Schizachyrium scoparium

Schizachyrium scoparium, commonly known as little bluestem or beard grass, is a species of North American prairie grass native to most of the contiguous United States (except California, Nevada, and Oregon) as well as a small area north of the Canada–US border and northern Mexico. It is most common in the Midwestern prairies and is one of the most abundant native plants in Texas grasslands.

Schizachyrium scoparium
Mature seed heads
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Panicoideae
Genus: Schizachyrium
S. scoparium
Binomial name
Schizachyrium scoparium
(Michx.) Nash

Andropogon scoparius Michx.

Little bluestem is a perennial bunchgrass and is prominent in tallgrass prairie, along with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). It is a warm-season species, meaning it employs the C4 photosynthetic pathway.


Little bluestem grows to become an upright, roundish mound of soft, bluish-green or grayish-green blades in May and June that is about two to three feet high. In July, it initiates flowering stalks, which reach four to five feet in height. In fall, it displays a coppery or mostly orange color with tints of red or purple. Sometimes it displays in some places, as in sandy soils, a redder fall color. It becomes a more orangish-bronze in winter until early spring, when it becomes more tan.


It is recommended for USDA zones 3 to 10.

The plant grows best in full sun and on well-drained soils. It can be dug up and divided in spring, as many other perennials, for propagation or to reduce the size of an old, big plant. It can be burned in late winter or early spring in a prairie or meadow before new growth, like many American prairie grasses (big bluestem, Indian-grass, and switchgrass), which burn quickly and cleanly.


A number of cultivars have been developed. 'Carousel' is a compact form with especially good fall color developed by Chicagoland Grows. 'The Blues' is a selection that has bluer foliage. 'Standing Ovation' is a tight, upright form with bluer and thicker blades and sturdier stems.[2]


One variety, var. littorale, is native to the eastern and southern coastal strip of the United States, as well as the shores of the Great Lakes. It is adapted to sand dune habitat, and is sometimes considered a separate species, S. littorale.[3][4]


Little bluestem is the official state grass of Nebraska and Kansas.[5][6]


Little bluestem is drought tolerant, and is a larval host to the cobweb skipper, common wood nymph, crossline skipper, Dakota skipper, dusted skipper, Indian skipper, Leonard's skipper, Ottoe skipper, and swarthy skipper.[7]


  1. "Schizachyrium scoparium". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  2. Schillo, Rebecca (2011). Nina Cummings (ed.). Native Landscaping Takes Root in Chicago. p. 13.
  3. Skaradek, William B.; Miller, Christopher F. "Schizachyrium littorale" (PDF). Plant Fact Sheet. United States Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conservation Service.
  4. "Schizachyrium littorale". Grass Manual treatment.
  5. Koranda, Jeannine (6 April 2010). "Kansas has a new state grass". Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  6. Klepper, David (6 April 2010). "Little Bluestem gets a page in the statute book". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  7. The Xerces Society (2016), Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects, Timber Press.
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