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Native Grasses
August 10, 2009

Sunsets are now well before 9:00 PM. here in SW. Michigan :-(

Shrinking day light hours always saddens me a bit.

Just in time for our trip to Michigan's upper peninsula

Summer is making a late visit or something.

August has already provided a hand full of days warmer than any day this past July (84 degrees was the warmest day in July this year).

In the 90's yesterday (Sunday) with the words heat-index actually used.

We had some well needed rain over the weekend.

Parts of Michigan were really showing the stress as are other regions of North America.

Can these be called the dog days of summer if we never had a real summer to begin with?


The first tomatoes of the season.

And my almost killed off cucumbers are going like gangbusters and taste good too.

Home grown produce always tastes better doesn't it?

It never fails, mention a lack of butterflies and the following days I have a couple of Monarchs hanging out and I saw my first Eastern tiger swallowtail as well.

Learning habitats and hosting will play a huge roll in what butterflies and moths you will see in your gardens.

This past week I was watching a Blue jay do something you don't see everyday and I had to call Karen over to have a look.

The bird was "Anting."

Anting, is the plumage-dipping behavior to which ants are commonly subjected by birds.

The Blue jay would rub the ants on its body then eat them (Karen thought this was quite interesting to watch).

The ants secrete formic acid, the chemical in their stings, and this may rid the bird of parasites.

In addition to ants, some species of birds have been seen using walnut juice, lemons and limes, marigold blossoms, chokecherries, and mothballs in a similar fashion.

It has been suggested that anting acts as way of reducing feather parasites such as mites or in controlling fungi or bacteria, however there has been no convincing support for any of the theories.

The choice of ants used however indicates that the chemicals that they release are in some way important.

Some cases of anting involved the use of millipedes and these too are known to release powerful defensive chemicals.

Another suggested function that has been observed in Blue Jays is that it allows the bird to make the ants edible for consumption, by discharging the acid on to their feathers.

It has been shown in tests with hand-raised Blue Jays and the ant Formica exsectoides to be instinctive.

The birds displayed typical behavior on the first occasion that they encountered ants.

Evidence is presented supportive of the view that anting is a strategy by which birds render ants fit for ingestion.

Formicine ants are ordinarily protected by their formic acid.

The ants being wiped into the birdís plumage causes them to discharge that spray, without harm to the bird, to the point of almost total emptying of the glandular sac in which the secretion is stored.

The ants are therefore essentially secretion-free by the time they are swallowed.

Further evidence indicates that it is the antís possession of the acid sac that triggers the anting behavior in the bird.

The birds were found to show anting behaviour only if the ants had a full acid sac and if the acid sac was experimentally removed, the behaviour was absent.

When ants were surgically deprived of their acid sac, they are eaten by the birds without first being subjected to anting.

Some suggestions have been that anting may be related to feather moulting however this correlation may also be attributed to greater activity of ants in summer.

The Formic acid is what puts the sting in a bite and ants secrete when they drown in your hummingbird feeders, tainting the nectar water.

Clearly more testing and research must be done on anting, as to many species of birds do it (even if laying on an ant hill) and for a reason.

Here are some questions I offer up.

How do the birds know when an ant is with or without Formic sac?

Can they smell or taste it?

Is it visible?

We know it is instinctive (isn't "Nature" grand).

Up till now, we understood that most birds lack certain smell and taste abilities.

Are there certain senses we are unaware of?

No matter the reason, birds seem to need and enjoy anting.

My personal thoughts.................

Anting serves both reasons,

For feather and skin health and a tasty lunch from time to time.

If it were just for lunch, I think the birds would be standing over ant hills all the time, don't you?

Research continues.

I Suppose I could've made anting the main body of this newsletter.

Consider it a small bonus

It's that time of year again.

Time to touch on native grasses of North America.

Not that kind of grass, though I suppose you could cut it, dry it, roll it and ...........

Or whatever people do these days.

