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Andropogon gerardii Vitman
Big bluestem, Turkeyfoot
Poaceae (Grass Family)
Synonym(s): Andropogon chrysocomus, Andropogon furcatus, Andropogon gerardii var. chrysocomus, Andropogon provincialis
USDA Symbol: ANGE
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
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.
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
, WY Canada: MB
, SK Native Distribution:
Que. & ME
to Sask. & e. MT,
southeast to FL,
west to AZ
and south to central Mex. 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
PropagationPropagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: Seed or root division during winter dormancy
Seed Collection: October and November
Seed Treatment: Dry stratification as well as cold-moist stratification have been recommended.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: It may be cut back, mowed, or burned in late winter. Should not be mowed during the growing season, as that could kill it. However, in areas where it gets aggressive, like the central and northern tallgrass prairie, mowing can help limit its expansion.
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Mr. Smarty Plants says
When to plant grasses on Long Island, NY
December 06, 2009
Dear Mr. Smarty Plants;
Are there any grass seeds that I can plant NOW, early December, on Long Island, NY? The planting environment is on and near a sandy bluff on a bayshore, where it can be windy ...
view the full question and answer
Plants to control hillside erosion in Vermont
May 23, 2008
Hi, I am trying to do an eagle project that involves putting vegetation onto a hill to prevent erosion. I live in Vermont. What kinds of plants would hold together a hillside and could be planted in ...
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National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
From the ArchiveWildflower Newsletter1985 VOL. 2, NO.4
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- Fall Planting Tips, Growth Provides Enthusiasm, 1985 Financial Facts, Gathering ...Wildflower Newsletter1988 VOL. 5, NO.2
- Researching Wildflower Seed Quality, Wildflower Center Receives $500 -000 Gift, ...Wildflower Newsletter1998 VOL. 15, NO.4
- Grasses from the Ground Up, Celebrating Wildflowers Hotline, Executive Director\...
Record Last Modified: 2013-10-24
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG