Andropogon gerardi Big Bluestem Warm Season Grass
an-dro-PO-gon   je-RAR-de

Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers Native Wild Flower Seeds and Plants

for Home Landscaping and Prairie Restoration john@easywildflowers.com 

Andropogon gerardi picture, big bluestem grass picture Habitat Bloom Period Flower Color Height Inches Moisture Plant Spacing Lifespan
Sun to 
Lt Shade 
July and August red to copper 36 to 72 Average to Moist 18 to 36 Inches Perennial

photo by cj   

For our other Native Wildflowers visit Wildflower Seed and Potted Plant Price List

 to order copy and mail the order form
OR 
email questions, comments, and orders to john@easywildflowers.com   

Big Bluestem Potted Plants are available $5.00 each plus boxing/shipping

email with your zip code and number of plants for the correct shipping cost on potted plants

Andropogon gerardi
Big Bluestem grass

approximate
number of seeds

approximate coverage
in square feet

1 packet -  $2.50 + shipping

 

 sq ft

1 ounce -  $3.50 p.l.s.

 8,000

272 sq ft

1 pound - $26.00 p.l.s.

 128,000

4,350 sq ft

Some grass seeds are very bulky
please email for shipping charges on ounce or pound quantities of grass seed.

Andropogon = Man (male, husband, bearded)
       gerardii = Named for Louis Gerard, 19th century French physician and botanist

Andropogon gerardi, Big Bluestem is a clump forming warm season native perennial grass usually growing 3 to  6 feet tall but occasionally up to 9 feet. The lower stems are a purplish or bluish color and the leaves are 1/2 inch wide and up to 20 inches long.  The arrangement of the flowers in three dense elongate clusters is the reason for the common name of turkey-foot grass.  It grows best in moist well drained soil in full sun and is a major component of the tallgrass prairie.  Native grasses are host to several Skipper butterflies.  Use Big Bluestem as an accent plant in a formal bed or in the meadow garden with Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, Blazing Stars, Asters, and Goldenrods

 Alternate Names

Bluejoint beardgrass, poptillo gigante, turkeyfoot, Andropogon chrysocomus, Andropogon furcatus, Andropogon gerardii var. chrysocomus, Andropogon hallii var. grandiflorus, Andropogon provincialis, Andropogon provincialis subvar. pycnanthus, Andropogon provincialis subvar. furcatus, Andropogon provincialis subvar. genuinus, Andropogon provincialis subvar. tennesseensis, Andropogon provincialis subvar. lindheimeri, Andropogon tennesseensis, Sorghum provinciale.

 Conservation: Big bluestem is the dominant grass species of the Midwestern tallgrass prairie.  It is mixed with other native prairie species for prairie restoration and highway revegetation.  While it does best in moist soils, it can be used for mine reclamation, logging road restoration and other restoration areas that have sandy or droughty conditions.

 Erosion control: Big bluestem is planted to stabilize soil.  Rhizomes are typically 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface, while the main roots can extend downward to 10 feet.  Big bluestem is also planted to provide aboveground protection against wind erosion.  It is used for road cuts, pipelines, detention basin slopes, and areas that need temporary cover during the restoration process.

 Ethnobotanic: Chippewa Indians used the root of big bluestem as a diuretic and to alleviate stomach pains.  Extracts of the leaf blades were used as a wash for fevers or as an analgesic.  The plants were also used to fasten the support poles of dwellings.  Moist grass was laid on hot stones to prevent steam from escaping during cooking.  It was also used to cover fruit during ripening and under fruit while drying.

Forage: Big bluestem is a high quality forage species for all classes of livestock.  Crude protein content of 16-18% is maintained from May through August but drops below 6% in September and October.  It is often cultivated as a pasture grass and for hay-making.

 Landscaping: Big bluestem is used in wildflower meadows and prairie plantings.  It is also effective as a rear border or accent in native plant gardens.

 Wildlife: Big bluestem provides shelter for nesting birds and insects.  Songbirds and prairie chickens consume the seeds while white-tailed deer and bison graze vegetative parts.

