Our Native Grasses

Our Native Grasses: Indian Ricegrass Achnatherum hymenoides Courtesy Wikimedia & US NRCS
Indian Ricegrass
Achnatherum hymenoides
Courtesy Wikimedia
& US NRCS
In recent years, there has been an emphasis on ornamental landscape plants that provide bee and butterfly habitat. But did you know that you can also choose landscape plants to support Utah birds and other wildlife? In particular, ornamental grasses can provide both food and cover for birds and other wildlife and also materials for nest building.

A few ornamental grasses that you might consider planting in your landscape are Indian rice grass, blue grama grass, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and Miscanthus.

One of the most attractive native grasses, and the state grass of Utah, is Indian rice grass. This native, cool-season grass grows from 1 to 2 ½ feet tall. Widely adapted in Utah, it is important in foothill and semi-desert areas of the state, providing forage for both livestock and wildlife throughout the year. It has a lovely, airy texture and the seeds are an important food source for many birds and small mammals.

Blue grama grass, also native to Utah, is a warm-season grass with seed stalks standing 6 to 20 inches tall. In the wild areas of Utah, blue grama grass grows on plains, foothills and woodlands and tolerates a variety of soil conditions. In home landscapes, the distinctive seed heads of blue grama are very attractive and are sometimes described as resembling eyebrows.

Little bluestem, a warm-season perennial grass, grows from 1 to 2 feet tall. This drought-tolerant, native grass grows in many Utah plant communities including desert shrub, ponderosa pine, and pinyon-juniper. In ornamental landscapes, little bluestem transitions from blue/green colored grass blades during the growing season to a reddish color after the first frost, providing lots of winter interest in the landscape as well as food and cover for birds.

Indiangrass is a native, warm-season perennial grass with tufted stems reaching up to 5 feet tall. This grass is found in the hanging garden plant communities of southern Utah where annual rainfall is low but flooding from runoff water is common. It may also be associated with other riparian plants such as sedges, rushes, and willows. A tall, upright grass, Indiangrass has showy, golden bronze seed heads in the fall that provide seed for songbirds.

Though not native to Utah, Miscanthus is another ornamental grass that provides food for birds. This large grass, growing up to 6 feet tall, has flower plumes above the foliage in the fall and you may see birds searching the ground underneath throughout the winter looking for leftover seeds.

Hopefully you have one or more of these grasses in your landscape already, but if not, fall is still a good time to plant them. And don’t cut these grasses back as we head into the colder months of the year. They provide a great deal of color and interest to the winter landscape and will continue to provide food and cover for birds and wildlife throughout the season.

As our weather warms into spring, birds will be particularly focused on the dried-out grass blades that remain, using coarse blades for the main wall of nests and finer blades as part of the softer, inner lining.

So, go ahead and try some ornamental grasses in your home landscape or maybe plant more. You’ll be well on your way to attracting and supporting birds and other wildlife.

I’m Kelly Kopp with USU Extension’s Center for Water Efficient Landscaping and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright , Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Kelly Kopp, PhD, Plants, Soils & Climate, Utah State University https://psc.usu.edu/directory/faculty/kopp-kelly
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:
Indian ricegrass, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=achy

Blue Gamma, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=bogr2

Little bluestem, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SCSC

Indiangrass, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=sonu2

Missouri Botanical Garden
Miscanthus, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=250962&isprofile=1&basic=miscanthus

Miscanthus, Plant Finder, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderProfileResults.aspx?basic=miscanthus

Morton Arboretum
https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/chinese-silver-grass

Miscanthus sinensis, The Morton Arboretum, https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/chinese-silver-grass

USU Extension Range Plants of Utah
Indiangrass, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, Indiangrass

Little bluestem, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/little-bluestem

Indian ricegrass, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/indian-ricegrass

Blue grama, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/blue-grama

Sagers, Larry, Ornamental Grasses, Utah Cooperative Extension Service, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2342&context=extension_histall

