Big Bluestem

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big bluestem grass

Scientific name

Andropogon gerardii Vitman


Big Bluestem is a native warm-season, rhizomatous, perennial bunchgrass. It is a tall grass with short scaly underground stems and a strong, deep root system. Big Bluestem begins growth in late April, and stalks 4 to 6 feet tall appear from late August to October. Big Bluestem grows in large clumps, is extremely leafy, and can be found growing on most all the better soils in the true prairie belt. The stem is round and has a reddish tint. The seed head forms three finger-like branches, giving it the shape of a turkey's foot. Big Bluestem produces a high quality, palatable hay when cut before it becomes stemmy and the seed head forms. It also provides for a highly palatable and nutritious pasture, but should not be grazed closer than 6 to 8 inches during the growing season. The seed head matures in late September and October. Big Bluestem can be seeded alone or in mixtures with other tall and mid height grasses.     

Taxonomy of Big Bluestem

Kingdom Plantae
Subkingdom Tracheobionta
Superdivision Spermatophyta
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Lillosida
Subclass Commelinidae
Order Poaceae
Family Cyperales
Genus Andropogon
Species Andropogon gerardii Vitman

Plant Characteristics of Big Bluestem

 Height  48 to 72 inches
 Growth habit     bunchgrass
 Bloom period mid to late summer
 Sun requirement  full sun
 Leaf foilage color green
 Seeds per pound 165,000
 Minimum soil temperature for germination 50 to 55 FÂș
 Soil pH range  6.0 to 7.5
 Planting Rate 7 to 12 PLS lbs/acre
 Planting Depth 1/4 to 1/2 inch
 Planting season March to May

Uses of Big Bluestem

Erosion Control

Big bluestem is an excellent choice for soil conservation applications.  It is generally planted as a component with various other warm season grasses such as indiangrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem.


Big bluestem is highly palatable to many species of livestock.  Its preference over other species of grasses can lead to selective grazing and the decrease in population relative to these other species.


Many mammals and upland birds use it for nesting and escape cover in late summer and winter. Big bluestem resists lodging and provides excellent spring nesting habitat for birds.


Big bluestem is commonly planted in urban and rural landscapes as a low-maintenance species for accent plants and well as in large groups.  The early dark green color, uniquely attractive seed head, and late season reddish color provide for a year around attractive display.

Commercially Available Cultivars of Big Bluestem

'Kaw' (southern type, KS southward)

'Pawnee' (northern type, NE northward)

'Rountree' (northern type, NE northward)

Native ecotypes

Big Bluestem Seedling and Growth Guide

8 days after planting

18 days after planting                                                                 28 days after planting

34 days after planting                                                                     65 days after planting