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.
big bluestem, turkeyfoot
- Plant has variable growth to 37 feet., sometimes reaching to 10 feet in moist, warm soil.
- Clumps can spread up to 3 feet 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.
bushy bluestem, bushy broom sedge
- Native to marshy areas in coastal eastern U.S. To 46 feet tall, 23 feet 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.
- Grows to 34 feet tall when in flower and usually less than 1 feet 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.