Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Native Grass Experiment

Poverty Grass sways in the slightest breeze.
Poverty Grass shows its silvery-gold inflorescence.
small and delicate inflorescence
I wrote about Danthonia spicata earlier this year in a Wildflower Wednesday post.  It's a cool season grass native to Middle Tennessee and can be found almost everywhere in the US and Canada.  

Poverty Grass is a perfect name for a grass that grows in the most inhospitable of 'lawn' spaces: Dry upland woods and forests, upland prairies, glades, tops of bluffs, old fields, eroded pastures, roadsides and dry disturbed areas. Of course, it's naturally occurring in my garden!

It's the dominant grass in the 'lawnette' areas of my garden.  It's a wispy, slender bladed grass that starts growing in the cooler weather of Spring, then flowers and sets seed in the early summer.  I don't water or fertilize this grass.  Traditionally, it is mowed to help balance the exuberance of my wildflowers.  But, last winter I decided to let it flower and go to seed.  I wanted to see how the grass looked full grown and I wanted free seed.

It looks lovely en mass
It looks lovely en mass.  The delicate, narrow blades are short by ornamental grass standards, about 12 inches, but, they move in the slightest breeze.  It's quite charming, sometimes it looks silver, other times quite golden.  I think it would make a delightful meadow grass...especially planted with aquilegias, phloxes and other native wildflowers. 
the wispy grass blades and seed heads dance in the breeze
In my book, this the experiment has been a success. The lawnette is:
  • low maintenance: (no watering, no fertilizer, no pesticides, with only occasional mowing
  • sustainable
  • biodiverse (natives grasses in general are host plants for many butterflies and skippers and that increases dramatically if you plant forbs and the little bunnies love hiding there)
  • charming 
  • lovely
  • making seed
Eastern Tailed Blue has been all over the danthonia!

 It's amazing but, this charming, hard working, grow almost anywhere grass is exactly the "weed' that lawn aficionados would work hard to eradicate!

They don't know what they are missing!


PS It's the perfect lawn alternative for a small garden.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone." She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Oh, how I love this. I'm sure this grass grows in my lower pasture. Thank you for sharing about these undervalued beauties.~~Dee

  2. I have seen for myself just how lovely the Danthonia is! Long may it wave at Clay & Limestone!

  3. What a great solution for your lawnette -- letting a lovely grass grow where it already wants to! Thanks for sharing this on my Lawn Alternatives Facebook page, Gail. It's sure to get people thinking.

  4. Gail, Thank you for introducing me to an Ontario native grass. The Evergreen Native Plant Database says Danthonia is the host plant for the Indian Skipper butterfly.

    1. Helen, You are very welcome. It loves dry shade!

  5. Fluffy and fun! I love the idea of a "lawnette" instead of a lawn.

  6. i love the idea of a "lawnette" area. this is lovely and i going to seed is just so much fun to watch...all the stages are beautiful.

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  8. Very nice!

    Any risk of it invading landscaped beds?

    (I'm thinking of the clover that I tried briefly as a lawn alternative before I realized that it would try to run roughshod over everything else in sight!)

  9. I like it. Could you convince my HOA that it would be nice in my front garden?

  10. Looking at your first and 2nd photos is like looking at our tropical meadows, and certainly farmers dont like that scene. But for me whatever will conserve the soil is okay. If you will not contain them, which is difficult to do because the seeds are small, it will give problems in the future, i think!

    1. It's not a spreading grass, but, I will keep an eye on seedlings! I have plans for those babies and seeds...

  11. My mind went straight to, "what a great container filler."

  12. I have altogether too much lawn but we live in the middle of a field of an old farm, and I have to say the lawn makes me feel I have some control over my estate. The meadow comes very close - and is filled with all those wildflowers that attract pollinators. Lots of butterflies this year! Of course, that means we also attract deer, and turkeys. A mixed blessing.

  13. A meadow area is nice, though as I am battling a good case of chiggers right now, I wonder about having the whole lawn area being left to grow so tall. I do like the looks of it with the chair frames and the grist stone. The blue bottles really pop against the golden grasses.

    1. I have been bitten by chiggers, too. So sorry....They are loving the meadow.

  14. Those lawn aficionados really don't know what they're missing. I'm always amazed how the diversity of insects and birds shifts as lawns are let go in favor of more diverse species of plants. I love the look of this grass, and it clearly will do more to sustain wildlife than a manicured fescue ;)

  15. gail, because of your previous post about this grass, i started leaving it alone in a section of my woods that gets a little morning sun. i love how it looks! i wondered if there were any particular insects that it's a host or pollen plant for...maybe i'll see eastern tailed blues, too. i hope so!

    1. That's marvelous Daricia. I do know that danthonia is host plant to several other skippers.

  16. Gail, I so agree about the grasses and what a fabulous photo of the beautiful Eastern Tailed blue!!!

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