A properly established and maintained meadow is a valuable plant community that will provide ecological services and landscape beauty for decades.
Colorful flower displays changing with the flow of seasons and alive with flitting butterflies and swooping birds, meadows are full of charm and action. They also serve us in other, less obvious ways, as builders and binders of soil, cleansers of rainwater runoff, and home base for many pollinators that are crucial for our agricultural production. Hundreds of species of wildflowers and native grasses that are attractive throughout the year are found here, and can be planted throughout our communities. This habitat type advances environmental health and requires much less time, energy, and money to maintain than equal areas of lawns. See our displays of diverse meadows near buildings and trails, which once were high-maintenance lawns. Meadows like these can be added to your town’s landscape or even your backyard, rebuilding natural heritage and ecological value.
Wildflowers give glorious color to native meadows, but they are more than just pretty faces. They grow among native warm season grasses, blocking invasion of weedy non-native species. Their root systems help control water run-off and soil erosion. They support pollinators, which are being threatened by habitat loss and pesticides. Pollinators support both native plant biodiversity and our farm crops. Farmers are encouraged to plant wildflowers as field borders to provide beneficial insects with forage and overwintering sites, and to help block agricultural chemical run-off into nearby waterways. Wildflowers are suitable for home gardens because they provide brilliant floral displays, attract birds and butterflies, and reduce the need for watering, fertilizer and pesticides.
Foxglove beardstonguePenstemon digitalis
Food web role: A nectar source for long-tongued bees such as bumblebees, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. Moth caterpillars feed on its foliage.
Flowers in: Early to mid summer.
Habitat: Fields and open woods.
Did you know? Fine purple lines on its petals are “nectar guides,” which help insects locate the nectar and pollinate the plant.
Virginia mountainmintPycnathemum virginianum
Food web role: A nectar source for bees, wasps, flies, small butterflies, and beetles.
Flowers in: Summer.Habitat: Moist meadows, open moist woods, and shady forest edges.
Did you know? The minty taste of the leaves and stems deters most mammalian herbivores and leaf-chewing insects.
Orange coneflowerOrange coneflower
Food web role: A nectar and pollen source for bees, small butterflies, flies and some beetles. Caterpillars eat the flower heads. Deer, songbirds, and rabbits eat the seeds. Groundhogs eat the foliage.
Flowers in: Late summer.Habitat: Moist woods or meadows.
Did you know? It is a wild relative of the popular black-eyed susan cultivar ‘Goldsturm.’
Butterfly weedAsclepias tuberosa
Food web role: A nectar source for bees, wasps, butterflies and hummingbirds. Monarch caterpillars and other specialist insects eat the leaves.
Flowers in: Summer.Habitat: Dry fields.
Did you know? Monarch caterpillars store the toxins of this and other milkweed plants, making them distasteful to predators.
Joe-pye weedEupatorium purpureum
Food web role: A nectar and pollen source for some bees and butterflies. Food for moth caterpillars and swamp sparrows.
Flowers in: Mid-summer to fall.Habitat: Wet meadows, stream banks, and open woods.
Did you know? Legend says Native American healer Joseph Pye treated typhus fevers with a tea made from this plant.
Native grasses grow in Northeastern meadows as well as Western prairies. Their deep roots stabilize soil, preventing erosion and reaching water even during periods of summer drought. They provide seed, cover and nesting area for birds, and food for mammals. Many grasses are “warm season” grasses, which grow in the summer, flower in late summer or fall, and go dormant for the winter. Their clumps leave open space for wildflowers to colonize, adding color to the meadow along with food and shelter for pollinators. The stiff, dried stems stay upright under snow cover, providing winter protection for birds, mammals and insects. Native grasses are planted by conservationists for ecological benefits, and by gardeners for their summer drought tolerance and lovely fall colors.
Little bluestemSchizachyrium scoparium
Food web role: Leaves eaten by skipper caterpillars, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, beetles, deer and livestock. Small mammals and birds eat the seeds.
Habitat: Meadows and woodland edges in a wide range of soils.
Did you know? Its common name reflects its summer bluegreen stems. It turns burgundy in the fall.
Broomsedge bluestemAndropogon virginicus
Food web role: Birds and mammals eat the seeds in winter, some use it for cover and nesting sites. Leaves eaten by deer and some caterpillars.
Habitat: Dry fields, open woods and forest edges. Often spreads to abandoned agricultural land.
Did you know? It provides excellent erosion control for low fertility soils.
Switch grassPanicum virgatum
Food web role: Seeds eaten by many birds; foliage eaten by skipper caterpillars, leafhoppers, muskrat, deer and livestock.
Habitat: Fields, open woods, and brackish marshes.
Did you know? Roadside salt tolerance allows this species to become dominant along roads that are rarely mown.
Bluejoint Calamagrostis canadensis
Food web role: Eaten by small mammals, waterfowl, songbirds, deer and bears. Sometimes used as hay in the Midwest.
Habitat: Marshes, wet prairies, and open woods.
Did you know? It is valuable for wetland restoration, shoreline and streambank stabilization, and drainage ditches that filter stormwater.
Purple love grassEragrostis spectabalis
Food web role: Eaten by leafhoppers, some caterpillars, deer, and livestock. Provides nesting cover for gamebirds.
Habitat: Disturbed sandy sites, fields, and open woods.
Fun fact: It is also known as tumbleweed for the seedheads that easily break off and tumble in the wind, distributing the purple seeds.