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

Sego Lily

Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use. Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,  Michael Wheeler, Photographer
Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use.
Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,
Michael Wheeler, Photographer
With Pioneer Day’s a few weeks away, it’s time to honor a very special plant that saved many Utah pioneers.

It’s been a banner year for our state flower. The sego lily has graced our meadows since early June, now in its late stages at lower elevations. It has generated many stories in our state. Before I launch them, I must compliment it’s delicate beauty and love for adverse conditions- the dry, rocky soils in which it’s found. The sego lily personifies the tough, resilient, beautiful pioneer spirit.

Brigham Young declared the sego lily “a heaven sent source of food.” Friendly Native Americans taught Mormon settlers how to harvest and prepare the bulbs for much needed survival food when a devastating cricket infestation destroyed crops.

From pioneer journals:

Sego Lily Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Sego Lily
Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
“”In the spring of 1848, our food was gone. Along the month of April we noticed all the foothills were one glorious flower garden. The snow had gone, the ground was warm. We dug thousands of sego roots, for we heard that the Indians had lived on them for weeks and months. We relished them and carried them home in bucketful’s. How the children feasted on them, particularly when they were dried, for they tasted like butternuts.”
Elizabeth Huffaker, Salt Lake City

And here is another one:
“In my childhood our whole group of children used to go east of town, each carrying a sego digger. It was a piece of wood sharpened on one end, and flat on the other. We would just go out of town and look for segos, which were plentiful. When we found them we each went to digging by putting the sharp end of the stick into the ground close beside the sego, and pressing down on the flat end of the digger until it was a few inches in the ground. Sometimes we pounded on the top of the digger with a rock…when the stick was far enough into the ground to suit us, we just pushed it to one side and up came the segos. Then we ate them, and oh how we enjoyed hunting them.”
Lorena Washburn Larsen, 1868, Manti, UT

Native Americans considered the sego lily a sacred plant and developed culinary uses for its bulbs, seeds, and flowers. Many tribes created a healthful porridge from roasted or boiled sego lily bulbs. Several tribes considered it sacred. For the Navajo it was one of the “Life Plants” used for ceremonial purposes. Sego was derived from the Indian word Sego. Many Indian women were named Sego or Sego-go-chee. The Spanish named it mariposa, their word for butterfly for these beautiful mountainside flowers looked like butterflies.

The sego lily was formally designated as the Utah State Flower in 1911 chosen for its natural beauty as well as its historical significance.

The lily gets its scientific name Calochortus Nuttalli, from Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist, who collected the sego lily in 1811 while traveling along the Missouri River. It’s found throughout the western states. Please do not disturb this iconic beauty. Photos are encouraged!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I continue to be infatuated with Utah’s wildness!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US NPS, Michael Wheeler, Photographer
      Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Sego Lily, Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/nature/sego-lilly.htm

Utah State Facts and Symbols, Utah.com, Deseret Digital Media, https://utah.com/state-facts-symbols

Utah State Flower – Sego Lily, Pioneer-Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, https://www.utah.gov/about/symbols.html

Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii Torr. & A. GrayShow https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CANU3

https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/liliaceae_calochortus_nuttallii.htm

Sego Lily and Friends, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sego_Lily_and_Friends_(14368043194).jpg

LORENA EUGENIA WASHBURN, Autobiography, Published by her Children, Brigham Young University Press, 1962, http://www.ourfamilylegacy.info/files/washburnlorena1860autobio.pdf

Young, Levi Edgar, The Sego Lily (See quote from Mrs. Elizabeth Huffaker, a pioneer of 1847, p.7), The Great West in American History, Bulletin of the University of Utah, Volume 11, Issue 9, Department of Western History, University of Utah, https://books.google.com/books?id=4LfOAAAAMAAJ

Sagers, Larry A., Utah Sego Lily Thrives In Dry, Sandy Hillsides – Not Gardens, Deseret News July 25, 1990, Larry A. Sagers, https://www.deseret.com/1990/7/25/18873035/utah-sego-lily-thrives-in-dry-sandy-hillsides-not-gardens

Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands after Phragmites

Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands: A dense stand of Phragmites australis in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
A dense stand of Phragmites australis
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Birds take flight in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Birds take flight
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Wetland manager & former student in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney in a stand of Phragmites australis Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Wetland manager & former student
in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney
in a stand of Phragmites australis
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Seeds of several native wetland plant species Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Seeds of several native wetland plant species
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Experimental hydroseeding at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring 8. Seeds of several native wetland plant Experimental hydroseeding
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
8. Seeds of several native wetland plant
 
 
Native wetland plant species grow in the USU greenhouse in February 2020 Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Native wetland plant species
grow in the USU greenhouse
in February 2020
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Revegetation field plots at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area in June 2019, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Revegetation field plots
at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area
in June 2019,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
The Great Salt Lake provides approximately 75% of Utah’s wetlands, and is a resting area along the Pacific- Americas flyway. Migratory birds rely on the lake as a stopping spot for rest and nutrition which they obtain from the variety of native plant communities. These communities are at constant risk from the invasive reed Phragmites australis which is taking over native wetland plant communities.

This invasive species, also known as common reed, is particularly harmful because it forms monocultures that outcompete native plant communities, diminishing quality of habitat for animal species, leaving nothing but dense tall reeds which grow 5-15 feet high.

Phragmites has spread throughout the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake, Utah and North America.

For the past decade, Karin Kettenring, professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been searching for the best methods for removing Phragmites such as grazing, mowing, or using herbicides on the invasive reed. Now they are expanding their research to find ways to restore the native wetland plant communities once Phragmites is removed.

Rae Robinson, a second-year master’s student, joined Kettenring’s research team to study native plant revegetation in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Robinson explains, “The unfortunate part of this is native plant communities often do not return [after Phragmites has been removed] so we need to reintroduce these plants. This is where my Master’s research picks up. We are investigating: what native species to include in these revegetation seed mixes, in what proportions, and in what sowing density.”

In the summer of 2019, Robinson teamed up with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fires & State Lands and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to begin a large-scale revegetation project in an effort to find the best methods for reseeding native plant species in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Hydroseed was applied — a mixture of water, seed, and tackifier. The tackifier is a botanical glue used to help the seeds stay in place, it stabilizes the soil so the seeds have a much better chance of sprouting and growing.

During July and August, Robinson returned to the sites to assess the success of the seeding.

Robinson explains, “It is reasonable to think that seeding density would automatically mean a high chance of seeds taking root, but this is not always the case. At one location, a high seeding density leads to greater establishment of native species, but at another spot it does not. We are finding in seed-based restoration there is a lot of plant mortality, or loss. We are asking: Why is that? What causes this failure in restoration? And what are the best ways to establish diverse native plant communities?”

During the winter months Robinson evaluated some new species in the USU greenhouse – these are potential candidates for restoration that might perform better than the species tested in 2019. Results of this preliminary greenhouse trial suggest that nodding (Bag-er-tick) beggartick, golden dock, and fringed willowherb may grow more readily than the previous species evaluated. These three species will be included in experimental revegetation mixes this summer.

The end goal of Robinson’s research is to determine best practices for seed-based revegetation in wetlands and provide better information for wetland managers faced with the challenge of restoring native plant communities.
The restoration of native plant communities in Great Salt Lake wetlands will improve the quality of habitat for birds and enhance the many ecosystem services these wetlands provide.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Rae Robinson, Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Our Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/our-invasive-phragmites/

Leavitt, Shauna, The Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, April 16, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/invasive-phragmites/

Rupp, Larry, et al, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, Utah State University Extension, September, 2014, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Mighty Phragmites: USU Researcher Studies Wetlands Invader, Utah State University Extension, June 18, 2009, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Common Reed, Phragmites australis, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/common-reed

Duncan, Brittany L., et al., Cattle grazing for invasive Phragmites australis(common reed) management in Northern Utah wetlands, Utah State University Extension, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3038&context=extension_curall