Content Detail

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.

  • Family (English) Grass
  • Family (botanic) Poaceae
  • Tree or plant type Grass, Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • 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 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Alkaline soil, Dry soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest early fall, early summer, early winter, late fall, late spring, late summer, late winter, mid fall, midsummer, midwinter
  • Flower color and fragrance Other, White
  • Shape or form Upright

Size and Form:

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

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 has a fluffy appearance due to white hairs.

Plant care:

Little bluestem grows in a wide range of soil types as long as they are not wet.  Tolerates 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.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

This perennial has no serious pests, but may self seed, sometimes excessively.

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’):   

A 2 to 3 feet tall cultivar with an upright form has blue-green foliage turning to red, mixed with purple and orange Foliage remains pinkish in winter.

Blue Heaven™ (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘MinnBlueA’):

A  4 feet tall cultivar with an upright habit.  It has steel blue leaves changing to tones of burgundy, pink and orange in fall.

Carousel (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Carousel’):

 This compact (2 1/2 feet tall) cultivar has an upright habit. It has blue green foliage with purple tints and its fall color is a mix of copper, pink and mahogany. This is a selection from the Chicagoland  Grows™ introduction program.

Jazz (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Jazz’): 

This cultivar grows 2 to 3 feet tall with an upright habit. It has silvery blue foliage that turns mauve purple in fall.

Prairie Blues (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’):

Growing 3 feet tall with an upright habit, this cultivar has blue gray foliage turning red-orange in fall.

Prairie Munchkin (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Munchkin’):

Growing 2 1/2 feet tall with a narrow, columnar habit, this cultivar has silvery blue foliage turning maroon and orange in fall.

Standing Ovation (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’):

This cultivar grows 3 to 4 feet tall with an upright habit. It has blue foliage with purple tints and its fall color is red-orange and burgundy.

The Blues (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’): 

This cultivar grows 3 feet tall with an upright habit. It has blue foliage with red accents on the stem and its fall color is a mix of blue, purple and orange.

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