Biodiversity – Plants

Nebraska’s nearly 1,500 species of native plants occupy habitats ranging from eastern Nebraska tallgrass prairies to Sandhill wetlands to dry rocky outcrops in the Panhandle. Though many of these species are common and widespread, many are restricted to unique habitats such as Sandhill fens and alkaline marshes. Nearly 400 plant species are considered at-risk in the state, while only seven species are listed as federally or state threatened or endangered.

Nebraska wildflowers

Nebraska’s abundant wildflowers put on a floral display in prairies and woodlands from early April through autumn. A useful wildflower book for Nebraska is Jon Farrar’s Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains: Second Edition which is available at most book stores and online. For those wishing to find sites to view wildflowers visit the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum website.

Nebraska trees

Though considered a prairie state, Nebraska’s eastern deciduous, western pine and floodplain forest support a diversity of tree species. One of the state’s best tree field guides remains Raymond J. Pool’s 1951 publication Handbook of Nebraska Trees: A Guide Book to the Native and Most Important Introduced Species is available online. For those interested in really big trees, check out the Nebraska State Forest Services’ Nebraska Champion Tree Register.

Nebraska invasive plants

Nearly 400 species of non-native plants now grow in the wild in Nebraska. Most of these are rather benign and do not cause ecological or economic damage. Many species, however, are considered invasive. Some infest native prairies, woodlands and wetlands, displacing native vegetation and degrading wildlife habitat, while others are pests in croplands, yards and gardens. To see photos of and read more about these species visit the Nebraska Invasive Species Program.

Selected species of conservation interest

Blowout penstemon

The federally and state endangered blowout penstemon is one of the rarest plant species in the Great Plains with populations limited to the Nebraska Sandhills and a small area of Wyoming. It inhabits open, sandy blowouts in the Sandhills and is often mistaken for other species of penstemon, mostly shell-leaf penstemon.

More information about blowout penstemon is available on the Nebraska Rare Species website. A USDA Forest Service effort to restore the penstemon is detailed on the USDA website.

Western prairie fringed orchid

Surely one of Nebraska’s most beautiful wildflowers is the western prairie fringed orchid. This threatened species is also extremely rare and in Nebraska grows in eastern Sandhills wet meadows and a few tallgrass prairies in southeast part of the state. To see photos of the plant and to read more about the species visit the Nebraska Rare Species website.