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Native Grasses
August 23, 2010

Welcome to Gardening For Wildlife.

We continue to grow and that is exciting.

Please stick around for a spell, hopefully you will be entertained from time to time and possibly learn a thing or two along the way.

I know I continue to learn from all of you and that is one thing I like.

I do enjoy learning.

Most of the time I write on Gardening or Wildlife, but once in a while I will write on other topics.

You will also get to know and understand a bit about me, as I write about home, fur kids and a few personal topics.

I think it helps when you know I am a real person like you.

If nothing else, maybe we can become friends.

Thank you everyone that participated in the 'Favorite Flowers', it is always fun to share and learn isn't it?

If you care to help me figure out another topic for reader favorites, I'm open for ideas.

This past week brought some of the thickest (air you wear) air of the summer.

Remember to stay hydrated and avoid to much heat if possible.

Do you notice that when it gets uncomfortably hot outside that it becomes more difficult to breathe?

In case you didn't know this, the air thins out or expands as it heats up.

Expanded air means less oxygen per breath.

Less oxygen means you are sucking it in just a bit more often.

Sometimes to the point it may feel like you are laboring to breathe.

This same air expansion is what forces liquid out of some styles of hummingbird feeders.

I almost forgot.

We are new Grand parents as of August 20.

Our grand daughter, Paris Caroline, 7 lbs. 11 oz. and 19 inches long, came into the world Friday evening.

Everyone seems to be doing well as mom and baby went home Sunday, August 22.

Better late than never,

We have butterflies.

The top picture is a 'Viceroy'.

Very similar in appearance as a Monarch, but half the size.

Either way, it seems that birds can't tell the difference, as the mimicry is part of Creation's defense to deter predation for the Viceroy butterfly.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has been hanging out for a few days as well.

If you take a closer look, you can see that the wings of this good looking insect have been through a few scrapes.

You may even notice that the tails are missing from the back of the wings.


Several of them at the same time.

For most of the summer, we were Monarch-less.

Early August brought a single Monarch.

This past week, there were several visiting the flowers.

I don't recall this number in August.

As you can see, this one is rather new, as the wings are in very good shape.

What a relief to see so many of these regal butterflies, considering the rough winter they went through in Mexico.

If you notice, all species are visiting a Butterfly Bush.

I typically don't suggest introduced and possibly invasive plant species, but this is one bush that lives up to its name.

You can learn more on some of our

Common Butterflies, And continue reading on many things about these wonderful insects and how to attract them.

Hummers have fledged, as there is more action in and among the flowers.

A few of the American goldfinches have fledged as well. I hear them, but they haven't come to my yard as of yet.

, it is that time of year when I write on 'Native Grasses'.


Native Grasses:

(A small clump of Sorghastrum nutans or Indiangrass.)

When we think of native grasses, we often think of the Prairies.

You may have visions of giant herds of Bison grazing on fields of grass for as far as the the eye can see.

Maybe you picture American Indians or wagon trains blazing trails.

Possibly you have read stories about children becoming lost, never to be found again.

Yes, the prairie holds a rightful place in American popular culture as one of our most distinctive and defining landscapes.

But, what fascinates us so about the grasslands that once girded our continent?

Other landscapes certainly offer more spectacular scenery such as the Rockies, the canyons, the deserts, the ocean coastlines or The Great Lakes.

By contrast, the prairies seem, flat - flat and somewhat monotonous, undeniably vast but not as picturesque as The Grand Canyon, Lake Louise, Canada, or a mountain stream.

Still, the Prairie holds us captive.

(Panicum cloud nine flower heads in my yard.)

The original tall-grass prairie comprised an area from northern Indiana to Texas to Saskatchewan, comprising about one-third of the country.

Tall grasses like Indian grass, Switchgrass and others once dominated the landscape.

There are many other prairie grasses: little bluestem, prairie dropseed, porcupine grass, sideoats grama, needlegrass, etc.

All told, the true prairie held about 150 kinds of grasses, although no more than 10 were dominant in their special niches.

This letter isn't about the Prairies and Great Plains, I simply like to Bring things (past and present) to light from time to time.

There are many more species of native grasses that cover North America and at least a few are native where you live.

Native Grasses are ideal for the home gardens and landscapes.

I wouldn't call it a love affair I have with native grasses.

More like a great appreciation for our native plant life and grasses are no exception.

As a Naturalist, it is my duty to make every effort to preserve, teach and share, and even encourage others to plant or at least explore the idea of planting native.

Sure, I still have a couple of Miscanthus grasses (Karen's choice), but many are long gone, as are the Pennisetum grasses.

