(Andropogon scoparius or Schizachyrium
Habitat: Little Bluestem is a characteristic prairie species,
but in Michigan it is more often seen spreading along roadsides and railroad
tracks, on jack pine plains, sand dunes, shores, and in sandy old fields. It
has been located in several Michigan counties.
Description: Little Bluestem is a native warm-season perennial
grass. Growth begins in early April, with seed stalks from 2 to 4 feet tall
appearing from late August to October. It can be identified by its flat,
bluish-colored basal shoots and leaf blades, which tend to fold. Summer leaf
coloration ranges through a variety of blue and green hues, with bronze-red to
orange leaves topped by fluffy, silvery-white seed heads in fall.
and Cultivation: Little Bluestem is easily propagated from seed or by
division. To produce transplants, sow seed 1/4 inch deep in summer (late June
to early July) or divide mature plants in spring or fall. The older the plant,
the more difficult it is to divide because of a dense root system which extends
56 feet. On permanent sites, sow unstratified seed in fall, stratified
seed in spring, or use transplants in fall or spring This easy-care, tough, and
drought-tolerant grass grows on medium and dry soils. Since it is a bunch
grass, little Bluestem does not spread by runners but will produce seedlings in
the spring, which may be weeded out to contain its spread.
Related Species: There are only three grasses from the
Andropogon genus native to Michigan, although there are at least seven of this
genus native to the U.S. The scientific name, Andropogon, is from two Greek
words: Aner (andr-), meaning man, and pogon, meaning beard. Thus the bluestems
are often referred to as beardgrass. Most grasses have hollow
stems, but the bluestems have pithy stems like corn.
Broomsedge, Andropogon virginicus, looks very much like Little
Bluestem in the summer but has a less fine appearance in the fall and a soft,
golden-tan color. It has a coarse, shallow-feeding root system and may often be
pulled up by hand. According to Edward Vosss Michigan Flora Part 1, it is
much less common in Michigan than the other bluestems. Farmers consider it a
poor range plant, and it is not relished by livestock. In areas where it is
common, it is one of the first perennials to move into old sandy fields, and if
undisturbed, may form a solid, pure stand.
other bluestem is Big Bluestem, or Turkey Foot. It is found in areas similar to
Little Bluestem habitats, but also in oak woods and on bog borders, so it will
take a little shade and moist soil conditions. It is quite a bit larger than
Little Bluestem and will grow 38 feet, with roots extending 67
feet! A common component of the tallgrass prairie and an aggressive plant, Big
Bluestem will even bear seed the first year under favorable conditions. It
develops a beautiful reddish-brown and blue, turkey-foot-shaped flower head in
late summer and is considered a high-quality forage grass for livestock and
excellent nesting cover. This grass is even more widely distributed in Michigan
counties than Little Bluestem.
Landscape Uses: Grasses provide habitat needs in rural areas or large yards
for many ground-nesting birds like pheasants, mallards, blue-winged teal,
meadowlarks, dickcissels, bobolinks, and vesper sparrows. This habitat also
provides hunting sites for red foxes, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, northern
harriers, short-eared owls, coyotes, long-tailed weasels, and striped
Bluestem is native in all states except California, Washington, Oregon, and
Nevada. At one time it was the most abundant grass in the midlands of America.
It provides nutritious grazing for livestock during the growing season and has
been used for hay since the first days of settlement. Cattle were for many
years shipped from the south and southwest to fatten on the Little Bluestem
ranges in the Kansas Flint Hills and the Osage Hills of Oklahoma.
Planting Design Combinations: Little Bluestem is very useful
in garden borders as well as in large plantings because it is relatively short
and mixes well with mid-height perennials. Lovely as a fine, blue-hued
complement to summer wildflowers, it is spectacular in the fall with goldenrods
and asters. Even on into the winter, its warm russet tones against evergreens,
snow, or the dark grey bark of trees enrich the landscape with a subtle beauty.
Article reprinted from the
Summer 2000 issue of the
Flint Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 2000 Wild OnesNatural Landscapers,
photos of Little Bluestem, see the following web sites: