My husband and I maintain all areas of our landscape organically, especially our lawn, because we believe it is an environmentally responsible and safer choice. Now we have a few weeds in our lawn, but we learned many are beneficial to wildlife.
Without weeds, our lawn would be a monoculture. Monocultures are not natural, promote many pests and diseases, and do not support biodiversity. I also think our weeds are pretty and provide many benefits, including nectar and pollen for pollinators, and many are host plants for butterflies. Click on the plant name below for a detailed description and photos.
- Common violets (photo above) are native to our area, and are the state flower of Illinois . They are a host plant for the Fritillary butterfly and Wooly Bear caterpillars.
- Dandelions are also edible and break up the soil with their deep tap roots. They are a nectar source for early pollinators like Queen bees and butterflies who overwinter here.
- White Dutch clover (photo on right) provides nitrogen to lawns, stays green and short all summer and has edible flowers. Both White Dutch and Red Clover are host plants for the Eastern Tail Blue and Common Blue Clouded Sulphur Butterflies. BTW: Do not confuse White Dutch clover with our native white prairie clover (Dalea candida) or the invasive tall white sweet clover (Melilotus alba), with similar names.
- Plantains are a host plant for Buckeye butterfly and commonly known Wooly Bear caterpillar ( Isabella Tiger Moth).
- Kentucky Blue grass (lawn) – host plant for Fiery Skipper Butterfly plus several other Skippers. Another reason not to use lawn pesticides.
Other non-invasive weed beneficial to butterflies and other pollinators include:
- Pellitory, a native weed often found growing in cracks and dry open shady areas. It is a host plant for the Red Admiral Butterfly. I keep a small stand of stand of these under my eaves along my house and often see the Admirals visiting.
- Frost or Hairy Aster – A native aster often considered weedy but is a host plant, along with other Aster species, of the Pearl Crescent butterfly.
- Lambs Quarters – another host plant for the Wooly Bear Caterpillar, some Skipper butterflies, and several species of moths.
- Slender Stinging Nettle and Wood Nettle – are host plants for the Red Admiral, Question Mark and Comma butterflies, and some species of moths
- Daisy Fleabane – This dainty, long-blooming native biennial grows in my lawn and gardens. It’s a good filler plant in the garden and a great plant for bees and small butterflies.
- Note: Queens Anne’s Lace and Wild Parsnip are host plants for Black Swallowtail butterfly but are invasive. Use the native Zizia species, along with parsley, fennel and dill herbs instead.
***Update: In Spring 2012, I had several hundred red admiral butterflies visit my yard during migration on a warm and calm spring day. They were mostly on my dandelions which were in full bloom at the time. It was a magical sight which I wasn’t able to capture through photos since they’d fly away when I approached. I should’ve taken some video instead. Oh well- next time. Butterflies and other wildlife need backyard habitats as they travel long distances.
I am going to be more careful about my weed pulling throughout the garden knowing a weed might be a host plant for a beneficial insect. I will continue to control my invasive plants, which are different than weeds, because of the damage they do to our native habitats.
Please do not ask me for lawn care advice because I am not a lawn care specialist. Sorry. For organic lawn care resources, read “Turf Grass Anonymous”. I do know children love to play in my native garden and find it more interesting, imaginative and educational than a lawn.