By KATHLEEN LAVEY
LANSING — Waves of big bluestem grass ripple in the breeze, about 5 feet tall, some bearing tiny, dangling flowers.
Higher yet, the brilliant yellow blossoms of prairie dock nod along 6-foot stems with rough, pale-green leaves.
Closer to the ground, the small, colorful asters wink from spiky foliage, just beginning their blooming season.
The plants growing in fields at the Michigan Wildflower Farm near Portland, northwest of Lansing, are natives that thrived in the state before the landscape was clogged with imports. They're likely to thrive well into the future, and they provide homes and food for the state's native animals.
"Versus mowed grass, it helps us reduce our carbon footprint, uses less energy and less water to maintain," said Mark Sargent, private lands program manager for the wildlife division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Sargent said incentive programs help people who plan to convert 10 or more acres of erodible or less productive farmland into native prairie. Other programs promote various types of native landscapes including savanna, or prairies with scattered trees; barrens, or sandy areas with pines, and wetland fens.
"Some native species can be used for shade, windbreaks, buffer strips to attract different species of butterflies," he said. "More and more of the plant nurseries are providing native plants and identifying them. We're seeing so many commercial enterprises and landscapers and growers looking at native landscapes as an alternative."
At the Michigan Wildflower Farm, Esther Durnwald grows many native flowers — and then harvests their seeds to sell so others can create native landscapes.