Roger Banner, Roger, Pratt, Mindy, Browns, James, Grasses and Grasslike Plants of Utah, A Field Guide,, Extension, Utah State University and Utah Partners for
Conservation and Development, 2011 (2nd ed), https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2188&context=extension_curall

Wheaton, Adrea, Rupp, Larry & Caron, Michael, 10 Low-Water Ornamental Grasses, Ideal for Water-Efficient Landscapes in Eagle Mountain, Utah, Extension, Utah State University, , https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2875&context=extension_curall

Gunnell, JayDee, Goodspeed, Jerry L., Anderson, Richard M., Ornamental Grasses in the Landscape, Extension, Utah State University, June 2015, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=extension_curall

In Equal Measure to Our Fears

In Equal Measure to Our Fears: Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) Drawing water from a stone: this juniper grew out of just a few fractures in the surface rock. Courtesy US NPS, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Drawing water from a stone: this juniper grew out of just a few fractures in the surface rock.
Courtesy US NPS, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Doubt is a tricky thing. It’s neither good nor bad, it is simply the axis upon which the scales of hope and fear balance. It is the prerequisite of faith, belief, disbelief, and nihilism, all equal paths of equal circumstance. It is the fork in the road which Berra told us to take all the same. In Equal Measure to Our Fears

When I go outside, breathe in the thick charcoal air, see the dribbling water in the once-mighty streams, and hear more stories of growing sickness, I’ll admit that I have doubts which edge on fear. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking heat. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking drought. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking hospitalizations. Such doubt can make you feel hopeless, powerless, and just plain sad. What have we done? How did we get here? Wasn’t this all avoidable? It takes me some time, then, to remember to move on from that doubt and to take a path, but to never forget the place in which drove me to rest and reflect. Though it can feel like a good place of respite, a shady tree to rest one’s laurels or wallow and say uncle to what we’ve sown, there’s still work which can be done. To rest in doubt is to be a bump on a log and not the tree itself. I remember the lessons of the humble tree.

The tree lives because of doubt’s prodigy of conjoined fear and hope. We must also harness both in equal form and measure in order to grow, and to live. In seeing the unified balance there is motion. The tree’s roots reach downwards, clinging to the earth in fear. In this way the world is its. The tree’s branches reach skywards, opening to the sky in hope. In this way it is the world’s. The tree’s roots drink water and move the earth: from fear comes motion and matter. The tree’s leaves drink fire and move the air: from hope comes life and form. Without fear, we would shrivel. Without hope, we would rot. Without fear, we would fall. Without hope, we would suffocate. To be subject to hope, you must make fear a part of you. Latch onto it, and feel that this shade of love is life given purpose. Then you may reach upwards and see that you do so only because you contain that which you cling to.

The fear I feel when I breathe in our Utah air, see green lawns, and hear new numbers on the radio is necessary for hope, and both are only possible because of the blessings of doubt because the future is not fixed. And yet, there is another hidden secret to fear and hope, and that is action. The tree is not a static being. Like all of us, it is in a constant state of becoming. We may be where we are, but where we are does not mean we must remain. Trees grow over boulders, thrive upon cliffs, and so can we. We can move on from La Brean doubt on what shall be. We can continue our journey in becoming. Given this, we then have a question in which to answer for ourselves: the question though is not what shall we become, but towards which light do we choose to work towards in equal measure to our fears?

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin. https://upr.org/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

The Indomitable Juniper, Canyonlands National Park, US National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/utahjuniper.htm (Image source)

Bird-Friendly Coffee Conserves Habitat & Brings Colorful Annual Songbirds to Your Cache Valley Summer Garden!

