Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem Plant Information

Big Bluestem grows in the following 44 states:

Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

Andropogon gerardii, known commonly as big bluestem, turkeyfoot,tall bluestem, and bluejoint, is a tall grass (family Poaceae) native to much of the Great Plains and prairie regions of central North America and grasslands, savannas and woodlands throughout eastern North America.

This species is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. Depending on soil and moisture conditions, it grows to a height of 1-3 metres (3.3-9.8ft). Big bluestem is a perennial bunchgrass. The stem base turns blue or purple as it matures. The seed heads have three spike-like projections. The roots are deep, and the plants send out strong, tough rhizomes, so it forms very strong sod. It blooms in the summer and seeds into the fall.
Big bluestem is a mid-successional grass in prairie ecosystems. It grows in tall, dense stands that shade out other plant species. The stands grow until disturbance interrupts their spread. It is shade intolerant, but typically regrows after wildfire.
The grass and its variants are good forage for horses and cattle, and can also be cut and used for hay. The grass is high in protein. While not considered the highest quality native forage found in the United States, it has long been considered a desirable and ecologically important grass by cattle ranchers and rangeland ecologists.
It is cultivated by specialty plant nurseries for its drought tolerance and native status. It is often grown for wildlife gardens, natural landscaping, and grassland habitat restoration projects.
Due to its high biomass, big bluestem is being considered as a potential feedstock for ethanol production.
Andropogon gerardi is the state grass of Illinois and Missouri and the official prairie grass of Manitoba.
USDA GRIN rejects the spelling gerardii and provides reasoning for gerardi as being the correct spelling for the specific epithet of this taxon.
Everitt, J.H., Drawe, D.L., Little, C.R., and Lonard, R.I. 2011. Grasses of South Texas. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, Texas. 336 pp. (ISBN 978-0-89672-668-0)

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