Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
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  • Big Bluestem

    SCIENTIFIC NAME: Andropogon gerardii

    COMMON NAMES: Big Bluestem, Tall Bluestem, Turkey-foot,

    BLOOM TIME: June, July, Aug, Sep


    • One of the Big 4 native grassed that characterize tallgrass prairies.
    • Warm season perennial bunchgrass.
    • Can grow 3-8 ft. tall with 20 in. green-blue leaves.
    • Usually grows 3 slender, gray-green to purple fingerlike spikes atop the stems.
    • Spikes resemble a turkey foot, being a common name for this plant.
    • Small yellow flowers hang from these spikes,
    • replaced by grains in the fall.
    • Very common in Illinois, tolerates most environments, but prefers sun.
    • Can be aggressive in undisturbed locations but can hold up to the plow & cattle.
    • Ranchers refer to it as "ice cream for cows" because they love it so much.
    • Cannot survive concentrated grazing because it evolved with seasonal grazing of migrating bison.
    • Used in restoring prairies, in erosion control, & as a tall background specimen in prairie landscaping.
    • Has about 10,000 seeds per ounce of cleaned seed.


    • Provides shelter for nesting birds & insects.
    • Used by Sedge Wrens and Eastern Meadowlarks.
    • Provides seed for 24 species of songbird as well as prairie chickens.
    • Specifically provides seed for Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, and other sparrows.
    • Attracts butterflies & is larval host for Delaware Skipper, Dusted Skipper.
    • White-tailed deer & bison graze on vegetative parts.
    • High quality forage for livestock.