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Regional multi-use plant lists for water-harvesting landscapes

These multi-use rain-garden plants lists are invitations to collaborate with and enhance living systems in our shared built environments…

Neighbors harvesting native foods grown within the water-harvesting, traffic-calming traffic circle. Weather vane of Gambel’s quail atop crossroad sign (made by neighborhood artists) within circle invites others to plant such native, food-bearing vegetation. Studies have found that by utilizing such plants in at least 20% of private and public landscapes we can grow the habitat to support such native birds. Photo: Brad Lancaster

They are the result of striving to transform simple plant lists into more dynamic tools that invite greater understanding, maximize beneficial connections and relationships, and lift the potential of what designed living systems can regeneratively provide.

These lists promote multi-functional plantings of rainwater, stormwater, and vegetation which, when done well, will not require supplemental irrigation after the plants get established (establishment period can take 1–3 years).

Many experts have compiled and contributed lists geared to their unique bioregions, and we invite you to do the same! (Please embed your contact info into your list so your work will be automatically credited.)

Key information typically provided within such plant lists includes:

  • Common and Latin (scientific) names of plants
  • Plant water needs—so you can assess whether enough free on-site water can be captured by your rain garden’s catchment area to meet the water requirements of the plants you are considering
  • Rain-garden zone—ideal planting area(s) within or beside a rain garden
  • Human uses / potential relationships (edible parts, medicinal parts, fiber-producing, nitrogen-fixing, etc.)
  • Domestic animals (livestock) that use the plant (rain gardens and their plantings can be placed beside livestock pens to utilize manures, while allowing the parts of the plants growing through, or over, the fence to be grazed without risk of undue harm to the plant)
  • Wildlife the plant supports
  • Size of plant at maturity
  • Cold tolerance or needs
  • Sun/shade tolerance/needs
  • Growth rate
  • Type of plant (deciduous, evergreen, tree, shrub, vine, grass, etc.)
  • Whether the plant is native to the bioregion, or an exotic climate analog

Additional information that could be useful:

  • Plant names in multiple languages of your bioregion to better link to the present and cultural history of your area, and those cultures’ unique knowledge of, and connection with, the local plants. For example, I’m trying to add names for my Sonoran-Desert bioregion in Spanish and O’odham.
  • Salt tolerance of plants (for road-side plantings where roads are salted in winter)
  • How best to propagate plant (by seed, cuttings, layering, budding/grafting, or other). If seed needs to be scarified before germination, what are the best strategies?
  • Flowering and fruiting times
  • Whether the plant can be coppiced—i.e., will it readily grow back if cut or eaten back? I find this a great attribute in the urban setting where plants in public rights-of-way are often mistakenly cut back (or down) by uninformed landscape crews, drunk drivers, etc. The damage is a setback, but the plant will recover.
  • If the plant is a climate analog, to what bioregion is it native?

See here for a multi-use rain garden plant list template that I use in my books.

There are often two primary plant lists or categories for a bioregion: One for native plants and one for exotics or climate analogs.

We like to feature native plants, because they are the best adapted to local soils, climate, and wildlife; they are deeply connected to the cultures and history of a place; they are too often overlooked, undervalued, or misunderstood; and they are key elements of the unique essence of a place.

Multi-functional exotic plants or climate analogs (exotic plants from a similar, or analog, climate) can provide services we have not yet discovered within our native plant palette.

This is a platform meant to showcase the work of those who have generated the plant lists, while helping to evolve understanding and practices in their respective geographical areas. Too often, simple rain-garden lists feature only the flower color and maybe also the wildlife-habitat value of featured plants. That is good info, but there are so many additional services these plants provide. The more we are conscious of these other benefits, the more consciously we can integrate them into our designs and life. Each service or use of a plant is an opportunity for another connection, another relationship, a greater understanding. I used to think of cholla cactus simply as a plant that would hurt me if I touched it, and thus was just good for a living fence or security screen. But I’ve since learned it is ideal native bird-nesting habitat (as cats don’t climb it), and it produces delicious irrigation-free food (flower buds) for people and pollinators even in the driest of years. I now love it rather than fear it, and that love is deepening as I interact more, learn more, and share this with others. (See here for how my relationship with a native mesquite tree similarly evolved.)

Here’s to more such interaction, learning, and sharing!



Northern Arizona
Rocky Mountain Plant Matrix
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design

Example Plant Lists with Rain-Garden Zone/Locations and Water-Requirement Calculations, plus a Sonoran-Desert-Foods Harvest Calendar
Created by Brad Lancaster,

Native Plant List for Southern Arizona Rain Gardens
Researched and compiled by Russ Buhrow. It is my hope that this will spark additional regional rain-garden plant lists, and that this list will grow. Download the Excel version and think of it literally as a template to build upon. Also, you can check out the Jardín Sin Aguas at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, Arizona, where much of the research was done.


Native Plants, Rain-Garden Zones, & Uses
Created by Chris Lopez of Grow Water

Edible & Medicinal Climate Analogs for Sacramento Raingardens
Created by Chris Lopez of Grow Water


Front Range cities, Western Slope, Rocky Mountain area
Rocky Mountain Plant Matrix
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design
Note: This list will also be very useful in other parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Northern Arizona, and New Mexico


Minnesota Rain-Garden Plant Lists, including salt tolerances for use along streets salted in winter Compiled by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

New Mexico

Rocky Mountain Plant Matrix
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design


USU Edible Forest Garden Plant List
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design
See a site, USU Moab’s rain-garden landscape, where this list’s information was put into practice.

Salt Lake, Provo, Eagle Mountain area
Rocky Mountain Plant Matrix
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design


Rocky Mountain Plant Matrix
Created by Jason Gerhardt of Real Earth Design

See the new, full-color, revised editions of Brad’s award-winning books
– available a deep discount, direct from Brad:

Neighborhood Food ForestryPassive SystemsRainwater HarvestingStormwater & Street Runoff Harvesting