Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii

Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

Sun Shade:
Bloom Time: Late Summer/Early Fall
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Dry, Moist
Color: Bronze
Fragrance: No
Height: 5 - 8 feet
Spacing: 2 feet


Big Bluestem Grass (Andropogon gerardii) or Turkeyfoot Grass is a tall perennial, warm season grass that was the dominant grass of the tallgrass prairie. It may be grown as an ornamental grass because of its attractive foliage which changes color seasonally, its good architectural height and its interesting flower/seed heads. It features an upright clump of stems with flattened leaves (to 2 feet long and 3/8 inches wide) which emerge gray to blue green in spring, mature to green with red tinges in summer and turn reddish bronze with lavender tones in autumn after frost. Flowering stems rise in late summer above the foliage clump bearing purplish 3-parted, finger-like flower clusters (to 4 inches long) purportedly resembling turkey feet. Flowering stems bring total height of this grass to 4-8 feet tall (typically at the taller end in moist soils and the shorter end in dry soils). The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous. Big Bluestem is a bunchgrass as tight tufts of culms are produced from these rhizomes.

Habitats include black soil prairies, clay prairies, gravel prairies, dolomite prairies, sand prairies, hill prairies, savannas, sandy savannas, grassy fens, limestone and sandstone glades, roadsides, and fallow fields. Big Bluestem is often used in prairie restorations and it is occasionally used as an ornamental grass in horticulture. It tolerates occasional wildfires, but not heavy grazing.

Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerant of a wide range of soils and growing conditions. Puts out lots of growth in moist, fertile soils, but is less apt to topple in dryish, infertile soils. This grass develops an extensive root system and is somewhat slow to establish, but, once established, has excellent drought tolerance and is easy to maintain.

Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  Good grass for erosion control.
  The seeds are eaten sparingly by songbirds.
  Freely self-seeds in optimum growing conditions.
  Cut stems to the ground in late winter before new shoots appear.
Further Information

 Wisconsin Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Edible Berry Shrubs
 Widsconsin Edible Plants-Eat On The Wild Side
 8 Dandelion Recipes
 Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries