Native Plants Underfoot, in the Spring Lawn

Violets are native plants

We all know that dandelions, clover, and buttercups grow in lawns. Unfortunately, none of them are native. It’s important to understand that lawns nurture native plants, too. They are “hidden in plain sight.” The upshot: We don’t have to visit a garden center to find native plants. We can protect what we have.

Why protect and promote native plants?

Pollen and nectar sources are not alike nor equal in value. Dandelion, for instance, provides forage for bees—but research shows that its quality is low compared to many native plants. Native plants, in general, provide the highest-quality forage for the most significant number of native insects. Furthermore, some insects are feeding specialists—entirely dependent on just one or a handful of plant species for sustenance during part or all of their lives.

Consider our region’s dozen violet species. Petite and pretty in the April grass, they are often bulldozed by lawnmowers in May. Some people dowse violets with weedkillers.

Yet violets offer exclusive relationships with numerous butterflies and one bee.

“The 14 species of greater fritillary (butterflies) and 16 lesser fritillaries will only lay their eggs where there are violets for their larva to feed upon,” writes Xerces Society author Justin Wheeler. He continues, “Violets are also hosting plants for the mining bee (Andrena violae), a specialist pollinator common to the Eastern U.S. that only visits violets.”

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Ants, it turns out, are violet farmers. Violet seeds offer a “snack pack” on their surfaces, which entices ants to carry the seeds home. The insects consume the snack and bury the seeds, assuring next April’s purple, white, and yellow drifts. Birds and other critters also consume and disperse violet seeds.

I’m always pleased to find diminutive, native blue-eyed grass volunteering near shady edges aside from violets. Native bees and pollinating flies obtain both nectar and pollen away from this little flower; birds eat the seeds.

Bluets or Quaker ladies are tiny light blue natives that take up residence along tree roots and among blades of grass. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects visit bluets.

Learn more about native plants that sprout in lawns during the month of May: