Grasses and their cousins, sedges and rushes, are the backbone of the beach community. Several species have appeared at the bird sanctuary as pioneers, opening up the bare sand and developing the soil for the introduction of flowers, shrubs and trees. In addition, grass seeds provide important nutrition for birds and rodents.
We also intentionally planted grasses in some locations to stabilize the sand and to prevent unwanted plants from establishing themselves in bare areas.
Some grasses that show up at the bird sanctuary are invasives. Many are native to Eurasia rather than North America, and they can cause problems for our habitat.
This welcome volunteer appeared on our beach. Like Marram and Sand Reed grasses, its roots help hold sand and soil in place. On farms, it is a food source for cattle.
The blue-green stems of this common prairie grass turn reddish in winter. The striking color change is a tell-tale identifier of this important member of our community.
This is the most common native grass at the bird sanctuary. It is our dune builder; sand that accumulates around it gives structure to our environment.
This is another common volunteer that sprang up without any help from us. It grows well in dry areas with shifting sands, and it turns purplish in late summer or fall.
This tall, decorative grass with yellowish seed heads does quite well in our sandy, dry conditions. Its flowering stems can grow up to five or six feet tall!
This grass has light, delicate flowers and reddish seed heads. The blades have rough sawtooth edges. It does not grow as tall as the Sand Reed Grass.
We plant grasses that we want to have at the bird sanctuary. Others appear without our help. When we spot a new species, sometimes we are thrilled, but sometimes not. For example, a newcomer may crowd out other plants that are beneficial for the birds.
Some unwanted grasses are native to the Midwest, but are highly aggressive. Others were imported for gardens or for other uses, but can cause problems in our habitat. We call all these unwanted grasses “invasive.” Once we identify them, we can work to remove or control them.
These are some of the invasive grasses that have appeared at the bird sanctuary.
The scourge of many shorelines and waterways, this plant can take over whole banks and create dense mats. Fortunately, we have only a little, on the very south end of our area.
This early non-native annual appeared unwanted on our beach. It is a serious problem out west where it has taken over rangeland and contributed to grassland fires.
This is an aggressive invasive that moved in from the adjoining parkland. Its dense, deep roots crowd out native plants, so we spend a lot of time pulling it.