 Description - General: Grass Family (Poaceae).  Big bluestem is a perennial warm-season grass.  It can be distinguished from other warm-season grasses by blue coloration at the base of the culm and purplish, 3-parted flower clusters that resemble a turkey’s foot.  The culms are erect, up to 3 m tall, stout, and are usually covered with a blue-tinted waxy layer.  Leaf blades are flat, 15-60 cm long, 0.5-1 cm wide, smooth below and rough above.  The inflorescence is typically composed of three spike-like racemes, but can have as many as seven.  The racemes bear paired spikelets that are about 1 cm long.  Flowering takes place July through October.  The foliage changes color seasonally, and culms stay erect through the winter.

 Distribution: Big bluestem is native to the United States.  It occurs in southern Canada, from Maine to Montana, south to Florida and New Mexico and into Mexico.  For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov).

 Habitat: Big bluestem is found in open woods, prairies, meadows, along riverbanks, and roadsides.  It is especially abundant in lowland prairies, overflow sites, and sandy areas.

 Adaptation-  It is best adapted to moist, sandy or clay loams but also occurs in dry or shallow soils.  It does well in full sun or partial shade.  Prairie conditions, like low nutrient and moisture content, have conditioned big bluestem for use in well-drained soil with low fertility.  It is not tolerant of heavy clays, extremely wet bottomlands, deep sands, high salinity, or high lime.

 Big bluestem is generally shorter in the northern portion of its range, and taller in the southern portion of its range.  It is a rhizomatous, sod-forming grass in the tallgrass prairie and has a bunchgrass appearance in more arid regions.

 Establishment - Collect big bluestem seeds when the seed head no longer has a creamy center, usually in September and October.  Dry seeds in paper bags for 2 to 4 weeks.  Seeds can be stored up to 7 months at 50oF and 50% humidity.  Cold stratification (40oF, 35% humidity) may improve germination uniformity.  Fill germination trays or pots with moist soil, compacted at bottom.  Sow seeds by hand, covering with a thin layer of soil.  Keep soil evenly moist during germination and do not use fertilizer. 

 Greenhouse establishment will occur at alternating day/night temperatures (set at 75/65oF) and 12-14 daylight hours (may be extended artificially).  Transplant seedlings into plug cells.  Soil does not need to be consistently moist at this stage.  In early to late spring, move plugs to cold frame.  Seedlings are ready for outplanting when the plant and soil can be completely pulled from the pot as one unit.  Outplanting can take place from late May to early October.

 Seeds can be sown directly outside from late winter to early spring.  Emergence will occur in 4 weeks with several irrigations.  Plants will be ready for harvest in mid-summer to late fall.

 First-season growth is often slow.  Rhizomatic regeneration in following years increases the growth rate.

Management - Underground rhizomes resprout following fire disturbance.  Regeneration is slow if fire occurs during the summer (active growth stage).  Regeneration following springtime fire is much more vigorous because the rhizomes have winter-stores of carbohydrates.

Big bluestem can withstand substantial grazing.  However if it is continually grazed closer than 6 to 8 inches, it will be out competed by other grass species.  It is highly palatable to livestock during spring and summer and becomes coarse and less palatable during the fall and winter.  Hay should be mowed in early to mid-summer to maintain high nutrition quality.

 Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin)

NRCS Plants Materials Program (PMC) has released several cultivars of big bluestem.  The Bismarck, ND PMC released 'Bison' for its adaptation to northern climates.  It is used for erosion control, upland game bird cover and nesting, nature trails, rural beautifica-tion and other native plantings.  The Knox City, TX PMC released ‘Eldorado’ and ‘Earl’ cultivars for their forage potential.  Other cultivars include ‘Kaw’ (Manhattan, KS), ‘Niagara’ (Big Flats, NY), and ‘Rountree’ (Elsberry, MO).

