Big bluestem, Tall bluestem, Turkeyfoot
Poaceae (Grass Family)
Big Bluestem is a warm season, perennial
bunchgrass with blue-green stems 4-8 ft. tall. The seedhead is usually branched into three parts and resembles a turkey’s foot. Fall color is maroonish-tan.
Big Bluestem is the star component of the Big Four native
grass species that characterize the tallgrass prairies of central North America (the other three are Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans
], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum
], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium
]). It tends to be taller than the other species and was at one time very abundant. It can still get quite aggressive when its established in a favorable, undisturbed location, but overgrazing and land destruction have reduced it to mere patches of its former range. Part of the problem is that cattle love it so much - some ranchers refer to it as ice cream for cows - and it cannot take concentrated grazing; the seasonal grazing of migratory bison is what its evolved to cope with.
Image Gallery: 52 photo(s) available
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Grass/Grass-like Root Type: Fibrous Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Complexity: Simple Leaf Venation: Parallel Inflorescence:
Spikelet Fruit Type: Caryopsis Size Notes:
4-8 feet tall. Leaf:
Green or blue-green. Russet in winter. Autumn Foliage:
Fruit: Size Class:
3-6 ft. , 6-12 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Blue , Brown
Bloom Time: Aug , Sep , Oct , Nov
, DC Canada: MB
, SK Native Distribution:
Que. & ME
to Sask. & e. MT,
southeast to FL,
west to AZ
and south through Mexico to Costa Rica Native Habitat:
Usually in low meadows and prairies, rare in extreme west. Most abundant in the central plains but also a prairie component in moist grasslands all the way to the east coast.
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Drought Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Acid or calcareous sands, loams, and clays.
Conditions Comments: Big Bluestem needs more moisture to look its best than does Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), but it is quite drought-tolerant when in deep prairie soils because of its deep roots. If used in a garden, too much water, shade, or fertilizer can cause it to get top-heavy and fall over. It is moderately tolerant of acidity and salinity and can withstand periodic flooding and high water tables.
BenefitUse Ornamental: An essential grass for grassland restoration and prairie gardens in the central plains. Large stature, blue-green foliage, and interesting flowering heads.
Use Wildlife: Provides cover for at least 24 species of songbirds and nesting sites or seeds for Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, and other sparrows, as well as nesting sites for Sedge Wrens and Western Meadowlarks.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Delaware Skipper, Dusted Skipper
Deer Resistant: High
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for: