Native grasses act as host plants, providing food and shelter, for numerous Lepidoptera species during their larval stage. As grassland habitat decreases because of conversion to agriculture and urban areas, prairie specialist butterflies and moths have also declined. Addition of native species to urban and agriculture landscapes has been shown to benefit Lepidoptera communities in various ways. Native grasses have grown in popularity as a landscaping plant due to their low nutrient requirements, drought tolerance, and soil stabilization properties. However, the benefits of native grasses to Lepidoptera are not well known to many entomologists or horticulturists, let alone the average consumer. We reviewed the literature that identified native prairie graminoids as host plants for native Lepidoptera in Minnesota, especially plants widely available in the horticultural trade that could be planted for restoration or landscaping purposes. The context of the Lepidoptera and host plant associations found in the literature are described. In total, we found 36 Lepidoptera species that used 17 prairie graminoids as host plants cited in the literature. Three native grasses, Schizachyrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash, Andropogon gerardii Vitman and Panicum virgatum L. and were found to be used by the most Lepidoptera species, 11, 9, and 8, respectively. Most likely there are additional moth species that use these grasses as host plants because butterfly species tend to be better documented than moth species. The specific larval habits and host plant species were unknown for many species of moths that feed or are suspected to feed on graminoids, showing the need for further research in this area. This information can assist horticulturalists, ecologists, landscape planners, land managers, and homeowners in their decisions to buy and plant native grass species. In general, this knowledge provides increased awareness about the larval life stage of butterflies and moths to concerned citizens and green industry and further supports the importance of conserving native prairie to support and maintain Lepidoptera species.
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