Once found in most of the continental U.S., these slender-leafed, upright, clumping native grasses formed a predominant part of old tall- and short-grass prairies. Big bluestem made waves of rippling green, sometimes nearly twice as tall as the settlers. Plant in drifts or masses; for erosion control; as airy vertical accents in flower or shrub borders; or in a natural garden with sunflowers (Helianthus), golden rod (Solidago), and coreopsis. Be sure to divide clumps every few years when centers start to die; discard the center and replant vigorous young clumps from the edge. Every year, shear dried stems to base before new growth begins in spring.
A. gerardii. BIG BLUESTEM, TURKEYFOOT. Plant has variable growth to 37 ft., sometimes reaching to 10 ft. in moist, warm soil. Clumps can spread up to 3 ft. wide. Often tall enough to make a screen or dramatic specimen in large perennial borders. Thin blades are blue-green or silvery in summer, bronze-red in fall. In late summer, smoky purple flower spikes form at stem end in sets of three, like the toes of a turkey foot; these are followed in autumn by purple seed heads. Prefers moisture throughout the growing season; though it takes drought, it grows much less vigorously in dry conditions. Tolerates a wide range of soils, including clay soils and acid or alkaline soils.
A. glomeratus. BUSHY BLUESTEM, BUSHY BROOM SEDGE. Native to marshy areas in coastal eastern U.S. To 46 ft. tall, 23 ft. wide. Leaves are bluish green; bushy white flower plumes appear in late summer or early fall. Foliage and blossoms turn coppery orange with autumn's chill; the first heavy frost usually turns the flower plumes into billowing clouds of color that last well into winter. Regular to ample water.
A. virginicus. BROOM SEDGE. Grows to 34 ft. tall when in flower and usually less than 1 ft. across. Leaves are light green in summer, changing to a showy orange in fall. Produces silvery white blossom spikes that appear in autumn. Tolerates poor, dry, clay, or rocky soil. Often colonizes abandoned farm fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas such as construction sites. Little water.