puts on its finery when the ornamental grasses appear
ó their plumes shimmering and shining in the autumn
grasses are also practical in the home garden because
birds and small mammals like their small seeds while
deer dislike anything about them, according to Helen
Hamilton, author of "Wildflowers and Grasses of
Virginiaís Coastal Plain."
with perennial flowers and shrubs, their erect stems and
leaves provide a nice contrast to the garden
landscape," she says.
have wide and deep roots that discourage weed seeds.
Research has shown better growth of wildflowers in
meadows where native grasses flourish."
larval hosts for many species of skipper butterflies,
the plants should remain uncut over the winter, until
new growth appears in early spring. Many other
beneficial insects lay their eggs and develop as larvae
over the winter in the hollow stems of grasses and other
late season vegetation."
are some native ornamental grasses to consider for the
home garden, courtesy Hamilton:
bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ). An excellent forage
grass, little bluestem was once the most abundant
species in the American prairie. Blue-green only when
the shoots first come up in the early summer, the leaves
and flowering stalks become a rich mixture of tan,
brown, and wine-red through the fall and winter. The
grass grows five feet tall, with wiry flowering branches
intermingled with leaves. A distinguishing feature is
the bent awns on the mature seed heads in clusters
lining the branches. The grass is larval host for four
skipper butterflies, including the local swarthy and
crossline skipper. Itís native to almost every U.S.
(Tridens flavus). Purpletop is noticeable late summer
for its loose, open, purple flower clusters in a weeping
form. The slender perennial grows 4 feet tall. The large
purple seeds are widely spaced on thin panicle-branches.
Birds eat the plants nutritious, fatty seeds, and this
robust grass provides significant cover for wildlife.
Purpletop is the larval host for two species of grass
skippers, crossline and little glassywing, and also for
the broad-winged skipper and large wood nymph. Itís
native to 37 states, including California, according to
the National Resources Conservation Serviceís plant
(Panicum virgatum). Once one of the dominant species of
the tall-grass prairie, switchgrass now grows on dunes,
shores, along the edges of ponds and marshes. As larval
host for the tawny-edged skipper, Delaware skipper,
northern broken-dash and little glassywing, it has
leaves and stems that should remain uncut over the
winter. In March when new growth appears, the tan stems
and leaves can be cut off in long segments, and left as
mulch around the plant. Switchgrass is good for erosion
control and furnishes food for small birds. Itís
native to all 48 lower U.S. states, except California,
Washington and Oregon.
cutgrass (Leersia oryzoides), giant cutgrass (Zizaniopsis
miliacea).These two grasses are hosts for the
caterpillars of skippers that live in coastal counties.
The native cool-season grass grows and flowers late in
the summer, producing seeds that are important food for
waterfowl, small mammals and shorebirds. Growing two to
three feet tall, the grass spreads by underground
rhizomes and often forms dense colonies. Rice cutgrass
is appropriately named because the sharp, abrasive
leaves can cut skin and cling to clothing. Giant
cutgrass is taller, growing to 12 feet tall with stout
stems in shallow marshes, swamps and ditches. The
flowering stems produce roots and new plants at the
nodes when they touch the water. Rice cutgrass is native
to all 48 lower U.S. states; giant cutgrass grows in
more than a dozen southeastern U.S. states.
letís meet some skippers. Gardeners and their cameras
are drawn to butterflies, especially eye-catching
swallowtails, pearl crescents, buckeyes and monarchs
Ďflowers of the airí usually have large wings,
colorful scales and feed on nectar for long periods,
allowing easy photographing," she says.
there are other members of the Lepidoptera in our
gardens, less conspicuous and flying faster. Moths have
feathery antennae and hold their wings flat at rest;
stout, fat-bodied skipper butterflies have clubbed
antennae, often with hooks and enormous eyes.
the last group, grass skippers lay their eggs on grasses
and sedges, and the caterpillars roll the edges of the
leaves to make a shelter, sealing the edges with silk.
At rest their hind wings are flat on the surface and the
front wings are held at a 45 degree angle. No other
lepidopteran shows this combination of very stout body,
clubbed antennae and hind and front wings in different
positions. While easily identified by the appearance of
the wings at rest, they do not rest long, and move very
quickly, making identification and photography
insects are just one group of many that fill niches in
our gardens, in ecosystems. As they feed on leaves and
process sunís energy, their fat bodies as larvae and
adults provide food to birds and their young."
are some skippers you may see in your yard, says
skipper (Hylephila phyleus). With bright orange and
black markings, fiery skippers are more easily
recognizable than other grass skippers. While they feed
on the nectar from the flowers of the native swamp
milkweed, asters, sneezeweed and ironweed, the males
wait for receptive females in short grasses such as
Bermuda grass and crabgrass. Females lay their eggs
under leaves of these grasses which furnish food for the
caterpillars. While feeding, they roll the leaves and
tie them with silk to make shelters lying horizontally
in the sod.
skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor). Also with orange and
black markings, the females favor native marsh grasses
such as marsh millet and rice cutgrass as food for their
caterpillars. The adults feed on plants such as
pickerelweed, chicory and white clover, growing in
ditches, slow streams, and marshes. Three broods hatch
broken-dash (Wallengrenia egeremet). These skippers fly
slowly and are mostly dark brown in color. There is only
one brood June-August; caterpillars develop in the
leaves of the panic grasses and deer tongue grasses. The
adults feed on nectar from flowers that are white, pink
or purple such as native dogbane, New Jersey tea and
skipper. Brown-purple butterflies with yellow markings,
zabulons make two broods May-September. After
caterpillars emerge from their shelters of silk-tied
leaves, they feed on lovegrass, wildrye, purpletop,
bentgrass, orchardgrass, bluegrass and wheatgrass.
glassywing (Pompeius verna). Brown skippers have a
transparent white spot on the fore wing. Only one brood
is produced, in June-August. Caterpillars feed
exclusively on purpletop where they develop in their
shelters of rolled or tied leaves. Adults seek nectar
from white, pink and purple flowers such as dogbane,
Joe-pye-weed, common milkweed and swamp milkweed.
skipper (Poanes viator). Another yellow, black-brown
grass skipper with one or two broods yearly June-August.
Caterpillars feed on sedges, tall cordgrass, giant
cutgrass, wild rice and marsh millet. Inland adults like
nectar on swamp milkweed and blue vervain while coastal
populations feed on dogbane, pickerelweed and sweetscent.