Native Grasses as Pollinator Food

  • Dakota skipper larvae
    Dakota skipper larvae - photo credit MN Zoo

The Relationship Between Native Grass 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 Resources page. 

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