Big Bluestem is a warm season, perennial bunchgrass that stands about 7 feet tall when mature. The plant appears purple and when the seed head forms it has three spikelets that look like a turkey foot. In the fall, a beautiful reddish color appears. This species can be found throughout the Prairies and Southwestern Parklands as well as the Midwest and Northeast. It has poor shade tolerance and grows best on high moisture, well drained and highly fertile soils. There are several cultivars available, such as Bison (North Dakota), Bonilla (South Dakota), Champ (Nebraska), Kaw (Kansas), Niagara(New York), Pawnee (Nebraska) and Rountree (Iowa).
You can expect there to be approximately 165,000 seeds per pound. It is recommended that this crop be seeded in the late spring when the soil is warm enough at a rate of 4.1 lbs./acre based on a 24″ row spacing. Harvest can be expected towards the end of September or beginning of October with a yield of 100 – 200 lbs./acre under irrigated conditions. The expected stand life for this species is 10-15 years.
Big Bluestem is one of the top choices for erosion control in sand and gravel pits, mine spoil and roadsides. It is also one of the most palatable warm season grasses. Another good use for Big Bluestem is wildlife cover in summer and winter. The species can be used both for pasturage or in a long term hay rotation .
This species has good tolerance to spring flooding and will tolerate moderately saline or alkaline soils . This species can thrive in organic soils that are slightly acidic providing that the soil profile is not waterlogged in the summer months .
The roots of Big Bluestem can reach down to nine feet deep which gives the plant good adaptability in dry conditions . This is a sod forming grass as well and with it’s massive root system it is one of the Tall Grass Prairie species that is credited with giving the soils of this region their richness.