Big Bluestem

Scientific Name:  Andropogon gerardii

Light:  Sun to part-sum

Zone:  4 to 9

Height:  2 to 6.5 feet

Width:  2 to 3 feet

Flowers:  June to September

Fruit/Seed: seed

Fall Color:  The leaves and stems change color with the first frost to a deep red-bronze that provides landscape interest well into the winter.

Butterflies: Host to several skipper butterfly species.

Birds:   Birds use big bluestem for nesting and escape cover in summer and winter. It resists lodging under snow cover almost as well as switchgrass, thereby contributing to spring nesting habitat.


Deer Resistant:  Yes

Insects/Pollinators:  Provides nesting materials/structure for native bees

Native:  Carroll and throughout Maryland

Idea Garden:

Propagation:  Sow at 68ºF, germination slow.  Does not compete well with weeds until established.



The king of native grasses, big bluestem has handsome gray to blue-green stems in spring, turning to green alternating with deep red in summer, then to coppery red in fall. Three-fingered seed heads top tall stems in August. Clump forming with excellent drought tolerance once established.

It may be grown as an ornamental grass because of its attractive foliage which changes color seasonally, its good architectural height and its interesting flower/seed heads. Flowering stems bring total height of this grass to 4-8′ tall (typically at the taller end in moist soils and the shorter end in dry soils).

Best massed in wildflower meadows or naturalized areas. Also effective in back of borders or native plant gardens as a screen or accent. Extensive root system makes this a good grass for erosion control.

Cultivars / Varieties

 NRCS Plants Materials Program (PMC) has released several cultivars of big bluestem. ‘Bison’ – released by  Bismarck, ND PMC released ‘Bison’ for its adaptation to northern climates. It is used for erosion control, upland game bird cover and nesting, nature trails, rural beautification and other native plantings.

‘Eldorado’ – released by the Knox City, TX PMC for forage potential

‘Earl’ – released by the Knox City, TX PMC for forage potential

‘Kaw’ – Manhattan, KS

‘Niagara’  – Big Flats, NY

‘Rountree’ – Elsberry, MO


Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Big Bluestem – USDA Plant Fact Sheet

Big Bluestem – Missouri Botanical Garden

Big Bluestem – Maryland Biodiversity Project

Big Bluestem – Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Recommended for Wildlife by

Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Butterflies of Maryland:  A biological summary and checklist by Maryland DNR

Photo Credits

Jennifer Anderson, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Additional information


Zone 5, Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8


Part Sun, Sun


Clay, Dry, Loam, Moist, Wet

Fruit Season


Wildlife Value

Beneficial Insects, Butterfly Host, Deer Resistant, Food for Birds, Nest Sites, Summer Cover, Winter Cover

Notable Features

Erosion Control, Salt Tolerant, Winter Interest


Carroll, Coast, Mountain, Piedmont

Local Availability



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