FAQ: How do we choose native species for our grass waterway?


How do we choose native species for our grass waterway?

This is a question we’ve discussed in the STRIPS team but we don’t have data to answer. A prairie specialist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pauline Drobney, suggests that the following list of species might perform well in grass waterways. These species protect soils but do not impede water. We recommend planting at least two or more species to ensure against unforeseen circumstances (e.g., drought, disease). We hope we can test these species for performance.

  • Dropseed (Sporobolus asper) - A grass that is readily available from seed dealers and establishes easily. It forms a clonal mat and grass should lay down nicely, though flowering stalks are stiff, probably in a similar way that brome flowering stalks are stiff. The roots hold soil well.

  • Muhly (Muhlenbergia spp.) - This genus offers multiple species that could be excellent candidates for waterways.

  • Nimblewill (M. shreberi) could be especially good as it grows easily and is definitely a soft "flowy" grass that would really lend itself to this application. It is durable, tolerates mesic, dry-mesic or wet conditions, and sun or part shade, and can co-exist with Kentucky bluegrass. It withstands drought. Eilers and Roosa (The Vascular Plants of Iowa) list this as frequent in the southeastern two-thirds of Iowa.

  • Marsh muhly (M. racemosa) is listed as "frequent to common throughout" Iowa (Eilers and Roosa), and is a pretty agreeable plant too. It is a bit coarser than nimblewill, but would likely do well in this application too.

  • Side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) – This could be a good species for this application. It tends to clone and would likely lie down with rain, though it might have more flowering stalks and perhaps be stiffer than others; but maybe not. Some people use this species for lawns, and if mowed, apparently it forms a kind of soft ground cover.

  • Panic grasses (Dichanthelium spp.) could be very good for this application as they are typically shorter and can form mats. This genus is not very available from seed producers, however.

  • Several species of sedge (Carex spp.) would be excellent for this as well.

  • There might be some wildflower species that could fit the bill as well, but we don’t usually think about forbs in these situations. It might be fun to try!

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