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Little Bluestem

Species

Common Name Little Bluestem

Latin Name: Schizachyrium scoparium

[Pronounced: "skitz-ah-KEER-ee-um skoh-PAIR-ee-um"]

This plant was formerly Andropogon scoparius.

Type of Plant: Native Grass


Identification Helps: This beautiful prairie grass is shorter and more delicate than the prairie tallgrasses, such as Indiangrass, Big Bluestem, Switchgrass or any other true tallgrass. Little Bluestem grows to about 3-ft, with a few plants on favorable sites taller. On the poorest sites, this grass can remain about 2-ft tall.


It is a clump grass, with a cluster of central stems rising vertically (no arching). Leaves are narrow and somewhat delicate.


In summer, the erect, narrow form of the grass is rather definitive. In October and into the winter, the species turns a beautiful brown or russet red, which is particularly visible when wet.


Seedheads, usually in late October, often into December, are feathery, as shown in the photo.


Similar Species: Little bluestem is very similar to Virginia Broomsedge, Andropogon virginicus, a common weed grass that has no prairie affinities. Little Bluestem has flower or seed stalks that extend out beyond any leaves on the stem. Virginia Broomsedge flowerheads or seedstalks are tucked into enclosing leafy bracts. In the non-seeding seasons, Little Bluestem can often be identified by plucking off a central stem at the base, at the soil level. Little Bluestem stem bases tend to be reddish, while Virginia Broomsedge stem bases are white.


Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Grows in mesic (normal) to xeric (dry) prairies and other native herbaceous habitats.


Seasons of Growth and Bloom: Blooms from late September into early December.


Natural Distribution in Ohio: The species is found throughout Ohio, especially on dry sites.


Description and General Information: This beautiful naive prairie grass grows throughout the Buckeye State, sometimes on non-prairie sites. It is a nutritious pasture grass that is favored by all grazers. Like most other prairie grasses, it is a warm-season grass. It does not begin spring growth until soil temperatures reach approximately 70 degrees F.


Because it is smaller than the dominant tallgrasses, Little Bluestem is slightly shade tolerant, being able to grow in the slight shade of Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, and a few other tallgrasses.


It is one of the prairie's most beautiful grasses, especially in the fall and winter when the species' russet colors become showy. It should be used more often as a native ornamental grass, although from seed it can take three or four years to reach full maturity and density.