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As summer approaches, the native grasses of Wisconsin begin to put on their annual show. Rising from meadows, prairies and garden landscapes throughout the state, the amazing ornamental beauty of native grasses is unmatched.

In addition to their dancing beauty, native grasses are important to wildlife, butterflies and the environment, serving as a natural filter to cleanse rainwater and toxins from run-off before it reaches our rivers, lakes and streams.

Native grasses are also an excellent choice for a erosion control along slopes, shorelines and hillsides.

Native wonders

While there are many perennial choices available in ornamental grasses for home gardeners, the native varieties of Wisconsin are some of my favorites.

Little blue stem, with its colorful, textured blades and delicate, fluffy seed heads, is a compact, brilliant joy in the garden. Silvery green with touches of purple throughout the summer, the plant begins to transform during August, September and October into a beautiful, quivering clump of feathery growth in bright orange, gold and crimson.

Little bluestem is sought after because of its compact size, cascading form and colorful beauty during all four seasons.

Big bluestem features the classic 'turkey foot' seed heads on flowering stalks that may reach 6 to 7 feet in height. A dramatic, statuesque specimen plants for the garden, big bluestem shares its rich coloration with its smaller cousin.

Like exploding fireworks, the beauty of prairie dropseed in the garden and landscape is breathtaking. During late summer, the feathery plumes of foliage transform to a brilliant lemony gold.

Another of my favorite native grasses is northern sea oats. With large, coppery spangles in metallic shades, the unusual beauty and texture of this shade-loving grass make it a great choice for gardens and landscapes.

Beneficial grasses

All of the native grasses are beneficial to wildlife, including birds, butterflies and more.

Several species of native butterflies use these grasses as a host plant.

Whitetail fawns often use clumps of native grasses as bedding areas during the hot summer day, finding shelter beneath the shade and coolness of the emerald grasses swaying overhead.

Many species of birds use native grasses for shelter, food and nest making. As our native grasses begin to go to seed during late summer and fall, swarms of migrating birds feast its rich bounty.

American tree sparrows, American goldfinches, indigo bunting, common redpoll, chickadees and many others use native grasses as an important food source throughout the seasons.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com. Also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.

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