Schizachyrium scoparium, commonly known as little bluestem or beard grass, is a North American prairie grass native to most of the United States, except California, Nevada, and Oregon, and a small area north of the Canada-US border. Its greatest manifestation has always been in the Midwestern prairies. Little bluestem is a perennial bunchgrass and is prominent in tallgrass prairie, along with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). It is a warm-season species, meaning it employs the C4 photosynthetic pathway.[clarification needed]
Little bluestem grows to become an upright, roundish mound of soft, bluish-green or grayish green blades in May and June that is about two or three feet high. In July it starts to send up its flowering stalks until it gets to be about four to five feet high. In fall, it displays a good coppery or mostly orange color with tints of red or purple. Sometimes it displays in some places, as in sandy soils, a more red fall color. In winter it becomes a more orangish-bronze until it becomes more tan in early spring.
It is recommended for USDA zones 3 to 10.
The plant grows best in full sun and a well-drained soil. It can be dug up and divided in spring as many other perennials for propagation or to reduce the size of an old big plant. It can be burned in late winter or early spring in a prairie or meadow before new growth like many American prairie grasses as big bluestem, indian-grass, and switchgrass, and they all burn quickly and cleanly.
A number of cultivars have been developed. 'Carousel' is a compact form with especially good fall color developed by Chicagoland Grows. 'The Blues' is a selection that has bluer foliage than the mother species. 'Standing ovation' is a tight, upright form with bluer and thicker blades and sturdier stems than the mother species.
One variety, var. littorale, is native to the eastern and southern coastal strip of the United States, as well as the shores of the Great Lakes. It is adapted to sand dune habitat. It is sometimes considered a separate species, S. littorale.
Little bluestem is the official state grass of Nebraska and Kansas.