Valuable Native Weeds That Attract Wildlife

It is too bad that some of our native wildflowers are called weeds. These valuable weeds can remain mixed with your lawn or replace it entirely to benefit wildlife.

The two most colorful weeds that can take foot traffic and need mowing only once every few weeks include the powder puff mimosa, and fogfruit. Both can replace lawn entirely if you wish. Powder puff has feathery leaves that close when touched, a pink flower and it doesn’t climb. It is just three inches tall, is very drought tolerant and is the larval food of the little yellow butterfly.

Fogfruit, or creeping Charlie, is low also, and has small leaves with round heads of white and pink flowers on a short stalk. This is a larval food for the white peacock and phaon crescent butterflies. Lay down mulch after killing the grass and sprig one or both of these plants every square foot for a colorful, low maintenance groundcover. Water them only to establish and during extreme drought if needed.

Several other valuable weeds can remain in your lawn and will tolerate mowing. The corky passionvine is the larval food for three butterflies including the zebra-longwing, Julia and gulf fritillary. Southern pencilflower has small yellow flowers and is the larval food for the barred yellow sulfur butterfly. The several species of cudweed should stay on the sidelines where they won’t get stepped on. They have silvery foliage and flowers which the American lady butterfly will lay her eggs on.

During the winter you will see many Virginia peppergrass plants in your lawn. This is the larval food for the great southern white butterfly which can become very numerous some years, yet does no harm. The young foliage is tasty in salads, adding a sharp mustard flavor similar to arugula. Even grasses are the larval food for various skipper butterflies. Try some of our ornamental grasses like fakahatchee, basket, love grass, native foxtail, little bluestem, witchgrass, lopsided indiangrass, or broom sedge. Basket grass loves shade and grows as a three inch tall mat. Even silky aster makes a nice grass replacement and has little yellow flowers on a foot tall stalk.

You may enjoy the book, Florida Butterfly Caterpillars And Their Host Plants by Marc Minno, Jerry Butler and Donald Hall-University Press of Florida. There are lots of pictures and lists of hosts in an easy format.

You will be surprised by the numbers of butterflies and birds that will make a home in your yard as you increase the diversity of plants. Even “weeds” in your lawn are important food sources.

Don’t forget that birds, like the wood warblers, migrate to South America in the fall. The October cold front will send them south in a hurry, so get out your binoculars and be ready for a great show as they stop and feed in your yard. The hummingbirds arrive in mid September and the buntings follow soon after. Some of these two will stay the winter.

With plenty of seeds forming on your native lawn, the birds will have plenty to eat whether it is the seeds themselves, the insects that feed on the seeds or the spiders that feed on the insects.