The Many Benefits of Native Grasses

By Becky England

  As our focus turns to conserving water and resources, we need to be mindful of the specimens we choose to plant and grow in our landscapes. Whether we enjoy a small urban plot with limited space or a large rambling space designed to attract wildlife, our choice of plants will influence many things in our surroundings.  Native grasses offer a wealth of benefits.

Native grasses for this area have adapted to these climate conditions over thousands of years.  The species that enjoy temperatures and moisture during critical periods of their growing season have found their place here in the blackland prairie region.  This reduces supplemental watering on our part. Secondly, grasses that have done well here have tolerated diseases and pests that may wreak havoc on a grass from another part of the country.  Less stress on a plant makes for a happier and healthier specimen. Wildlife in an area may have come to rely on a species of plant for food, nesting or cover. Bees and butterflies also rely on a wide range of plants that have become part of an ecosystem.  And, the need for pollinators for crop production is becoming an increasing concern.

The health of our soils depends greatly on plant root structure and nutrient cycling provided by plants that are endemic to a region.  The root system of most grasses is thick with many small fine fibers that spread and help loosen soil as well as help with erosion control.  These days we have to be concerned with loss of topsoil not only by sudden fast downpours but also by wind in drought conditions.  Nutrients are returned to the soil when plant material of native grasses dies back during the winter and begins the decaying process offering soil coverage and then organic matter.

Lastly, the aesthetic quality that native grasses bring to a landscape goes without question.  They offer so much texture to groupings from spring through the winter months when they can be trimmed for new growth.  Indangrass(Sorgastrum nutans) that provides a food source for butterflies in the larvae stage and food and shelter for wild turkey is beautiful as it matures and adds a unique texture to a garden or landscape over the winter months.  Lindheimer Muhly(Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) and upland switchgrass( Panicum virgatum) certainly contribute to the texture of plantings during the non-growing season.

“Native plants are intrinsic to the overall resilience and stability of a region and are a critical component of the numerous food and energy cycles that maintain its biological diversity.”   This line taken from USDA-NRCS-Texas, Technical Note No: Tx-PM-10-6 sums it up best.  So whether we are trying to provide a habitat for wildlife or just create a healthier home landscape, taking the time to research native grasses and plants is well worth the effort.  After all, we can’t forget the grasses like the bluestems(Andropogon gerardii), buffalograss(Buchloe dactyloides), and sideoats grama(Bouteloua curtipendula) ,the State grass of Texas, that the buffalo that still graze through the imagination of most Texans.

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