Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show: Lamenting the butterfly and using native grasses to bring them back
On a recent Garden Bite I talked about plants that host butterfly larvae. After hearing that, a friend of mine was lamenting the lack of butterflies. He literally lives within the bounds of a State Park and said he’d felt like something was missing on his walks through the park and realized, after hearing about the larval hosts, what is was. There were very few, if any, butterflies. I noted earlier that I had not seen any monarchs on my milkweed. (plenty of beetle action but no butterflies) Come to think of it, not too many other butterflies.
Just 150 years ago one-third of Minnesota was covered in tall-grass prairies, an essential habitat for many species of butterflies, as well as other insects, birds, and wildlife. Today, only 1% of Minnesota’s prairies remain mainly due to agricultural and housing developments. Overall, native grass host-plants play an integral role to the survival of many prairie butterfly populations. As a result of habitat loss, there are currently 12 species of prairie dependent butterflies and moths on the MN DNR’s endangered, threatened, and special concern list.
So, let’s plant some Little Bluestem! This very hardy native grass has been documented to support several species of prairie butterflies such as the once common Dakota skipper and Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe). The Dakota skipper butterfly was historically found in 40 MN counties but is now found in only 11 and is listed as an endangered species statewide.
Little bluestem is a warm season mid-height native grass, common to prairies from Minnesota to Texas. It reaches an average height of 3′ with arching foliage and a clumping habit. This native perennial gets its common name from the blue stem color it develops over the summer. In the fall, the little bluestem turns a beautiful bronze-red color.