Chapter 3. Common Native Grasses of the Northern Midwest

3.13 Little bluestem

Blue HeavenTM in brilliant fall color. Photo by Dave Hansen.
Blue HeavenTM in brilliant fall color. Photo by Dave Hansen.

Schizachyrium scoparium

Warm season; Perennial

Characteristics: 2–4’; upright; flowers purple; foliage blue-green; fall color; self-seeder

Growing Conditions: average to dry soils; full sun; hardy zones 3–8

Native in tall and shortgrass prairies, little bluestem can grow in a variety of soils, but prefers well-drained to upland. It is beautiful throughout the season, with typically blue-green summer foliage turning to red and orange in the fall.

  • ‘Carousel’: a rainbow of colors in blue-gray, bowl-shaped, 30” foliage.
  • Blue HeavenTM: University of Minnesota selection, upright blue foliage in summer, burgundy in late summer, red in fall, 3–4’.
  • ‘Prairie Blues’: blue foliage, but can be very open and prostrate, 3–4’.
  • ‘Standing Ovation’: Upright, blue-green turning orange, red, and yellow in the fall, 3–4’.
  • ‘The Blues’: light blue foliage, but can easily lodge in rich soil, 3–4’.

Species that feed on little bluestem according to the literature are Oslar’s roadside skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari), Arogos skipper (Atrytone arogos), dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna), common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala), the elachistid moth (Cosmopterix callichalca), Assiniboia skipper (Hesperia assiniboia), Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae), Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus), Pawnee skipper (Hesperia leonardus pawnee), cobweb skipper (Hesperia metea), Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe), Indian skipper (Hesperia sassacus), swarthy skipper (Nastra lherminier), Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek), crossline skipper (Polites origenes), and the gelechiid moth (Stereomita andropogonis).


Carrousel right, Prairie Blues left
On the left, from left to right, ‘Prairie Blues’ and ‘Carousel’.


Nativars ‘Smoke Signal’ and ‘Twilight Zone’
Nativars ‘Smoke Signal’ and ‘Twilight Zone’


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Gardening with Native Grasses in Cold Climates by Diane M. Narem and Mary Hockenberry Meyer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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