With the growing trend going toward native plants (finally) and attracting wildlife, native grasses are a must in your gardens.

Native grasses are attractive, durable and in most cases very drought tolerant.

Why not, their heritage lies here, not some foreign soil.

Yes, they will grow where the fancy, exotic grasses wont and the natives look good doing it.

Native grasses can be buffalo grass (used in many south and southwest lawns) to regal prairie grasses.

Natives come from the north, the south, the desert southwest, the Pacific coast and parts in between.

Sit back and enjoy.

This is a time of year when ornamental grasses begin to dominate the landscape and garden centers.

More and more home owners are looking at grasses as a way to 'jazz" up their yard.

Maybe looking for something attractive, yet low maintenance.

You may be one of them.

Many people aren't interested in grasses until they see them tall and in bloom (plooms) and a majority of home owners aren't aware of our native grasses.

To many garden centers, nurseries and catalogs promote non native grasses that may add a certain luster to your landscapes.

Miscanthus grasses offer several different heights, variegation and leaf patterns.

Pennisetum grasses offer some attractive mounds and flowers heads, ideal for certain landscapes.

Feather reed grasses and sedges are growing in popularity as well.

Trailing the pack but starting to gain in popularity is our own "Native Grasses."

We are part to blame, because we (and our parents) like the idea of having something exotic and the fact that until recently, growers and garden centers weren't interested in "home grown grasses."

Yes, North America still has some native grasses and many are finally being cultivated for yards and wildlife habitats.

Many of our native grasses have some great structure, habit and even color, yet some how they were over looked in the big scheme of things.

Maybe it is because our native grasses don't come with a fancy name Like Miscanthus 'Central Park', or M. 'Morning Light', Pennisetum 'Fox Trot' or P. 'Redhead'.

No, our native grasses come with common names like 'Switchgrass', 'Indian Grass', 'Oat Grass' or 'Muhly Grass'.

Now those are some names a person might run from.

However, what if Switchgrass came with another name, like Panicum 'Prairie Fire' (red foliage), or P. 'Cloud Nine' (wispy plooms pictured to your right)?

Would that change your mind?

It shouldn't, but a description is very helpful on what to expect.

To many of our garden flowers, trees and shrubs are exotic and there is the need to have exotic grasses as well.

Some of our natives grasses have a limited native range and growing zone, but many of them once were found over much of North America.

Natives can grow over 8 feet tall and be as short as a few inches. It all depends on you or your habitat's needs.

Natives are green, blue/green, have shades of red and purple in the foliage and the fall colors are just that, fall colors of orange, yellows, rust, and reds.

What is more important when you are "Gardening for Wildlife is this............

Native grasses offer seeds for food for several species of birds and small mammals.

They provide thickets for protection and nesting spots.

Grasses also offer forage for some animals.

Many native grasses are very drought tolerant.

Yes, they thrive in good conditions and do well in dry conditions (wont get as tall).

Try this with a non native grass and it will brown up just like your lawn.

A main reason is the deep root system natives have.

They go deep after water, where exotic grasses need to be pampered more.

Our native grasses were created just for your environment and your habitats.

"Nature" knows and understands.

I have some native grasses and I'm looking to get more because I enjoy their beauty and their toughness.

I could go on and on about our native grasses, instead I will give you a small idea of what natives have to offer for you.

Achnatherum or the Needle Grass family offers up a handful of species native to the West coast and desert regions.

These grasses thrive in dry often rocky regions and do well in desert gardens, offering food and protection and now accent points in your garden.

Most species are hardy to Z8 and Z7,

Andropogon Beard grasses.

Beard grasses vary in height and zonal regions.

Many seem to thrive in dry sandy soil like "chaulky bluestem." A native of the southeast that is very drought tolerant.

A glaucus-blue foliage in the summer.

Check for zone hardiness.

Andropogon gerardii Big bluestem or turkey foot.

