Chapter 2. Benefits of Native Grasses

2.4 Nativars

Potential Indiangrass nativars planted for trials at the MN Landscape Arboretum.
Potential Indiangrass nativars planted for trials at
the MN Landscape Arboretum.

A is a plant that has been produced from human selection or breeding. A is a cultivar of a native plant. Most native grass cultivars are nativars that have been selected from the wild and not bred in cultivation for many generations.

Because they are propagated vegetatively, nativars are clones of each other. This ensures they have consistent size, shape, and color, but means they lack genetic variability. Plants grown from seed, however, have great , as each seed is distinct and will produce a plant with different characteristics. This means that, appearance will vary between plants. While this is not optimal for a garden design, it is good for restorations. Plants grown from native seed will be better adapted to exist in native plant communities. For this reason, nativars are not equivalent ecological substitutes for plants grown from native seed and are not recommended for restorations (White 2016).

However, native grass nativars provide many of the same benefits that grasses grown from seed provide. They both add organic matter to the soil, require few inputs, and require little maintenance. Benefits provided to wildlife are situational and nativar-specific, and have not been thoroughly studied yet. A study that looked at how well wildflower nativars attracted pollinators compared to the same species grown from seed found that plants grown from native seed outperformed their nativar counterparts more often, but sometimes no differences were found (White 2016). For one species, the nativar attracted more pollinators than the plant grown from seed. This demonstrates the need to evaluate nativars on an individual basis for the benefits they provide. In general, the farther removed a nativar is from the original plant, the less likely it will be to provide the same benefits (White 2016).

Blue HeavenTM in fall color.

Many native grass nativars are not far removed from their original species. For example, Blue HeavenTM is a nativar of little bluestem that was selected from a population of seed collected from Benton County, Minnesota. Blue HeavenTM was not bred with specific parents or used in a breeding program. It is simply a plant that was grown along with several other hundred little bluestem and literally ‘stood out in a huge field planting’ as a distinctively tall and darker colored little bluestem. All of the Blue HeavenTM plants have originated from this one original plant. Seed that comes from Blue HeavenTM will of course be little bluestem, but may not look exactly the same as the parent plant.

Venn digram describing the differences of grasses grown from native seeds vs. grasses grown from cultivars/nativars.


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Gardening with Native Grasses in Cold Climates by Diane M. Narem and Mary Hockenberry Meyer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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