Native Big Bluestem grass occurs naturally in upland prairies, glades, dry upland forest openings, and savannas in the eastern U.S. west to Montana and Arizona, and Mexico into Canada. Gramineae (Grass Family)

The map below shows areas where native big bluestem warm season grass grows wild, it is hardy over a much wider area if planted.  Plant in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 to 9.

Andropogon gerardii
Big Bluestem Grass

Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts

Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio

Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

State Distributional Map for Andropogon gerardii, big bluestem grass wild flower seed

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
Colorado

Use the chart below for shipping charges on flower seeds, to order copy/mail the order form
OR
 email questions, comments and orders to john@easywildflowers.com 

please email for shipping charges on ounce or pound quantities of grass seed.

Please contact us by email with your zip code and number of plants for shipping charges and availability on  potted plants

We accept payment by check, money order, and through Paypal

email for the correct shipping amount on orders containing ounce and pound quantities of grass seed

The shipping amounts below are for flower seeds and small packets of grass seed
 

subtotal for flower seeds 

shipping charge for seeds

seed orders up to  $20.00    =  

 $4.00 shipping

$20.01 - $50.00    =  

 $6.00 shipping

$50.01-$100.00    =  

 $7.50 shipping

over $100.00    =    7.5 % of subtotal

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PO Box  522
Willow Springs,  MO.  65793
USA
Phone 417-469-2611 

We accept payment by check or money order and through PayPal

e-mail questions, comments, and orders to  john@easywildflowers.com

Plant distribution map complements of USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1
  (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternate Names
Bluejoint, Bluejoint beardgrass, poptillo gigante, turkeyfoot.
Uses
Erosion control: Critical area seeding, roadside cover, and areas subject to wind erosion.
Livestock: High quality forage, with crude protein content up to 16-18% during the growing season, dropping below 6% in late summer. It is grown for pasture and hay production, singly or in mixes.
Ethnobotanic: The roots used as a diuretic and to alleviate stomach pains, leaf blade extracts used as a wash for fevers or an analgesic.
Landscaping: Used in wildflower meadows and as a border or accent in native gardens.
Pollinators: Constitutes part of the native plant community in support of pollinators.
Restoration: Used in restoration of native prairie areas and longleaf pine understory.
Wildlife: Browsed by white-tailed deer and American bison. In native mixes it provides nest, brood and escape cover for bobwhite quail. Songbirds, prairie chicken, and small mammals consume big bluestem seed.
Status
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g., threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Weediness
This plant may become weedy or invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, state natural resource, or state agriculture department regarding its status and use. Weed information is also available from the PLANTS Web site at http://plants.usda.gov. Please consult the Related Web Sites on the Plant Profile for this species for further information.
Description and Adaptation
Big bluestem is a native, perennial warm-season bunchgrass. Scaly rhizomes are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface, with the main roots extending to 10 feet. It can grow 6-8 feet tall, generally shorter in the northern range, and taller in the southern. Leaf blades range from 0.5-2 feet long. Seed heads consist of 2-6 (usually 3) blooming racemes resembling a turkey foot. Flowering can range from July-October.
