Grass Family (Poaceae : Andropogoneae)
Latin Name: Andropogon gerardii
Value: Wildlife – poor
Livestock – good
Also known as Tall Bluestem, Bluejoint, and Turkeyfoot, Big Bluestem grass, distinguishes itself as one of the Big Four native grass species in North America (the other three being Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium]). At four to eight feet tall, it tends to be the tallest among the Big Four.
Bluestem grass starts growth in July. Despite its name, the grass can have either green or blue-green leaves, which turn brown in the winter. It blooms red, blue, or brown typically some time from August to October.
Not only does this grass have minimal tolerance for concentrated grazing, but it’s also a big favorite for cattle, so it’s often only found in patches where it was once abundant. Given the right conditions where grazing is less likely to occur, however, it can still get quite aggressive. Fortunately, it currently thrives in protected areas.
Cows and horses really take a liking to this grass and it’s often used for hay due to its relatively high protein levels. It’s also being considered for biofuel production due to its high biomass.
Big Bluestem reproduces primarily by stolons. Big Bluestem seed is usually branched into three parts and resembles a turkey’s foot, hence the alternative name.
While it has adapted to many compositions of soil, the grass prefers moist soil with acid or calcareous sands, loams and clays. Despite this, it has a high tolerance for drought when its roots are allowed to grow deep into prairie soils. And like most other warm weather grasses, yields can vary considerably depending on the quality of soil, along with the amount of precipitation.
Bluestem grass is preferred for grassland restoration, especially in the central plains. It’s also used for ornamental purposes due to its visible flowers and interesting foliage, though using too much fertilizer or giving it too much water or shade can cause it to become top-heavy until it eventually falls over. Incidentally for gardeners, this grass tends to attract birds and butterflies.
Warm-season grasses like this one can generally be stocked rotationally or continuously. Just like Indiangrass, Big Bluestem matures later in the season than other grasses, making it more convenient relative to the growth of cool-season pastures.
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