Our “Biodiverse” Lawn

Our “lawn” would be outlawed in most of the Twin Cities’ tonier suburbs.  But living in the city allows for a little more variety.  Twenty years ago we sodded our yard after building an addition.  The grass was perfect — pure, uniform blades of healthy green.  We kept it that way for a couple of years, then quit using chemicals when our son was old enough to play in the yard.

First a few common violets dotted the grass with their subtle, delicate blooms.  Then dandelions showed their bright heads —miniature globes of sunshine that blossomed into balls of fluff.  Our son loved to blow the fluff, watch the seeds dance on the breeze and settle into the grass (to grow the following spring).

Canada violets and common blue violets grow in our backyard.

White clover (Trifolium repens), Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and common blue violets (Viola sororia) grow in our backyard lawn.

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Over the years, seeds from garden Siberian squill and striped squill spilled out into the lawn during heavy rains.  They popped up in all parts of the backyard along with three other species of violets.  These spring blooms are lovely and welcome, but the plantain, chickweed and crabgrass that appear later in the summer?  Not so much.

Siberian squill bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

One afternoon our neighbor, Steve, an environmental engineer, stopped to chat while I was digging out dandelions.  I bemoaned the state of our lawn.  Steve looked at it for a minute, then said that he thinks of it as a biodiverse lawn.  The variety of blooms, though they are “weeds” in the eyes of most people, provide a great source of nectar to native bees and other pollinators.  The insects and worms provide food for birds, chipmunks and many small critters.  In comparison, Steve said, our former uniform lawn was a “dead zone” with little life beyond the non-native grass.

I still miss our perfect lawn when I look at the lush, tidy, green grass on our block, and every summer I’m tempted to use chemicals to restore ours.  But, I ignore that urge and instead, we mow the “grass” down to a short patch of green turf that is alive with birds, insects and other creatures — and that also looks  acceptable to our neighbors!

Biodiversity on a Sunflower

Late Sunday morning in early September.  I walk along our unpaved road next to the Snake River.  The sun is hot, grasshoppers whir and click, bees drone and American goldfinches call to each other in the aspen grove.  Small stands of native sunflowers (Helianthus tuberosus L.) dot the roadside.  In a single group of three plants, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, I spot four species of native bees, two species of wasps, several ladybird beetles, a goldenrod soldier beetle and a northern crescent butterfly.  Here’s a sampling:

Green metallic bee.

Metallic green bee on a native sunflower known as Jerusalem artichoke.

Ladybug beetle on woodland sunflower.

Ladybird beetle on a native sunflower (Helianthus tuberosus L.).

Goldenrod soldier beetles are important pollinators of native sunflowers, goldenrod and tansy.

Goldenrod soldier beetles are important pollinators of native sunflowers, goldenrod and tansy.

A crescent butterfly, most likely a northern crescent, sips nectar.

A crescent butterfly, most likely a northern crescent, sips nectar.