One of the wonderful jewels of the Flathead Valley is the Center for Native Plants in Whitefish. It is the only retail nursey in the Flathead Valley for native plants. They grow over 200 species of wildflowers, grasses, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees – all native to Montana and the mountain areas of the Northwest. It is Flathead Audubon’s special honor to recognize the Center for Native Plants with our Conservation Achievement Award. Hailey Moore and her dedicated, knowledgeable staff spend much of their time educating people and encouraging the use of native plants to help promote and protect our biodiversity and ultimately our birds.

The Center for Native Plants is part of its parent company, Forestoration. “Our interest in native plants began years ago while working on land restoration projects throughout the Crown of the Continent ecosystem”, states their website. “The more time we spent in the woods, the more we began to appreciate the beauty and diversity of native plants, as well as their many benefits.” But, the Co-owners, David Nodtsinger, Andrew Beltz, and Greg Gunderson had a hard time getting native plants for use in their projects. They began to think about growing their own plants.

“Learning a lot along the way”, says Nodtsinger, “we had two big things happen to help us achieve our dream – that was the acquisition of land and hiring Hailey Moore as General Manager for the newly created Center for Native Plants”.

Hailey, as it turns out, is a native plant enthusiast. She is so much more than a designer and planter. For the past seven years Hailey and her team have collected seeds from the forest and brought them back to the nursery. Hailey then begins the husbandry of nurturing and fostering them into viable plants that can be grown in landscapes throughout the valley and other parts of NW Montana.

“These are plants grown sustainably right here in the valley, without the use of pesticides, which is so important for protecting our native insects and biodiversity”, explains Kathy Ross, a Center volunteer. “They are grown outdoors, making them hardy and well-adapted to the climate of the area”.

“Growing native plants is not easy but it is a fun challenge,” says Hailey. Seeds are hand collected and sown into sterile soil. Each plug, all 21,250 of them per year, is inoculated with Mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria. Then they winter over in the open-air. “Our long-term goal would be to have a heated indoor growing space”, Hailey adds with a dreamy look in her eyes.

Hailey’s enthusiasm for native plants is driven by the importance of their role in the health of our ecosystems and their ability to enhance biodiversity. Not only are they wild and beautiful, but they also benefit birds and other wildlife such as pollinators by improving native pollinator sources and providing food, shelter, breeding, and nesting habitat that is designed for the animals that live in Montana. Native plants provide natural defenses against insects and diseases and save water because they require less irrigation. Because they are native, they are perfectly adapted to the local soil and environment, ensuring they are hardy during cold winters and hot, dry summers.

As if hand collecting seeds, sowing them, and fostering native plants were not enough, Hailey and her team also work directly with clients to help them plan their outdoor spaces to include the native plants. This involves a lot of education as well as plant delivery and landscaping services. To top this off they also offer informational educational programs for the community. “We offer classes on protecting biodiversity and gardening with natives”, says Hailey. “Our hope is to become a hub and outreach “center” for the community.”

With the valley growing rapidly we lose habitat every day. The Center for Native Plants plays a vital role in educating people about the importance of native habitat and offering an alternative to exotic plants. For this reason, they richly deserve this Conservation Achievement Recognition.