Little Bluestem

Photo of little bluestem mature seed head
Scientific Name
Schizachyrium scoparium
Poaceae (grasses)

Little bluestem is a native perennial bunch grass with flowering stalks reaching 1–4 feet tall. A warm-season grass, it does most of its growth during the hottest part of summer. Leaves are green, about ¼ inch wide; the bases are typically bluish, hence the name. In fall, the leaves turn coppery. Flowering stems branch toward the tip, rising above the leaves; flower clusters are soft, usually somewhat curved, 1–3 inches long; when mature they are tan or grayish white and fluffy. Flower heads develop August–October.

Little bluestem is a highly variable species that, in the past, has been divided into many varieties, forms, and subspecies. Sometimes the differences are striking from site to site and even within a single population; some plants are bluish gray with a waxy coating while others are green and lack the coating. The amount of hairiness can vary, too, among other traits.

Height: flowering stems 1–4 feet
Where To Find
Common nearly statewide; absent from parts of the Bootheel lowlands.
Occurs in upland prairies, glades, savannas, and openings of dry upland forests; also in old fields, fallow fields, pastures, roadsides, railroads, and dry, open, disturbed areas.
Within the large and diverse grass family, little bluestem is included in the same tribe as corn, sorghum, big bluestem, Indian grass, gama grass, and silver grass (Miscanthus — an Asian grass popular in landscaping).
This grass species is considered highly desirable both as fodder for livestock and for production of hay. Little bluestem–dominated ranges in Kansas and Oklahoma long ago became important stopping points for cattle to fatten on. The pollen is considered a source of hay fever in areas where this grass grows commonly. At first frost, little bluestem turns copper-colored, and it contributes greatly to fall color along roadsides and in grassy, open places.
Little bluestem is a major component of tallgrass prairie and glade habitats. Just as trees dominate woodland and forest communities, grasses dominate prairies, glades, and savannas. Thus a large variety of native animals and plants rely on little bluestem and associated grasses for their existence.
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About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!