Have you ever thought about converting your lawn into a wild meadow?
Here are some very powerful reasons why you could consider this:
- Native grasses and insects have co-evolved over millennia and they need each other to survive.
- A healthy insect population means a healthy bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal population.
- A meadow of native grasses frees you from relentless mowing, fertilising and applying pesticides.
- Surrounding yourself with a healthy, diverse ecosystem will push back on the loss of precious habitat and the dramatic increase in threatened species currently threatening our biodiversity.
How to Start
It’s as easy as stop mowing, fertilising and applying herbicide. Think about the grass that is there, if there is already some native grasses growing naturally then just occasionally remove the weeds such as ehrharta, bidens, pigeon grass and paspalum. This will give the native grasses a chance to outcompete the weeds.
If you do not have any native grasses growing naturally then start with a small section at a time, pull up the exotic grass (probably buffalo) and replace with a native ground cover which belongs in your area.
In my fire break on the edge of a National Park I was fortunate to have beautiful native plants growing near me. Very quickly I had a meadow of mostly native ground covers, Microlaena stipoides, Dichondra repens and Dianella caerulea.
Using the Atlas of Living Australian Explore your area I found that the Orchard Swallowtail and the Common Brown were butterflies in a 1km radius of my area.
These resources are available from Australian Butterfly Conservation and they inspired me to create a meadow.
One of the host plants of the Common Brown Butterfly is Microlaena stipoides. This means that the butterfly will lay her eggs on the Microlaena so that the larvae can feed on it.
I did a bit of research and found that the host plants for its larvae include both native and *introduced grasses including Austrostipa species (spear grasses), *Agrostis capillaris (brown-top bent), *Brachypodium distachyon (false brome), *Bromus catharticus (prairie grass), *Cynodon dactylon (couch), *Ehrharta species including *E. erecta (panic veldt grass), *E. longiflora (annual veldt grass), Imperata cylindrica (blady or kunai grass), Microlaena stipoides var. stipoides (meadow rice-grass), *Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu), Poa spp (tussock grasses). But wait ehrharta is a common weed. The problem with the weeds is they are very aggressive plants and will quickly crowd out other grasses.
Both sexes of the Common Brown start emerging in mid-spring (the males slightly earlier), the females mate and then go into hiding (aestivate), and they continue to do so until the following early autumn, some four months away. Although fertile, they remain in a non-gravid state (eggs not developed) until the early autumn. Egg development and laying then commences, with the result that young larvae are assured of a good supply of young grass shoots stimulated by mid-autumn rains. Our native butterflies and grasses have co-evolved over millennia and so it is no surprise that Microlaena seeds begin to ripen in early December and depending on soil moisture conditions will continue to do so until late April or early May with the Common Brown laying their eggs in March and the larvae are looking for grasses in April and May.
Microlaena needs to regularly re-seed itself so it needs to be left to reach maturity so that it can develop a seedhead. – which causes the grass to arch or ‘bow’ over.
Mowing the grass will interfere with the complete life cycle of the butterflies but I also found I had another compelling reason not to mow.
Microleana will grow to 70cm but our meadow doesn’t really get much more than 30cm as it is being grazed regularly. Microlaena is a great source of protein and highly digestible. That is probably why we saw quite a few wallabies feeding on it in our meadow in the middle of the night.
If you back on to National Park or any healthy bushland in the Hornsby Shire then our Local Stewardship Creates Habitat initiative is just for you. Sign up for a free information session and 5 free native plants to help you create habitat for our wildlife.