Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Kelly Heidbreder

Native grasses can be found just about anywhere

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but what about an old plant? I think you can! Some of the oldest plants around this area are native grasses and they have been learning new tricks for decades to continue to thrive.

Toledo Metro Parks Naturalist and Historic Interpreter, Bob Jacksy says, “You can find native grasses almost anywhere in the country, but we are especially lucky here in Northwest Ohio. Many of our nature preserves like Kitty Todd and Oak Openings hold a variety of threatened grasses.

“We have the tallest of the tall grasses here in Ohio and we are home to the most eastern sites of these prairie plants in the United States.”

Jacksy credits the grassy grandeur to good soil conditions, and moderate rain in this region.

“If you go through Wood County, you can see the prairie grasses that are still lingering, even in the ditches,” he says.

These resilient perennials have been around since the Native Americans made their home in this country.

“Between Glendale and Angola on the sides of the underpass, the grasses exist, even when they are abused with winter salt and ice,” Jacksy says.

Backyard natives

Because these plants have been here longer than most of our ancestors, they might be a pretty good choice for your landscape.

“They are very rugged and underappreciated and many of them don't take much care once you get them established,” Jacksy says.

They can grow small and compact, staying just under knee height and others soar to over six feet tall. Some species will work well in dry conditions, others can solve a problem in a wet spot in your yard that won't tolerate any of the other common perennials at the nursery.

Dry areas

Switch grass is one of Jacksy's favorite native grasses.

“It has dark green blades and has a great history,” he says. Native Americans harvested the seed heads for wheat and pounded it into flour and even made bread with it. It grows five to six feet tall and Native Americans would burn it to keep it under control.

Triple-awn grass is also good for dry areas.

“This one is threatened in Ohio and is really unique because it can break off and roll like tumbleweed,” he says. “That's why it is also known as Petticoat grass, in the old days. It stays below knee height and the seed has w”ings at the top, and looks like Mercedes emblem.

June grass is a smaller variety that grows about a foot to 18 inches high, and has dark green blades and, small seed heads.

“It looks like a test tube cleaning brush that is really tight,” says Jacksy, and is also threatened in Ohio.

Wet areas

Big blue stem can handle growing at the edge of wet areas and will grow tall. Little blue stem is also hardy and has a great compact growing habit with easy care. Indian cord grass is lime green and lives near water. Jacksy says he likes the color and tall height.

Blue joint grass looks like big blue stem. It gets knee high, like little blue stem. But Jacksy says the difference is, this species will grow in shallow water.

No good natives

Some ornamental grasses have gotten out of control.

“Phragmites is not good choice,” Jacksy says. “You can see it just taking over especially in wetland areas and ditch banks.

This tall grass spreads through its roots and will take over a habitat, pushing out other species. Pampas grass is another very common ornamental grass, and many people don't realize how it starts to take over.”

Other grasses like zebra, ribbon, blood, are typical ornamental grasses you might find at your favorite nursery, but Jacksy says you have to make sure they don't get out of control.

“All of them are great, but they can do some damage if they go wild in native areas, just like phragmite,” he says.

Finding the old dogs

If you want to add some old dogs to your yard, check with the Kitty Todd Nature Conservancy on Old State Line Road in Swanton at 419-867-1521.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at:

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