Plant List for Riparian Enhancement

By Roger Rosentreter PhD, plant ecologist and river lover:

High water!  Means you have an opportunity to improve your little bit of the Boise River. Control of invasive species to improve the function and value of critical riparian habitat is a top recommendation of the Boise River Enhancement Plan, and now’s the time everyone can make a difference.

Invasive weed Amorpha fruiticosa

High water has come and gone and public and private riverside land stewards can take advantage of the changes in soil deposition or loss to enhance riparian vegetation. Whether it’s an area that was inundated for months or a bank that’s in need of stabilization, landowners should plant good and remove bad plants for a healthier, more flood-resilient river.

Brown Trout. Photo Eric Brecker

Native vegetation provides food for insects, both terrestrial and aquatic. Native cottonwoods and willows leaves are shredded by aquatic insects and these insects provide food for fish in the Boise River. This is part of Mother Nature’s food web. In contrast, exotic trees and shrubs like Russian olives and lead plant (Amorpha fruiticosa) have leaves with hairs or oils that native insects have not evolved to eat. Native insects have taken thousands of years to co-evolve with native plants. Leaves from Russian olive trees fall into the Boise River come autumn and are similar to inorganic trash, rather than part of the food web. These exotic trees and shrubs are not good for our Boise River fish.

Many cities prohibit the removal or destruction of native plants in the riparian area, so know before you pull or cut anything. My plant list (below) contains the most common and easily planted and maintained native species. For help identifying or sourcing native plants ask local nursery staff, Idaho Botanical Garden staff, and read the Idaho Native Plant Society booklet, Landscaping with Native Plants of the Intermountain Region.

Plants recommended for planting along the Boise River.  Compiled by: Roger Rosentreter.

Common Name  Genus and Species Notes
Red-osier dogwood Cornus sericea (stolonifera) Red stems
Woods’ rose Rosa woodsii Small straight thorns, native
Silver sagebrush Artemisia cana Tolerates ephemeral flooding, for dry sites near the river
Willows Salix spp. Shrub type willows
Oak leaf sumac Rhus trilobata (Grow low type or the regular taller shrub) Drought tolerant, firewise, native
Golden currant Ribes aureum Early spring flowers, drought tolerant
Black Cottonwoods Populus spp. Tall trees
Chokecherry Prunus virginiana Tall shrubs
Netleaf hackberry Celtis reticulata For dry rocky places near the river
Louisiana sage Artemisia ludoviciana Herbaceous sage
Goldenrod Solidago Canadensis or others Herbaceous, butterfly attractant
Willow aster Aster hesperius Tolerates flooding
Milkweed Asclepias speciosa Monarch butterflies, rhizomatous
   GRASSES, and grass-like plants  
Canada bluegrass Poa compressa Tolerates saturated and dry soils, use seeds not plants. Short drought tolerant sod forming grass
Great Basin  wildrye Elymus cinereus Tall bunch grass
Sheep fescue Festuca ovina short drought tolerant bunchgrass