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3.1: Big bluestem

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    ‘Dancing Wind’ big bluestem
    ‘Dancing Wind’ big bluestem

    Andropogon gerardii

    Warm season; Perennial

    Characteristics: 4–8’; upright open; flowers purple; foliage blue-green; fall color

    Growing Conditions: average to wet soils; full sun; hardy zones 3–8

    Big bluestem is one of the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie. An upright bunch grass, the foliage changes color from blue-green to rich bronze in the fall. The inflorescence is 3-branched and is commonly said to resemble a turkey foot. Each branch has a purple spike that turns bronze in the fall.


    • ‘Blackhawks’: Foliage is darker purple than other nativars. Foliage starts dark green and takes on purple tones by midsummer, turning completely dark purple by fall. Can be susceptible to rust.
    • ‘Dancing Wind’: Reddish copper stems and flowers, turns purple and dark red in the fall.
    • ‘Indian Warrior’: Dark purple foliage and flowers, becomes open spreading with age.
    • ‘Rain Dance’: Foliage and flowers are purple with red tips. Foliage becomes maroon in the fall.
    • ‘Red October’: Red foliage in summer and fall

    Associated Lepidoptera:

    Species that feed on big bluestem according to the literature are Oslar’s roadside skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari), Delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan), Arogos skipper (Atrytone arogos), dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna), wheat head armyworm (Faronta diffusa), Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae), cobweb skipper (Hesperia metea), Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe), Indian skipper (Hesperia sassacus), Newman’s borer (Meropleon ambifusca), and byssus skipper (Problema byssus).

    Big bluestem nativars: ‘Lord Snowden’ and ‘Red October’
    Big bluestem nativars: ‘Lord Snowden’ and ‘Red October’
    ‘Indian Warrior’ seedheads
    ‘Indian Warrior’ seedheads

    This page titled 3.1: Big bluestem is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diane M. Narem and Mary Hockenberry Meyer (Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.