Eds Note: It is not often that I elevate a comment to a post, but this one deserves that treatment for two good reasons. The first is the length and quality of the information presented and the second is the source. Kevin Korpela of Downtown Grocery fame not only wrote this post, but in response to my pleading email has graciously agreed to continue to provide us with his thoughts on various issues in future posts as a regular contributor. As we move into the growing season it seems like a match made in heaven. Welcome aboard, Kevin!
By Kevin Korpela
A research center in Texas investigates native plants and how a normal lawn may not be so nice for the little creatures that share our world with us. The center is called the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center (http://www.wildflower.org) named in honor of the wife of President Lyndon Johnson and is a beautiful place to visit as it’s also a nature center open to the public. The Center’s investigations include three distinct lawns with different grasses-plants-flowers:
1. a normal formal lawn with Kentucky Bluegrass and other normal plants-flowers found in most of the USA requiring plenty of water, fertilizer and mowing.
2. a native formal lawn with Buffalo Grass and other native plants-flowers set in a traditional formal lawn but require less water, fertilizer and mowing.
3. a native informal lawn with Buffalo Grass and other native plants-flowers. The informal layout reduces the amount of time or upkeep required by a homeowner because an informal design helps maximize the effectiveness of the inherent qualities in native grasses-plants-flowers.
BUTTERFLIERS AND BEES: The important idea is that nice bugs like butterflies and bees are aware of the big-picture because the researchers noticed that the butterflies and bees hop from one native plant or flower to another while hopping over the normal lawns and it’s usually fertilizer-laden/stressed-out grasses, plants and flowers!
TASTY AND HEALTHY: One of the theories as stated by the researchers at the Center is that the nice bugs have an abundance of tasty and healthy native species to choose from in the Center’s gardens and courtyards so why choose lunch from stressed-out grasses, plants and flowers even though they are on your flight path! The normal grasses, plants, and flowers are stressed-out because they are asked to survive in a climate where they were not meant to live and that is one of the factors for the input of more water or fertilizer, or additional mowing because they don’t look so good when un-mowed.
BUFFALO GRASS: The researchers at the Center say that Buffalo Grass is more tasty and healthy in the Texas climate because it is a drought-tolerant warm-season grass that turns a nice gray-green with the return of warm weather in spring but as it is a warm-season grass it begins to turn brown with the start of cool weather. The cool-season grasses live a little differently because they look best in the cooler weather but require more inputs in warmer weather. That is a perception shift that the leaders of the Center hope could become the norm. The blades of Buffalo Grass grow 3-12 inches but it’s a low-growing grass where the blades fold-over each other versus standing up that leaves a low grass height with little mowing required. It does have a particular look that is different than cool-season grasses but it’s a look that is more normal that unmoved Kentucky Bluegrass. The researchers at the Center realize that the simple notion of a nice lawn is not so simple because most things in life are a complex web of science, economics, psychology, perception, and perhaps self-confidence.
STRESSED-OUT: The shifts and world views posed by Bill in “Shifting Sands of Time” are perhaps adaptable to other issues too. For example, in our food industry we place cattle, chicken and hogs in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where the confinement of animals living close together contribute to their susceptibility to stress, illness, and the addition of antibiotics to feed. Butterflies and bees at the Wildflower Center have learned to hop over stressed-out food sources because the nutritional value or taste are not to their liking.
TOO MUCH WEIGHT: Many issues are what they are and we can accept them if we want but at what point do we hold back for too long or procrastinate too much where any shift or change in a world view becomes exceedingly expensive or difficult to shift because the weight to switch towards another intention is so large that it becomes nearly impossible to afford the move?
HOP, HOP! Maybe continual discussions in open forums like WausauBlog will lead to policy and actions that provide butterflies and bees an abundance of healthy and tasty places to hop!
Sources for Buffalo Grass:
Wildflower Center includes a photo of Buffalo Grass.
Wyoming seed company summarizes Bufflalo Grass.