Monday, July 26, 2010

Native Plant of the Week: Big Bluestem ~ Andropogon gerardii


Other Common Names: Turkey Foot, Bluejoint

Big Bluestem is a staple in tall grass prairies. It is one of the tallest prairie grasses reaching heights up to 10 feet. It also has an extensive and deep root system which helps stabilize and enrich soils.

An extensive Big Bluestem biomass study was conducted in Minnesota, North and South Dakota. Read the study.

Big Bluestem is a very attractive narrow upright grass with showy seed heads that look like an upside down turkey foot (another common name for this grass). The stems alternate from a rosy pink to light blue-green between the nodes. The blades turn a brilliant orange in early fall.

Agriculturally, it is a grass that can be grazed by livestock in the spring and early summer so it was used by early farm settlers for pasturing. Later in the summer when it sends up seed stalks it becomes too woody for foraging.

According to Russel R. Kirt in his book Prairie Plants of the Midwest: Identification and Ecology, several Skipper Butterfly larvae feed on Big Bluestem including the Dusted, Ottoe and Beard-Grass skippers.

This photo is of a tall grass restoration in a Minnetonka, MN park which is dominated by Big Bluestem. It shows the beautiful fall color of the grass.

It is native to most of North America except for the western and northern states, provinces and territories. See map.

For more information on Big Bluestem, and to find out whether it is suitable for your area: USDA Plant Guide.