Native Grasses as Pollinator Food

  • Dakota skipper larvae

NEW short videos on the benefits of native grasses:

Benefits of Native Grasses: big bluestem
BIG BLUESTEM: Native grasses are beautiful additions to any home landscape. And the benefits are many--particularly for the popular prairie grass big bluestem. UMN Extension Professor and Horticulturist Mary Meyer explains why big bluestem is good for the soil, supports wildlife and how to use it in your garden or landscape. One of a 3-part series on the benefits of native grasses.

Benefits of Native Grasses: blue grama
BLUE GRAMA: Native grasses like blue grama have many benefits for gardens in Minnesota. UMN Extension Professor and Horticulturist Mary Meyer explains how this grass can be used on slopes, in rain gardens and in dry locations such as street boulevard gardens. Endangered species of butterflies in Minnesota feed on blue grama. One of a 3-part video series on the benefits of native grasses.

Benefits of Native Grasses: prairie dropseed
PRAIRIE DROPSEED: Native grasses like prairie dropseed have lots of benefits for Minnesota's yards and gardens. Prairie dropseed is good for the soil, supports wildlife and is a low-maintenance plant. UMN Extension Professor and Horticulturist Mary Meyer explains the benefits.  One of a 3-part video series on the benefits of native grasses.

Native Grass eBook Wins Gold and Silver at 2019 GardenComm Awards!

A guide to gardening with native grasses written by Diane Narem and Mary Meyer of the University of Minnesota was published in May 2018. This eBook is available free for download from the iBooks store. You can find it by searching the full title: Gardening with Native Grasses in Cold Climates and a Guide to The Butterflies They Support. 

The Relationship Between Native Grasses and Butterflies and Moths

Native grasses have grown in popularity as landscaping plants due to their low nutrient requirements, drought tolerance, and soil stabalization. However, many people do not know that native grasses provide additional ecosystem services to wildlife, including serving as larval host plants for many native butterflies and moths. Host plants provide food and/or shelter to butterflies and moths during their larval lifestage.

Butterflies and moths make up the order of insects called Lepidoptera. Lepidoptera go through a complete metamorphosis from larva to adult during their life cycle. Larva feed mostly on plants, usually specializing on a certain plant species or family. Adults usually feed on nectar from flowers. During their adult stage, Lepidoptera are valued pollinators of wild plant species with some species depending solely on a Lepidoptera pollinator.

Declining Habitat and Species

Native grassland habitats are some of the most endangered in North America. Less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains. This puts pressure on endemic prairie species of butterflies and moths. Prairie-specialist populations of Lepidoptera have been declining for years and are continuing to decline. Out of the 19 Lepidoptera species listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern in Minnesota, 9 are prairie dependent, and 2 are suspected of being prairie dependent.

Planting native species can be beneficial to butterflies and moths in agricultural, suburban, and urban settings. Although the benefits of ornamental flowers to Lepidoptera is well known, the benefits of native grasses to Lepidoptera are not typically known to many horticulturists, let alone the average consumer.

Native Grasses Project

This website is part of a project to inform the public and the nursery industry on the benefits of native grasses to butterflies and moths. This project involves a review of the current literature to compile a list of all native butterfly and moth species that use native prairie grasses, commonly available at garden centers. We are also partnering up with garden centers in and around the Twin Cities to promote the benefits of native grasses in garden displays. 

You can find marketing materials to promote the use of native grasses in the landscape on the In Store Marketing Resources page. 

You can find information on upcoming webinars and talks on the Webinars, and educational articles and posters on the Publications pages.