South Dakota Native Plant Research
Poaceae: Andropogon gerardii

Poaceae: Andropogon gerardii


Download Seed: Spikelet of big bluestem is around 1.5 mm in length. (51 KB)

Download Seedling: Big bluestem two months after germination. (970 KB)

Download Vegetative: Ligule of big bluestem. (4.0 MB)

Download Fruiting (2.3 MB)

Family Name


Common Name

Big bluestem

Native American Name

Lakota: pȟeží šašá ókhih


Andropogon gerardii is a perennial warm season bunch grass. Mature plants have a well-developed fibrous root system 2-3 m deep, sending out short rhizomes, forming large dense bunches. The stems grow 1-3 m tall and become purplish toward the base. which grows 5 dm to 20 dm in height. These culms are solid and grooved on one side. The leaves have prominent midribs but are not keeled, many at the base of the plant and a few coming from the culm. The ligule is a fringed membrane 0.4-2.5 mm long. The inflorescence is a raceme of 3 (2-6) narrow racemes alternately arranged along the top of the stem, often looking like a turkey foot. Each raceme contains many pairs of spikelets, each pair having a stalked spikelet with another stalkless spikelet at the base of the stalk. The stalkless spikelet usually has a fertile, perfect floret with an awn, and the stalked spikelet is sterile or has a staminate flower that is awnless. This species is commonly found in pastures, along roadsides, and in open prairies. Big bluestem has green rust-red flowers that bloom from July to October.

Additional Notes

Big bluestem is a beautiful addition to the garden. Its blue-green color and distinctive inflorescence makes it esthetically pleasing. It provides nesting sites and material for many songbird species.

Horticulture Notes

Seed Collection: Collect seed in late summer (Aug.-Sept.)
Germination: Does not require cold stratification
Vegetative Propagation: Large bunches can be divided and transplanted in the early spring.

Soils: Grow in a variety of soils, but best on silt and clay

Light: Full sun
Water:Grows most beautifully in moist soils but is drought tolerant.

Poaceae: Andropogon gerardii