The fluffy seeds are oblong, less than 0.25 inches long. It does well in full sun or partial shade. Big bluestem grows best in moist, well-drained sandy and clay loam soils. It does well in low fertility. It is a major component of the tall grass vegetation that dominated the prairies of the central and eastern United States. It is a common grass in the understory of longleaf pine communities of the southeastern U.S
Big bluestem distribution from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.
For updated distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
USDA IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROVIDER AND EMPLOYER
Establishment
Big bluestem requires a soil temperature above 50°F for germination. The optimum time to plant is usually from early May to late June. In southern states planting is recommended after frost but before dry conditions of early summer are established.
The seed is light and has small awns attached. Debearding removes the awns, producing a free-flowing product. The planting site should be free of weeds. A moist, firm seedbed is essential. Firming the soil with a roller packer before and after seeding helps to ensure that the seed is placed at the recommended seeding depth of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Packing after planting is especially important if seeded with a broadcast spreader.
If drilled for pasture conditions, use 6 to 8 pounds PLS (pure live seed) per acre. For broadcast seeding, use 10 pounds PLS per acre. The seeding rate for mixed pastures (Indiangrass, switchgrass, big bluestem and little bluestem) are 2-2.5 pounds PLS per acre. Seeding rates for other uses will normally be lower than the pasture rate. Big bluestem has strong seedling vigor, but stands develop slowly where there is competition from broadleaf weeds and cool-season grasses. To minimize the amount of exposed weed seed in seedings use no-till establishment methods. Cool season grasses must be controlled before seeding. Big bluestem is tolerant of most broadleaf herbicides.
The most common cause of failure of native warm-season grasses is a loose seedbed and improper seed placement. The seedbed should be firm, showing only a light footprint.
It is important to follow label instructions for application amounts and grazing requirements.
Management
Fertilizing with moderate amounts of phosphorus and potassium are recommended for establishment. Applications of nitrogen are not recommended until the grass is established. In the establishment year, 20 to 40 pounds per acre of phosphorus and potassium may be applied in late summer. In the second year, phosphorus and potassium may be applied in the early summer at a rate of 40 to 80 pounds per acre. When mature, fertilizer may be applied to enhance vigor for forage production and erosion control. Big bluestem used for purposes other than pasture will require minimal if any fertilization.
Properly managed and maintained stands of big bluestem should not require replanting. Poor stands can be rejuvenated using management practices, such as controlled grazing, the application of herbicides and fertilizer, and prescribed burning. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizer should be applied according to soil tests.
In rotational grazing systems, remove no more than ˝ the above ground growth (no shorter than 8 to 12 inches). With care, the stand will last indefinitely. Forage quality will remain high until the seed head emerges. Grazing should begin when grass is 18 to 20 inches in height. Overgrazing can damage the stand and should be stopped when the plants are grazed to within 8 inches of the soil level. Leaving this much stubble before frost allows the plants to store carbohydrates and ensures the production of vigorous plant growth in the spring.
Prescribed burns increase vigor in the plant and improve its ability to control erosion and increase forage production. They are essential in restoration and wildlife plantings.
Pests and Potential Problems
Armyworms can become a problem in dry years. Midges can reduce seed viability.
Environmental Concerns
Cultivars developed for forage production may dominate native big bluestem stands in natural plant communities and restoration sites.
Control
Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.
 

