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

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/



Native Plants for Birds

Native Plants for Birds: Female Rufous Hummingbird(Selasphorus rufus) on Red Flowering Current(Ribes sanguineum) Courtesy US FWS, Peter Pearsall, Photographer
Female Rufous Hummingbird(Selasphorus rufus) on Red Flowering Current(Ribes sanguineum)
Courtesy US FWS, Peter Pearsall, Photographer
When we are hungry, we head for the kitchen. When birds are hungry they head for plants. Native plants, in particular provide important sources of food for birds and other wildlife.

Native plants play an important role in an ecosystem, providing the best habitat for wildlife. They are species of plants that have grown naturally in an area and thrive in an environment that matches the soils, moisture, and weather of a particular locality.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot Hyde Park, UT Courtesy & Copyright Linda L'Ai
Arrowleaf Balsamroot
Hyde Park, UT
Courtesy & Copyright Linda L’Ai
There are mutually beneficial connections for plants and birds that have evolved together. Native plants are a veritable market place for birds offering them nuts, seeds, fruits, nectar, and tasty bugs. They have an important influence on a bird’s diet, feeding habits, and even migration patterns. And as birds feed on the local fare they spread pollen and seeds.

This data gathered by Audubon’s Plants for Birds Program supports the planting of native species whenever possible.

  • 96% of land birds feed insects to their chicks.
  • Native oak trees host over 530 species of caterpillars while non-native ginkgo trees host just 4.
  • To raise one nest of chickadee babies, parents must gather between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars.
  • Suburban yards planted with native species host 8 times more native birds.

Birds shape their migration patterns around native plants. Plants that produce fleshy fruit duirng the late summer and fall provide birds with the energy needed for long migrations.

Urbanization has resulted in a threat to native plants. According to Audubon, the continental United States has lost over 150 million acres of native habitat due to urban sprawl. Fragmentation of native plant habitat is believed to be due to the construction of cities, roads and river flow reservoirs. All of these, combined with a changing climate’s impact on timing of insect hatching and flowers opening, present many challenges to our birds.

Northern Flicker Courtesy & Copyright Linda L'Ai
Northern Flicker
Courtesy & Copyright Linda L’Ai
You can help improve the connection between native plants and birds by adding native plants to your landscape. The native plants database developed by Audubon provides users with customized lists of native plants specific to your area, as well as the steps needed to evaluate which plants will find success in your soil. You can find the website at Audubon.org/plantsforbirds.  It’s as easy as putting in the area code, then clicking search. There are over 40 native plants listed for the Cache Valley area.

Dark-eyed Junco Courtesy & Copyright Linda L'Ai
Dark-eyed Junco
Courtesy & Copyright Linda L’Ai
Finches, sparrows, and chickadees are common birds to our area and are attracted to the seeds of the common sunflower.

The Wild plum, provides fleshy fruit for sparrows and chickadees and insects for woodpeckers.

Milkweeds attract hummingbirds and insect pollinators and serve as larval hosts for Monarch Butterflies.

Growing native plants is something we all can do in our yards or in the community to help bird populations increase now and in the future. Consider this: native plants that are adapted to the local region require less water, fertilizers and no pesticides.

Check out Audubon.org/plantsforbirds to find out more.
If you really dig birds, try digging native plants into your garden!

I’m Linda L’Ai with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Peter Pearsall, Photographer, https://images.fws.gov/
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Linda L’Ai, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham & Hilary Shughart, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Grow Native For Birds, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/grow-native-for-birds/

Plants For Birds, The Coleman and Susan Burke Center for Native Plants, National Audubon Society, https://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds
“Plants for Birds,” National Audubon, https://vimeo.com/163864388

Native Plants for the Utah Landscape, Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping, Utah State University Extension, https://cwel.usu.edu/native-other

Native Plants, The Coleman and Susan Burke Center for Native Plants, National Audubon Society, https://www.audubon.org/native-plants/

Native Plant List-Utah and Western Colorado, PlantNative, Portland, OR, http://www.plantnative.org/rpl-ut.htm?fbclid=IwAR1nnlQUQ680x_SpwrKH_Fvtt2J2mtF7cqwZeUW8XAzzvlObs4K-kMPMIg0

Utah Native Plant Society, https://www.unps.org/

Tallamy, Doug, Sustainable Landscaping, Research, University of Delaware, May 2, 2013, 2.26 min, https://youtu.be/NTbPNwNIoLs

Tallamy, Doug, Eierman, Kim, EcoBeneficial Interview: Dr. Doug Tallamy In His Garden on the Importance of Native Plants, EcoBeneficial!, Nov 22, 2013, 29:30 min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w39g_f7BMUk


Native Grasses

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