18. Little Bluestem - Friess Lake School District

Common Name of Plant: Little Blue Stem
Scientific Name of Plant: Schizachyrium scoparium
Average Height of Plant: 24 to 36 inches
Blooming Time: July through September
Ask the Botanist
What are the leaves like?
The leaves are very long and slim and can get up to 12 inches long and 1/5 inch wide. The
leaves are hairless and naturally folded length wise. They are commonly a bluish-green color.
At maturity they start to turn into a reddish brown. When the leaves are still young they are
too coarse for animals to eat.
What type of flowers bloom on this plant?
The flowers bloom between August and October in prairies, open fields, and woods. The
flowers are scattered along the upper parts of the nearly vertical side stalks. The flower
clusters are usually one and a half inches in length and 1/16 of an inch in width. The color of
the flower is a mix between a white and beige. The tops of the flower cluster are white and
What is unusual about the seedpods or seeds of this plant?
The seedpods are very unusual. Their color is purplish-tan. The seed are very small and
smooth. They are covered in a white fuzz and weigh next to nothing. They grow from the
sides of the grass and at the top of the plant. Each seed is separate from the other seeds. The
seed clusters are about a centimeter long. They grow in rows facing upward. The seeds
develop and mature in August and early September. The seeds are planted by being blown off
and falling to the ground. This plant is a dominant species due to this characteristic.
How is this plant important to animals? Has it also been used by people?
The little bluestem seed is eaten by songbirds and upland game birds, and the plant provides
cover for ground birds and small mammals. Wild animals can eat this type of grass when it is
young and green. Towards the end of the season it is very coarse and then they won’t eat it.
Turkeys and ground nesting birds also use it. It is used for grazing by elk and deer. People
and farmers use it for a replacement of hay for their livestock. Planting little bluestem can
prevent erosion. Insects can hide from their pray. The burning of this grass creates rich
fertilizer for other plants.
Is there anything else unusual about this plant?
Little bluestem is found in forty-eight states growing in plains, prairies, open woods, and sand
hills. It grows very abundantly in the Black Hills. It’s also called alkali grass and desert salt
grass. The roots of this plant store food. It’s able to grow 8,000 feet above sea level. Under
any conditions, if the little bluestem is left undisturbed it will dominate an area by producing a
dense sod. It requires little water and well drained soil.
Whole Plant
Plant in Autumn
Plant Emerging in the Spring