Bird-Friendly Coffee: Black-chinned Hummingbird <i>Archilochus alexandri</i> Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Archilochus alexandri
Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Since 1956 the Bridgerland Audubon Society has been documenting about one hundred bird species braving our northern Utah winters, but there’s an equally wonderful array of birds that spend their summers in Cache Valley. Come fall, some of our most colorful summer denizens migrate south to spend the winter months on bird-friendly shade-grown coffee plantations in Latin America. These birds include the colorful yellow and orange Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Bullock’s Orioles as well as the intensely blue Lazuli Buntings and our tiny Black-chinned Hummingbirds with their iridescent purple necklace that shines like a neon light. In total, 42 migratory songbird species have been documented as flying from North America to shade-grown coffee plantations south of the border, and Bird-Friendly coffee is saving their habitat.

Bird-Friendly Coffee: Roasted Coffee Beans Courtesy Pixabay, Couleur, Photographer
Roasted Coffee Beans
Courtesy Pixabay, Couleur, Photographer
Our local Caffe Ibis website captures the importance of shade-grown coffee for migratory birds in featuring Bird Friendly coffee that “comes from family farms in Latin America that provide good, forest-like habitat for birds. Rather than being grown on farms that have been cleared of vegetation, Bird Friendly coffees are planted under a canopy of trees. These trees provide the shelter, food and homes that migratory and local birds need to survive and thrive.”

Shade-grown coffee is a mutually beneficial farming system for both migratory birds and coffee producers because the birds eat coffee insect pests and they help pollinate the flowers of the all-important shade trees. As a result, a single bird can provide the coffee producer with a much greater coffee harvest that amounts to up to 24 more pounds of coffee beans per acre each year. That increased yield means about 1,500 more cups of coffee provided by a single bird!

Certified Bird Friendly® coffee is a designation made by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC). The gold standard for ethical, sustainable, organic coffee, this Bird Friendly certification helps ensure that growers can maintain shade-grown coffee practices rather than giving in to the economic pressure to produce habitat-destroying cheaper sun-grown coffee. Certification places value on the farmer and the habitat rather than on cheaper coffee. Because both sun-grown and shade-grown coffee farms span a large portion of important wintering bird habitat, you can help provide economic support for farmers protecting important bird habitat by buying sustainable “Bird Friendly” labeled coffees.

Shade-grown coffee farms are good for birds, good for people, and good for the planet. So, for those who enjoy coffee, bird-friendly coffee is all the more enjoyable because your selection is a positive conservation action. As you sip your Bird-Friendly certified coffee, just marvel at the fact that a hummingbird egg is about the size of a single coffee bean!

This segment concludes with a shout out to Caffe Ibis Coffee Maven Emerita Sally Sears, and another shout out to Lesa Wilson, who now carries the torch for Caffe Ibis, a community leader in sustainability that provides environmentally sound and ethically sourced coffee.

I’m Hilary Shughart, President of the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Photo: Coffee beans, Courtesy Pixabay, Couleur, Photographer https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-beans-seed-caffeine-cafe-3392159/
Photo: Black-chinned Hummingbird, Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer, https://images.fws.gov/
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Birds Supported by Coffee Farms, Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/birds-supported-coffee-farms

Caffe Ibis Triple-Certified Bird-Friendly Coffees https://www.caffeibis.com/learn/bird-friendly-certified/

Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Company
52 Federal Avenue, Logan UT 8432
https://www.caffeibis.com
https://www.caffeibis.com/product-category/all-coffee/?filter_certifications=bird-friendly,fair-trade,organic

Trevino, Julissa, Coffee Growing Can Be Good For Birds, Smithsonian Magazine, Feb 20, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/coffee-farms-are-good-birds-other-wildlife-study-finds-180968205/

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly® Coffee Program Protects Migratory Birds and Supports Shade-Grown Coffee Farms, Smithsonian Global, Smithsonian Institution, Jul 15, 2018, https://global.si.edu/success-stories/smithsonian-migratory-bird-center’s-bird-friendly®-coffee-program-protects-migratory

How Are Coffee And Birds Related?, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, April 1, 2009, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-are-coffee-and-birds-related/

Black-chinned Hummingbird, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-chinned_Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Selasphorus platycercus, Field Guide, National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/broad-tailed-hummingbird