Native grasses may not measure up to the grandeur of 'M. Central Park', or 'M. Morninglight', but native grasses offer so much to native habitats and a offer a certain flare that introduced species just don't have.

There are North American grasses for dry sites and grasses for wet locations and every type of habitat in between.

There are native grasses that grow in excess of eight feet tall (2+ meters), to as short as a few inches.

Grasses are useful in different types of landscapes ranging from formal gardens to native, plains and meadows.

Grasses add a significant vertical presence to the winter landscape and are commonly left standing until spring.

Some grasses grow best under warm temperatures (warm season) and others in cooler temperatures (cool season).


Grasses generally grow best in at least six hours of direct sun each day.

In shade, these grasses may not bloom, are often lax and tend to fall over, and may not develop peak fall color.

Eventually they will fade away like most lawn grasses do in the shade.

Instead, you may want to look at a few varieties of 'sedge' for shady areas.

Why grasses, and why native?

Grasses are adaptable and can grow in poorer soils better than many other garden plants.

Grasses require little effort to maintain.

Grasses come in many heights, colors, textures and have varying water requirements.

Grass seed heads and foliage add fall and winter interest.

Dried grasses have many decorative uses indoors and out.

Grasses can be used as ground covers, specimen plants, for erosion control, and as vertical design elements.

Natives are tough.

Natives have few pests.

Natives offer food and protection for the vary wildlife you want to attract.

Let's look at a few variety of native grasses. and maybe one will be right for you.

Who knows, maybe you will find a new appreciation for these native stalwarts.

Below are just a few for you to look at, for more options go to Native Grasses and look for your region and others for more detailed information and a grass that just might fill a need.

Check with your county or region for more options as well.

There may be one of interest to you.

This small sample is in alphabetical order, not by region.

Again, these are only some of what is out there, but I think they are the most attractive ad desired native grasses.

It is best to plant grass that are native to your region, however some grasses may be zone hardy for you to give a try for your certain habitats.

Andropogon gerardii (Blue stem, Turkey grass):

Grows on moist and dry soils, in prairies and open woods throughout much of the United States and Canada.

Referred to as the Monarch of the prairie grasses, but grows throughout much of the Northeast as well.

The tallest North American member of the genus, it grows 5 to 8 feet (1.5-2.4m).

Bothriochloa saccharoides (Silver beard grass, silver bluestem):

A native ornamental to prairies, plains and dry open places of the southwestern United States.

Forms upright clumps that grow 3 to 4 feet (90-120 cm) tall. Blooms spring to fall.

Adapted to hot, dry regions.

Foliage turns orange and red in autumn and remains colorful into winter.

Hardy to Zone 5.

Bouteloua curtipendula (Side-oat grama):

A grass native from eastern Canada to California and south to Argentina.

The common name refers to the oat like spikelets, which are help mostly to one side.

A mound of gray-green foliage blooms in June and July to a height of 3 feet (1 m) tall, and are purplish when they first appear.

A fine addition to the meadow garden or restoration.

Hardy to Zone 4.

Calamagrostis canadensis (Bluejoint):

Native to marshes, wet places and open woods across northern North America.

Not real attractive as an ornamental, but does well to restore land and offer food and protection for wildlife.

Hardy to Zone 3.

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

This is 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.

Very easy to grow and great in summer and fall floral arrangements or as a dry accent piece.

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye):

A clump forming 3 to 6 feet (1-2 m) tall that flowers in late summer.

This warm season grower in reminiscent to cultivated rye.

Currently used in prairie restoration projects, but can be used in your corner of the world for wildlife food and protection.

Hardy to Zone 3.

Eriophorum angustifolium (Common cottongrass):

Native to bogs across North America.

Grows up to 2.5 feet (80 cm) tall

Rhizomes and creeping, plant this only where you want large stands.

Hardy to Zone 3.

Native to prairies, open grounds, riverbanks and often dry sandy soil.

Melica imperfecta (Coast range melic, foothill melic):

This native grows on dry hillsides, chaparral, and open woodlands at low to moderate elevations in the coastal ranges of California.

Foliage tufted, mostly basal.

Grows 2 feet (60 cm) tall in bloom.

Dormant in summer if it is dry, but is quick to green up in winter rains.

Very attractive in early spring.

Hardy to Zone 8.

Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink muhly):

This beauty of the Northeast and lower Great Lakes states has no peer.

Native mostly on sandy or rocky soils, prairies and pine barrens from Massachusetts, to Indiana and Kansas, south to Florida and Texas.