Of all the different varieties of Andropogon grass, A. 'gerardii' is the most famous.

Large panicle look like upside turkey feet (thus the name turkey grass), but the real beauty is every where.

Big bluestem is a regal grass, often referred to as the monarch of the prairie grasses.

One of the tallest of the prairie grasses, Big Blue grows to 8 feet tall in a well formed upright clump.

Big bluestem is native to most of North America and hardy to Z3.

Blue-green colors in summer reliably turn to a rich orange and copper color in Autumn.

A sturdy, long-lived grass.............. this is a must have.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Indian wood-oats, river oats):

One of my favorite grasses, Chasmanthium covers much of the eastern and southeastern United states, including the lower Great Lakes region, into Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

A warm-season, clump-forming plant the grows to 4 feet 91.2m) tall.

It prefers rich soil and full sun, but does quite well in dry shaded areas too.

The flat oat-like spikelets dangle in the breeze and turn a bronzed color by autumn and finally a buff color.

Ideal for a specimen or in a grouping

Great in flower arrangements (fresh and dry)

Plants stay erect in the winter and snow while offering seeds for birds and small animals.

I must have in your native habitats and gardens.

Hardy to Zone 5.

Deschampsia Hair grass or tussock grass.

Hair grass can be found throughout much of the northern hemisphere, including North America.

D. 'bronzeschleier' is one of the best blooming cultivars of the Pacific Northwest.

A cool weather grass (which means it blooms in late spring to early summer) and is hardy to Z4.

Eragrostis Lovegrass.

You got to love that name.

Elliott's lovegrass is native of the southeast.

Another cool weather grass, Elliott's blooms in late spring.

Gray-blue mounds grow to 4 feet and is very drought tolerant.

Self sows and does well in mass plantings.

Hardy to Z7 and maybe Z6.

Muhlenbergia Muhly grass:

There are more than 100 species of Muhly grass and most are native to Mexico parts of the United States.

A true beauty is M. 'capillaris' or Pink muhly/pink hair grass.

Native mostly on sandy or rocky soils, in prairies, pine barrens and openings in woodlands.

Pink muhly is native to Massachusetts to Kansas and to the Gulf Coast.

The dark green foliage topped by pink panicles from September to November is a real show stopper.

As are most native grasses this one is drought tolerant

Plants grow to three feet and is hardy to Z6 and maybe Z5.

Many Muhlenbergia grasses thrive in the southwest and southern plains and prairies and along the Atlantic coast region.

These native grasses are hardy to Z7 and Z8.

Panicum Switchgrass:

Switchgrass is another main stay of the Prairie and Great Plains.

('Pairie Fire' foliage pictured is a new addition to my yard).

It is also a favorite of mine, as I have four different cultivars growing in my yard.

Swithgrass is also native to much of North America as small pockets of it still grow wild throughout.

Panicums can be found along the East coast, to the West. In open field fields, swamps, forests, subtropical regions, deserts and temperate North America.

Several different cultivars make Panicum grass a favorite of mine.

Strong erect grass that stands up through heavy rains and winds. Even after a long snowy winter, Switchgrasses can be found standing tall.

Open, airy blooms and seed heads are very attractive and work well in flower and dry arrangements.

As with other grass, seeds offer food for fall and winter birds and small critters.

'Blue tower' and 'cloud nine grow to 8 feet and are hardy to Z4

'Heavy metal' and 'Shenandoah' and 'Cloud nine' are focal points in my yard.

'Heavy metal' grows to 5 feet and is a glaucous-blue.

'Shenandoah' turns red to purple as the season wears on.

Both bloom in late July to August and stand erect, even after a heavy rain and wind storm.

As with all Switchgrass, the panicles are open and airy, very elegant looking.

Sorghastrum Indian grass:

Another grass of the Great Plains and beyond.

Indian grass is native to dry slopes and open woods from Quebec to Mexico.