Caffe Ibis Bird-Friendly Coffee List, https://www.caffeibis.com/learn/bird-friendly-certified/
french roast
quetzal
mexican chiapas
double french
fly catcher
espresso 44
dark peru
peruvian rainforest
condor coffee
guatemalan forest
anca/nature’s delight
decaf peru
la paz
dark guatamela
decaf mexican chiapas
new day
mocha
raspberry mocha
fresh vanilla
vanilla nut
bear lake raspberry
heavenly hazelnut






The Glacier Lily

The Glacier Lily: Glacier Lilies, Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
Glacier Lilies,
Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
I find it difficult to leave my canyon home in N. Utah especially during April and May. Every day brings new bloom and bird song. On April 12th I returned from 9 days in Georgia for a family event. I quickly retreated to the canyon where I found spring in full bloom- spring beauty, balsamroot, Indian potato, locoweed, violet and perhaps my favorite, the glacier lily. It often appears at the edge of receding snow banks.

Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park Courtesy USGS Frank T. van Manen, Photographer
Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park
Courtesy USGS
Frank T. van Manen, Photographer
Its delicate beauty is a favorite early season food of the grizzly bear. Bears “till” up the land, turning over chunks of soil to access their tasty bulb. Glacier National Park scientists have learned that this “tilling” has some important side effects. Areas with recent bear diggings have less plant diversity and higher nitrogen levels than undisturbed parts of the landscape. Without much competition from other plants, glacier lily bulbs can quickly regenerate, and these new lilies produce twice the usual number of seeds, thanks to the nitrogen rich soil!

After digging up glacier lilies, bears often leave the bulbs for a few days to wilt in the sun. This “cooks” them a bit making them sweeter and easier to digest. First Nations lore shows that early peoples learned to dry and cook glacier lily bulbs by copying the grizzly. Black bears relish the bulbs as well while Elk and deer munch the foliage.

The Shoshone ate the corms fresh or with soup, and the dried bulbs were a popular trade item between tribes. The leaves are edible as well and the green seedpods taste like green beans when cooked. Medical applications include reducing fever, swelling, infection, and they were used as a contraceptive. The glacier lily was collected during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meriwether Lewis mentioned this species numerous times in his journal. This may be because he thought it could be used as a “botanical calendar” to help track the onset of spring.

Glacier lilies are very sensitive to disturbance and harvesting the corm will effectively kill the plant. Though native tribes practiced active management of them, their populations have been greatly reduced. It is better to leave collection to wildlife.

“The snow is melting. The grizzly bears that have been sleeping beneath the snow, suspended like seeds, will prowl the warm fields just beneath the snow, grazing on the delicious emerging lilies. Sometimes the yellow pollen gets caught on the fur and snouts of the great golden bears as they grub and push through the lily fields, pollinating other lilies in this manner. In this crude fashion, they are famers of a kind, nurturing and expanding one of the crops that first meets them each year. The lilies follow the snow, and the snow pulls back to reveal the bears, and the bears follow the Lilies. The script of life begins moving with enthusiasm once again.” Rick Bass, author, naturalist, activist.

Jack Greene for BAS and you guessed it- I’m wild about Utah, and its long lost grizzlies

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & © Andrea Liberatore
Bear image: Courtesy USGS, Frank T van Manen, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text:     Jack Greene, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Glacier Lily — Erythronium grandiflorum. Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Retrieved on April 18, 2021, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=PMLIL0U050

Alberty, Erin, Wasatch wildflower update: Early blooms emerging in low places, The Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2017, https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=5090577&itype=CMSID

Rey-Vizgirdas, Edna, Forest Botanist, Boise National Forest, Yellow Avalanche-lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), Forest Management, Rangelands Management, & Vegetation Ecology Programs, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/erythronium_grandiflorum.shtml

McConnell, Tatum, Vital Ground Communications Intern, How Grizzly Bear Digging Shapes Mountain Meadows, The Vital Ground Foundation, https://www.vitalground.org/grizzly-ecology-bears-and-dirt/