Big Bluestem

Big bluestem is native grass found over a large portion of North America.  It produces tall seed stalks tipped with turkey-foot shaped seed heads. It is used as a pasture and hay grass, for wildlife forage and cover, and restoration and erosion control. A very tall and erect grass, it tends to grow in dense stands and has a very deep root system. It is adapted to use in well-drained soils with low fertility characteristics, such as prairies, rangelands, or form cropland. .

Big bluestem is a high quality pasture forage for livestock and provides good cover for ground nesting birds and other wildlife.

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Description

Big bluestem is a native, warm season, perennial bunchgrass that grows up to 10’ in height.  Historically, big bluestem grew over much of Texas as component of tall- and mid-grass prairies on well drained soils. Forage value of big bluestem is excellent for livestock and the grass provides important wildlife cover. This species is a common component of range seeding mixes, wildlife habitat plantings, and prairie restoration plantings.  It is also occasionally used as an ornamental.

Big bluestem is one of the “big 4” species of the Tallgrass Prairies that were once found over large portion of North America. In much of Texas, it is a minor component of most remnant prairies, but is thought to have been much more common prior to settlement and over grazing. It is commonly known as “turkey foot grass” because the seed heads resemble a large three-toed bird’s foot. A very tall and erect species, it tends to grow in dense stands or colonies that spread by rhizomes from a very deep fibrous root system.  Big bluestem is intolerant of continuous, close grazing or soil cultivation, resulting in it being extirpated from much of its historic range by past land uses. Earl big bluestem, developed by the USDA NRCS Knox City Plant Materials Center from native plants collected near Weatherford, Texas, is commonly used in Central Texas plantings.  Other varieties planted in the state that have good performance include Kaw big bluestem in the Panhandle, North, and East Texas; and Kenedy Germplasm in the  southern parts of the Blackland Prairie, the Post Oak Savannah, South Texas Sand Sheet, and Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes.

Planting: Plant in early spring or late summer through fall at a rate of 6-8 lbs. pure live seed (PLS) per acre at 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.

Soil: Best suited to sandy, clay or clay loam soils.

Height: 6-10 feet

Type: Warm Season Perennial

Region: Texas-wide

For more information:

Earl Big Bluestem Brochure from USDA NRCS

Kaw Big Bluestem Brochure from USDA NRCS

Additional information

Season

Warm Season

Plant Type

Grass

Height

>5'

Wildlife

Deer, Quail, Turkeys