Foliage is a glacous-blue and grows to 7 feet, but more apt to be around 5 feet tall.

Another upright clumping grass that grows in just about any soil.

Copper colored blooms in August and the foliage turns a bright orange for fall colors.

As the name implies, Indian grass was a main stay for American Indians as they used it to weave baskets and other essentials.

My clump is new this year and I am waiting for it to bloom.

Hardy to Zone 3.

Tridens flavus (Purpletop, tall redtop):

Native to meadows, fields and openings in eastern North America.

Best known for the purple top in eastern meadows.

Upright and clump forming, growing to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall

A warm season grower, it blooms August to September. Best suited for meadows and naturalizing.

Hardy to Zone 4.

This is just a sample of what our native grasses have to offer.

All of these grasses offer something for wildlife and as you now know, offer some appeal in any regional garden.

Over the past several years I have really grown to appreciate our native plants and that includes the hard luck grasses.

Depending where you are, turkeys, quail, juncos, other sparrows and several species of birds will enjoy your grass.

Some birds will even nest if you have a large patch of "Native Grasses"

Don't forget they are drought tolerant.

They may not grow as tall as they would, but they stay green and keep going.

You can't say that about many of the exotic grasses.

Plant some in your habitats today.

Did I mention, You have 100's of species to choose from.

Panicum 'Dallas Blues' (pictured).

I have worked out a pretty extensive list of attractive grasses.

Broken down by region and attractive for home landscapes (there are more varieties if you plan on a restoration project).

Mant species cross geographical regions, but many are localized.

Be sure to check out ................

Native Grasses, look into your region and surrounding areas.

You will be amazed at the range and beauty of our native grasses.

Limited varieties can be found in some garden centers and catalogs.

A growing number of web sites and nurseries are beginning to offer a wide range of native grasses for your region.

Check into it.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

I will be gone from Wednesday - Sunday as we show the grand kids some of what Michigan has to offer and hopefully create some memories for all.

However, before I go................

Here is your positive thought for the week.

If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears.

Glenn Clark

Oh so true.

All of the above are powerful forces.

Feelings and emotions that weigh a person down.

Slow your personal growth and prevent you from moving forward.

These negative feelings and emotions are much like a cancer.

They eat away at you and cripple you from moving toward your dreams.

Feelings that can tie knots in your stomach and literally put you in an early grave.

Over the past several years I have learned to put fears behind me, but I have had to deal with other issues like unforgiveness and envy.

When my mom passed on almost 4 years ago, she didn't have much of a will.

She raised a Christian family and felt she knew her kids well enough.

You know the sayings about love and money. and control.

Huge mistake with no will etc.

There wasn't much left to divide and a couple of brothers ruined everything.

It has been almost 4 years since I have talked to some of my brothers.

Part of me wanted to stay angry.

I had that right didn't I?

Well, something started to happen within me.

Something I knew would take place sooner or later, but not now.


A tapping on my heart.


A couple of weeks ago, (almost a year in the making) that began to change with one brother, as we lad lunch, forgave, hugged and prayed.

A huge burden was lifted off my shoulders and my heart hasn't felt that free in years.

As the Lord leads me, it will continue until I am healed and free inside.

You see, anger and all of the above feelings and emotions are of the enemy and he wants to keep us down.

But you deserve better than to be held down.

You are better than that.

Rid your self of the negative feelings and emotions, they hold you down

They are cancers.

Move forward.

Dream big dreams.

Think of your loved ones.

Smile big smiles.

As you clean up the negatives in your life, you will feel lighter, taller, more handsome or pretty.

You will feel like you can take on the world and that id what you should feel like.

Our creator intended for us to be free and to be like him, not some worn down, beat up, kicked to the curb, old rag.

today, smile and smile big,

Victory is within reach, you only need to release the garbage in your life.

One at a time.

One day at a time.


You know what?

I'll probably loose more readers over this, but who cares.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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