Big Bluestem

Common Name: Big Bluestem.

Scientific Name: Andropogon Gerardii.

What to look for?  Picture the tallgrass prairies which once covered large parts of the Midwest, including Illinois. Big Bluestem was the dominant tall grass. It features an upright culm or clump of stems with flattened leaves which change colors with the seasons. In the spring, the leaves are gray to blue green. As they mature over the summer, they turn green with red tinges. And, after the first frosts during autumn, the leaves turn reddish bronze with lavender tones. The Big Bluestem forms a conspicuous terminal seed-head in late summer above the foliage clump bearing purplish 3-parted, finger-like flower clusters. Big Bluestem is a bunchgrass where tufts of culms (stems) are produced from rhizomes.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? As you walk the path between the two Carillon Stonegate Ponds, you will find Big Bluestem growing along the edges of the path.

How big are they? Big Bluestem grows to approximately four (4) to as much as eight (8) feet tall. The flat leaves are approximately two (2) feet long and one-half inch across. Each flowering cluster is approximately four (4) inches tall.

Where do they grow and thrive? Big Bluestem is one of the native grass species that characterize the tallgrass prairies of central North America, including here in Illinois. It is native and found across much of the continental U.S. Big Bluestem is usually found in low meadows, savannas, glades, and prairies, including as a prairie component in moist grasslands.

When do they bloom? Late bloomer. The blooming period of the Big Bluestem occurs from late summer to late fall and lasts about two (2) weeks.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? The Big Bluestem foliage provides food for caterpillars of a variety of skippers, many grasshoppers, katydids, and leafhoppers. The seeds are sparingly eaten by some songbirds, including the Field Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow. The foliage is readily eaten by bison, cattle, and other livestock.

Interesting Facts About Big Bluestem:

  • The genus Andropogon derived from the Greek “andros”, meaning 'man' and “pogon”, meaning 'a beard. It applies to certain grasses that have hair on the spikelets - resembling a man's beard.

  • Cattle love Big Bluestem so much - some ranchers refer to it as ice cream for cows.

  • Before the prairies covering much of Illinois were plowed under, Big Bluestem was the dominant, iconic species of the tallgrass prairie.

For more information on the Big Bluestem and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Minnesota WildflowersU.S. Forest Service Plant of the Week and the University of Texas Wildflower Center.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!