985, Leidolf and others 2000, Reynolds and others 1970).
Another native fruit tree is below, I’ll be searching and listing more as I learn more about native Denver trees.
Technically a large shrub, upright to spreading branches, small rounded leaves; clusters of small white flowers; blue-black fruit attractive to wildlife; orange to red fall color.
I believe there are native plum trees, and crabapple trees, but am still investigating which do well in our Denver climate, so stay tuned!
Here’s a Native Shrubs list from the Colorado State Extension, as well as a Native Colorado Trees list (not all of these thrive in Denver, however, as they may be more suited to cooler mountain areas.)
Want to plant more natives?
View this list of Denver Native Plants »