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ANDROPOGON gerardii

Image of Andropogon gerardii

TL

Family

Poaceae

Botanical Name

ANDROPOGON gerardii

Plant Common Name

Big Bluestem, Turkey Foot

General Description

Big bluestem is an rugged, clump-forming perennial grass that makes a dense clump of leaves and tall flower stalks topped with distinctive seedheads in autumn. Native to a vast range across North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, it has become quite rare in the western United States.

The blue-green stems and green leaves are relatively short throughout the summer, but with the onset of fall, the stems lengthen as the flowers emerge. Silvery-red or red-purple in color, the tiny flowers form a turkey foot-like raceme, three short stems branching from the tip of the main stem. Autumnal frosts and sunshine turn the entire plant rich tints of beige, bronze and red. This grass provides important cover, nesting and seeds for dozens of songbirds, including wrens, meadowlarks and sparrows. Skipper butterflies also lay their eggs on the grass's leaves.

Big bluestem needs full to partial sun and average, well-drained soil. Given moisture, it grows vigorously, but is quite drought tolerant once established. It will grow best in neutral garden soils that are on the dry side in winter. Over-watering and over-fertilizing can create very large specimens that will flop down in wind. Allow the plant to dry and remain for interest and wildlife across winter, and cut it back in very early spring before new growth starts. It would be a terrific addition to any meadow or as an accent in the mixed border among asters and mums. Or, if well watered, a soft looking screening hedge.

Consider the cultivar 'Champ' with excellent fall color, 'Pawnee' with a more arching habit, or 'Roundtree' for a taller, more strikingly vertical form.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    7 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    2 - 7

  • Sunset Zone

    1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Grass

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    4'-8' / 1.2m - 2.4m (6)

  • Width

    2'-3' / 0.6m - 0.9m

  • Bloom Time

    Late Summer, Early Fall, Fall

  • Native To

    North America, United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Southwestern United States, Texas, Canada, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Red, Purple, Violet, Silver

  • Fruit Color

    Bronze, Tan

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Blue Green, Burgundy, Bronze

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Tan, Sandy Brown

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Cutflower, Dried Flower/Everlasting, Mixed Border, Screening / Wind Break, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes