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Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)
Species Distribution Map: Click to enlarge
Map Color Key © 2013 BONAP

Andropogon gerardii

big bluestem or turkey foot

The king of native grasses, big bluestem has handsome gray to blue-green stems in spring, turning to green alternating with deep red in summer, then to coppery red in fall. Three-fingered seed heads top tall stems in August. Clump forming with excellent drought tolerance once established. Found naturally in moist meadows and along side roads and rivers from Canada to Mexico.

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4-8 Feet


4-5 Feet


24 Inches

Bloom Color


USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8

big bluestem Interesting Notes

Big bluestem, the "King of Grasses", is the official Illinois prairie grass. It produces better quality and greater amounts of forage than any other native American prairie grass. Cows and bison love it. Big bluestem once dominated the tall-grass prairies of North America, forming rippling waves of amber taller than a man on horseback from the Rocky Mountains to the eastern forests. But most of the prairie was plowed under so European settlers could grow corn and wheat. Remnants of the original prairie still persist in old cemeteries, along railroad tracks, between airport runways, and in a few scattered ranches, mostly owned by The Nature Conservancy or Ted Turner. Although the prairies are largely gone, big bluestem is still an important forage grass in parts of the Mississippi valley and a dominant component in prairie hay. - Floridata

Native grasses are the larval food plants of the Leonard's Skipper (Hesperia leonardus), both Andropogon gerardii and A. scoparius with needlegrass (Stipa spp.) and dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) as well as Panicum virgatum. The larvae pupate in early August probably amid plant debris like other Hesperia species. - Wisconsin DNR

Big bluestem is an iconic grass of American prairies and provides striking architecture in the meadow landscape. This robust, warm-season bunchgrass requires full sun but is quite pH adaptable. Flat, blue-green leaves create striking contrast in the landscape. Purplish, 3-part seed heads develop in the summer and early fall atop big bluestem, eventually reaching 4-8’ tall. The leaves remain of interest through the fall with a change to tawny and russet colors. Once established, an expansive fibrous root system makes this grass very drought tolerant. The rich colors of big bluestem are complemented by Schizachyrium scoparium, Rudbeckia hirtaSolidago species, Asclepias tuberosaSymphyotrichum species, and Vernonia noveboracensis. - Mt. Cuba Center

Andropogon gerardii Growing and Maintenance Tips

Very tolerant of diverse conditions, but is most often found in full sun, dry and sandy to clay soils. It grows quickly in moist, fertile soils, but is more likely to bend and fall over. Clumps can be divided in early summer, but bring a sturdy shovel!

Key Characteristics & Attributes

Full Sun
Full Sun
Part Sun
Part Sun
Drought Tolerant
Drought Tolerant
Salt Tolerance
Salt Tolerance

Additional Information

Plug Type
Landscape Plug™
Propagation Type
Open pollinated
Grass Type: Warm Season
Native to North America
Dry Sun
Moist Sun