 

Alternate Names
Bluejoint beardgrass, poptillo gigante, turkeyfoot, Andropogon chrysocomus, Andropogon furcatus, Andropogon gerardii var. chrysocomus, Andropogon hallii var. grandiflorus, Andropogon provincialis, Andropogon tennesseensis, Sorghum provinciale.
Uses
Conservation: Big bluestem is the dominant grass species of the Midwestern tallgrass prairie. It is mixed with other native prairie species for prairie restoration and highway revegetation. While it does best in moist soils, it can be used for mine reclamation, logging road restoration and other restoration areas that have sandy or droughty conditions.
Erosion control: Big bluestem is planted to stabilize soil. Rhizomes are typically 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface, while the main roots can extend downward to 10 feet.
Big bluestem is also planted to provide aboveground protection against wind erosion. It is used for road cuts, pipelines, detention basin slopes, and areas that need temporary cover during the restoration process.
Ethnobotanic: Chippewa Indians used the root of big bluestem as a diuretic and to alleviate stomach pains. Extracts of the leaf blades were used as a wash for fevers or as an analgesic. The plants were also used to fasten the support poles of dwellings. Moist grass was laid on hot stones to prevent steam from escaping during cooking. It was also used to cover fruit during ripening and under fruit while drying.
Forage: Big bluestem is a high quality forage species for all classes of livestock. Crude protein content of 16-18% is maintained from May through August but drops below 6% in September and October. It is often cultivated as a pasture grass and for hay-making.
Landscaping: Big bluestem is used in wildflower meadows and prairie plantings. It is also effective as a rear border or accent in native plant gardens.
Wildlife: Big bluestem provides shelter for nesting birds and insects. Songbirds and prairie chickens consume the seeds while white-tailed deer and bison graze vegetative parts.
Legal Status
Please consult the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov) and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Weediness
This plant is invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, or state natural resource or agriculture department regarding its status and use.
Description
General: Grass Family (Poaceae). Big bluestem is a perennial warm-season grass. It can be distinguished from other warm-season grasses by blue coloration at the base of the culm and purplish, 3-parted flower clusters that resemble a turkey’s foot. The culms are erect, up to 3 m tall, stout, and are usually covered with a blue-tinted waxy layer. Leaf blades are flat,
J. Anderson 2002
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
15-60 cm long, 0.5-1 cm wide, smooth below and rough above. The inflorescence is typically composed of three spike-like racemes, but can have as many as seven. The racemes bear paired spikelets that are about 1 cm long. Flowering takes place July through October. The foliage changes color seasonally, and culms stay erect through the winter.
Distribution: Big bluestem is native to the United States. It occurs in southern Canada, from Maine to Montana, south to Florida and New Mexico and into Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov).
Habitat: Big bluestem is found in open woods, prairies, meadows, along riverbanks, and roadsides. It is especially abundant in lowland prairies, overflow sites, and sandy areas.
Adaptation
The USDA hardiness zones for big bluestem are 4 to 9. It is best adapted to moist, sandy or clay loams but also occurs in dry or shallow soils. It does well in full sun or partial shade. Prairie conditions, like low nutrient and moisture content, have conditioned big bluestem for use in well-drained soil with low fertility. It is not tolerant of heavy clays, extremely wet bottomlands, deep sands, high salinity, or high lime.
Big bluestem is generally shorter in the northern portion of its range, and taller in the southern portion of its range. It is a rhizomatous, sod-forming grass in the tallgrass prairie and has a bunchgrass appearance in more arid regions.
Establishment
Collect big bluestem seeds when the seed head no longer has a creamy center, usually in September and October. Dry seeds in paper bags for 2 to 4 weeks. Seeds can be stored up to 7 months at 50oF and 50% humidity. Cold stratification (40oF, 35% humidity) may improve germination uniformity. Fill germination trays or pots with moist soil, compacted at bottom. Sow seeds by hand, covering with a thin layer of soil. Keep soil evenly moist during germination and do not use fertilizer.
Greenhouse establishment will occur at alternating day/night temperatures (set at 75/65oF) and 12-14 daylight hours (may be extended artificially). Transplant seedlings into plug cells. Soil does not need to be consistently moist at this stage. In early to late spring, move plugs to cold frame. Seedlings are ready for outplanting when the plant and soil can be completely pulled from the pot as one unit. Outplanting can take place from late May to early October.
Seeds can be sown directly outside from late winter to early spring. Emergence will occur in 4 weeks with several irrigations. Plants will be ready for harvest in mid-summer to late fall.
First-season growth is often slow. Rhizomatic regeneration in following years increases the growth rate.
Management
Underground rhizomes resprout following fire disturbance. Regeneration is slow if fire occurs during the summer (active growth stage). Regeneration following springtime fire is much more vigorous because the rhizomes have winter-stores of carbohydrates.
Big bluestem can withstand substantial grazing. However if it is continually grazed closer than 6 to 8 inches, it will be out competed by other grass species. It is highly palatable to livestock during spring and summer and becomes coarse and less palatable during the fall and winter. Hay should be mowed in early to mid-summer to maintain high nutrition quality.
Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin)
NRCS Plants Materials Program (PMC) has released several cultivars of big bluestem. The Bismarck, ND PMC released 'Bison' for its adaptation to northern climates. It is used for erosion control, upland game bird cover and nesting, nature trails, rural beautifica-tion and other native plantings. The Knox City, TX PMC released ‘Eldorado’ and ‘Earl’ cultivars for their forage potential. Other cultivars include ‘Kaw’ (Manhattan, KS), ‘Niagara’ (Big Flats, NY), and ‘Rountree’ (Elsberry, MO).
Control
Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method.
References
Anderson, J. 2002. USDA-NRCS