Andropogon gerardi - Cowles Prairie 25 acres.jpg
Species Present and Native

Stem: The hairless stem has a blue-green, purplish to red coloration.  

Flowers: each flower comes off the top of the stem like a bird's foot with three to six fingerlike branches with each spike up to 10 cm (4 in) long. The spikes are yellowish-purple. Fine hairs cover the spikelet stalks.

Leaves: the upper leaf surface of the leaves has white hairs near its base. The autumn color is a rusty tan. The open sheath has a clear "v" shape. Leaves are flat and green.

Sun:  Full sun

Ideal conditions: moist soils with full sun

INPAWS Natural Communities: Prairie grassland (sun)

Andropogon gerardi - Cowles Prairie 25 acres.jpg

all photos by Nathanael Pilla

Big Bluestem grass

Andropogon gerardii Vitman

Family:     Poaceae (Grass family)

Duration:  Perennial

Height:     up to 275 cm (up to 9 ft)

Blooming: Aug.-Sept.


Big Bluestem Mnoke Prairie Indiana Dunes

Comments: As a warm season grass, it spends its summer growing then flowering in late summer, early fall.​  It is an important species for foraging in the tall grass prairies of North America. Big bluestem has also been called turkeyfoot grass due to its inflorescence appearance of a turkey's foot.

Etymology: The epithet, gerardii, is in recognition for the botanist, Louis Gérard, who published the seminal, Flora Gallo-Provincialis.  The genus Andropogon comes from the two Greek words andros meaning, "man", and -pogon meaning, "beard".


Landscape: big bluestem is a great edge or accent grass that provides a showy summer and autumn color, unique inflorescence, and size.  This brilliant grass adds bronze, brown, purple, red, and blue color hints into your landscape.  Prevents soil erosion as well.

Shirley, S. 1994. Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa. pp. 258.