The most highly ornamental of all the Muhly grasses, with dark green foliage topped by delicate flower panicles in vibrant pink to pink-red.

Blooms in late summer to mid autumn.

Effective as a single plant, but especially dramatic in groups and sweeps.

Grows to 3 feet (1 m) tall.

Drought tolerant and needs full sun.

A must have in your southeast gardens.

Hardy to Zone 6, possibly Zone 5.

Muhlenbergia dubia (Pine muhly):

Muhlenbergias are a common grass of the southwest with several species making their mark.

M. dubia is native to canyons, rocky hills at elevations to 7,000 feet in Texas, New Mexico and north Mexico.

a clump-forming tufted plant with light green foliage

Blooms in late summer to early fall growing to 2 to 3 feet (60-90cm0 tall.

Drought tolerant and prefers full sun.

Hardy to Zone 7.

Not as pretty as Pink Muhly, but few grasses are.

Nassella lepida (Foothill needle grass):

Native to slopes and oak grasslands in California, chaparral, and coastal scrub.

A clump forming true cool season grower.

Blooms in late winter or early spring..

Prefers full sun, best on well drained soil but broadly tolerant.

Ideal for naturalizing meadows and meadow gardens.

Hardy to Zone 8.

Panicum virgatum (Common switchgrass):

(Grasses in my yard..... Upper left, Panicum 'Prairie Fire' upper right, 'P. Shenandoah'...... to the right is P. Heavy metal'.)

Native to prairies and open fields from eastern Canada through most of the United States except the west coast.

One of the major components of the great American tall-grass prairie. diverse in size, growing 4 to 8 feet (1.2-2.4 m)tall. It always forms recognizable clumps.

Prefers full sun where it grows erect, but will handle partial to light shade where it tends to be more lax.

Depending on the cultivar, summer foliage can be green , powder-blue and some with streaks of red.

A warm weather grass with open airy blooms. some are pink or purple with many cultivars being second to none when it comes to ornamental appearance.

Panicums are indeed a favorite in my gardens.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem):

Another native to prairies, dry fields, basins and open woods of North America.

A valuable forage grass, yet attractive in landscapes.

Grows to 4 feet (1.2 m ) tall. Foliage can vary from bright green to glaucous blue turning to a copper-orange in autumn.

Blooms in late summer and requires full sun.

Hardy to zone 3.

Sporobolus airoides (Alkali sacaton, alkali dropseed):

Native to valleys and meadows in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas Nevada and Colorado.

Clump forming of gray-green foliage that grows to feet (1.5 m) tall in bloom.

Usually blooms in April to June and the foliage turns yellow in the fall.

Deep rooted and drought tolerant, will grow in a wide range of soils.

Hardy to Zone 5.

You may even try wild rice for your ponds and water gardens as an attractive garden plant.

Many Native Sedges do well in shaded and or moist areas where grasses may not grow.

Well,, I hope you enjoyed this letter and it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

It is wonderful to be in on the creation of something, see it used, and then walk away and smile at it.

Lady Bird Johnson, American First Lady

Referring to the 'Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center'.

Our Former Former First Lady passed July 11, 2007, but left quite the legacy.

I have not yet seen this beautiful center, but I understand it is second to none and a must see for anyone that gets to the Austin,Texas area.

Mrs. Johnson had a dream and she went out to make it happen.

She was on the creating end and the doing part, to see her dream/creation come to fruition.

A Monolithic task such as the 'Lady Bird Johnson Center' was no match for this special person.

She dreamed, believed and conceived a special creation that all of us can enjoy.

A special place................

A research and visitors center focused on protecting and preserving North America's native plants.

That is correct, nothing but North American plants grow here.

In this day of exotics and invassives, she made a special effort to see that our native plants have at least one place to grow and survive.

Even Native Grasses.

Strength, courage, planning, executing, dreaming, class and seeing it through are some of the special attributes of a wonderful person.

After seeing it through and being used, she was able to walk away and SMILE.

Able to walk away and smile....................................

No puffed up pride or standing around to wait for all the accolades that would surely come her way.

No, there were other dreams to conquer.

That is how we should be too.

You and me.

Dream, create or build, watch others enjoy it, smile and move on.

God put us here to help others, share, love, smile and more.

He didn't create us to stand around and grow full of pride and full of self.

No, we are to help, love, smile, encourage and much more.

Dream big, and follow your dreams

Never let pride grow or get in the way and here is why.............

Read these powerful words.

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

Proverbs 16:5

Until next time,

God Bless.

"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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