Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Angiosperm

Class: Monocot

Order: Poales

Family: Poaceae

Genus: Schizachyrium

Species: scoparium

Where in the OLL?

Found in the botanical garden and meadow slope in the OLL. It is usually found on a dry upland, including hills and slopes. Some benefits this plant provides to the area are it can be used to restore prairies due to its ability to easily adapt to a number of conditions. It also is used to attract wildlife, along with it being pretty drought tolerant. Its fibrous roots help stabilize soil and prevent erosion. It add color and interest to the landscape: blue stems in the spring, and red leaves and stems in the fall.

Plant growth form

  • Perennial Herb
  • Roots survive the winter while the rest of the plant stays dormant.
  • 1-3 feet tall. Width varies depending on height. Flowering stems may reach 5 feet or higher.
  • Leaf arrangement: Alternate
  • Shape: Long, thin blades with parallel veins.

Flowers, fruits & pollinators

  • Flowers occurs in an inflorescence (cluster) called a spike that is 1-3 in. long. This is a very common flower type.
  • Color – Purplish, sometimes brownish.
  • Flowering season – August-September. 2 months. Late summer to early autumn
  • Floral Arrangement – Perfect, meaning that they contain both pollen-producing and seed parts.
  • Flowers have one ovary with two fringed stigmas designed to catch pollen.
  • Flowers have three stamens with dangling anthers where pollen will be produced and then released in the wind.

Ideal location, conditions & cultural needs

  • Ideal conditions are a minimum of 6 hours of sun per day
  • Little bluestem likes average to dry conditions. It will grow in sandy soil and any type of loam. It is commonly found on roadsides, prairies, and dunes. It is able to root as deep as 5 feet into the ground.
  • Preferred pH is 7.0 and slightly higher (alkaline)
  • It does not require special conditions, as long is doesn’t get too wet; prefers to be on the dry side. It is able to grow in nutrient poor soils.

Planning & maintenance

  • Leave 2-3 square feet per plant and do not plant too close to your lawn or it will become an unwanted weed.
  • You will need to trim it, but only before new growth begins in the spring since it is a perennial.
  • Bluestem is considered a bunchgrass. This specific type of grass is also a warm season grass, or C4 grass, which grows most rapidly during the hotter part of the summer.

Cultivars & propagation

  • Cultivars include: Standing Ovation, Blaze, and Blue Heaven
  • Commonly planted from seed: It is best to prepare a firm seedbed and to make sure it is free of weeds. Plant seeds about 1/4 of an inch into the ground during the spring or fall. Established plants will self seed as well.
  • They are also very resilient seedlings. Seedlings can be found at Nasami Farm, and other local garden stores.

Pests & pathogens

  • No significant diseases or pests for this plant.

Landscape & ecosystem

  • It brings a red to orange, or even a gold color to the landscape in the fall. It stays through the winter and it will usually have its white feathery spikes throughout the season. Stems blow aesthetically in the wind as well. Its name comes from the lovely bluish color of the stems in the spring.
  • Bison, deer, elk, and even horses may eat its seeds, as well as birds.
  • It is also a great plant for nesting purposes due to its clump growth type. (Sparrows, upland game birds, finches, juncos, prairie chickens.)

Human uses

  • Humans can feed it to cattle, horses or other animals. Some people plant it as a way to preserve prairies, to prevent erosion and to feed wildlife. It is also helpful as a bordering plant since it is broad and can provide shade, cover, and privacy.
  • This plant doesn’t have many specific parts that are useful for humans.
  • It can spread into your lawn aggressively if planted in the wrong location.
  • It is not edible for humans.
Plant catalogued by Bryce Dobosz
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