yellow flowers with orange centers

The Importance of Native Plants

Native Plants have evolved over time to be adapted to the climate, soil and temperatures of the area where they live. They provide food and shelter for wildlife and maintain biological diversity of plants and animals that evolved with these plants.

Many insects have life cycles that are coordinated with the timing of plant blooms and help pollinate the plants while relying on them for food and shelter. In turn, birds and other animals depend on the insects and plant seeds and fruits that the native plants provide.

There are more native plants in the Willow Spring Open Space than you might expect!

Bike paths among native trees and shrubs
Native Plants in this bike trail area include Plains Cottonwood trees, Juniper trees, and Common Sagebrush shrubs

Native Plants in Willow Spring Open Space include:

green ash in autumn
Green Ash tree – Introduced

Non-Native Plants

Non-native plants, or “introduced” plants, can be brought into the ecosystem through ornamental planting, nursery stock, cultivation and as hitch-hikers on cars, or in the soil with other desirable plants. Their seeds can spread from other nearby areas which they have already populated.

These plants often do not have natural controls, such as insects or diseases to keep them in check. Once in an area, they can take it over, crowding out the native plants and impacting the wildlife that depends on those native plants.

Since the non-native plants did not develop in the region, they frequently do not provide the same food and shelter as is required by native insects and birds for survival.

Noxious Weeds

Some of these non-native plants are so invasive that they have been designated as Noxious Weeds and are regulated through the Colorado State Department of Agriculture. They threaten our natural and agricultural lands and disrupt ecosystems.

The Colorado Weed Management Association periodically publishes a book listing the characteristics of noxious weeds based on the lists established by the Colorado’s Noxious Weed Act.

Examples of Colorado List B noxious weeds (which require the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture to develop noxious weed management plans designed to stop the continued spread of these species) in the Willow Spring Open Space include:

Leafy spurge
Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula)
Cutleaf teasel
Cutleaf Teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus)
2 Small Russian Olive trees
Russian Olive (Eleagnus angustifolia)

Colorado List C noxious weeds (which are so widespread that they are not required to be managed, but additional are resources available to local jurisdictions that choose to require their management) which are found at the Willow Spring Open Space include:

Downy Brome or Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)
patch of bindweed
Field Bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis)
poison hemlock in bloom
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Fortunately, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District and the Mile High Flood District are working together to increase the native plants in Willow Spring Open Space, as seen by the recent plantings on the Englewood Dam.

Native Plants in the Mountains

Although the Colorado Rockies might seem pristine, there are also many non-native plants there that can crowd out the native plants, to the detriment of the wildlife. The native plants in the mountains can be spectacular! Plants that have been written about on this site include:

References and Further Reading

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