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TREES & plants

Little bluestem

Little bluestem showing fall color.

Little bluestem is a prairie grass native to Illinois.  It is shorter than many prairie grasses, growing only 2 to 4 feet tall.  It is prized for its small fluffy seed heads and good fall color. 

"This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."  

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

 

Botanical name: 
Schizachyrium scoparium (syn. Andropogon scoparius)
All Common Names: 
Little bluestem, prairie beard grass
Family (English): 
Grass
Family (Botanic): 
Poaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Grass, 
  • Perennial
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Foundation, 
  • Patio/sidewalk, 
  • Container
Size Range: 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Dry soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Other, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Upright
More Information: 

Size and Form

Little bluestem is an upright grass that grows from 2 to 4 feet tall.  It is a clumping grass.

Plant Care

Little bluestem grows in a wide range of soil types as long as they are not wet.  Tolerate of both alkaline and acid soils.  Good drought tolerance.

This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer.  It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest.
Since this grass remains attractive through winter, it should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins.  At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious pests.  May self seed, sometimes excessively.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Leaf description

The alternate leaves are 1/4 inch wide and 10 to 14 inches long.  Foliage color can be varied, with some plants being more green and other more blue-green.
Fall color can also vary from orange to bronze to reddish.  The fall color is usually very good.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in late summer into early autumn.  The tiny, green to white flowers occur on spikes.  The flowers are wind pollinated.

Fruit description

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the spikes that held the flowers.  The fruit have a fluffy appearance due to white hairs.

Cultivars and their differences 

“These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Blaze (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Blaze'):   2 to 3 feet tall with an upright form; blue-green foliage turns to red, mixed with pruple and orange; remains pinkish in winter.

Blue Heaven (Schizachyrium scoparium 'MinnBlueA'):  4 feet tall with an upright habit; steel blue leaves change to tones of burgundy, pink and orange in fall.

Carousel (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Carousel'):  compact (2 1/2 feet tall) with an upright habit; blue green foliage with purple tints; fall color is a mix of copper, pink and mahogany.

Jazz (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Jazz'):  2 to 3 feet tall with an upright habit; silvery blue foliage turns mauve purple in fall.

Prairie Blues (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Prairie Blues'): 3 feet tall with an upright habit; blue gray foliage turns red-orange in fall.

Prairie Munchkin (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Prairie Munchkin'): 2 1/2 feet tall with a narrow, columnar habit; silvery blue foliage turns maroon and orange in fall.

Standing Ovation (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation'): 3 to 4 feet tall with an upright habit; blue foliage with purple tints; fall color is red-orange and burgundy.

The Blues (Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'):  3 feet tall with an upright habit; blue foliage with red accents on stem; fall color is a mix of blue, purple and orange.

 

Schizachyrium scoparium (syn. Andropogon scoparius) or Little bluestem

We do not seem to have this in our living collection.