little bluestem

(Schizachyrium scoparium

Conservation Status
little bluestem
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Little bluestem is a very common, medium-height, warm season grass. It occurs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico east of the Rocky Mountains. It is found in dry open areas, including prairies, savannas, pastures, old fields, woodland openings, roadsides, and railroads. It grows under full sun in dry to moderately moist but well drained soil.

Little bluestem is highly variable. Plants in Minnesota are almost always mostly hairless. They rarely have hairs anywhere except on the basal leaves. In the early season, the basal leaves are usually blue.

Little bluestem is a perennial, cool season (C3) grass that rises on basal leaves and a clump of multiple stems from a fibrous root system. There is sometimes a short, underground, horizontal stem (rhizome). In the spring it appears as a round, 2 to 3 (61 to 91 cm) high, loose or dense mound of narrow, bluish-green leaf blades. In mid-summer it produces flowering aerial stems (culms).

The stems (culms) are solid, erect, 132to (1 to 3 mm) in diameter, and freely branched just near the top. They are usually 6 to 36 (15 to 90 cm) tall, sometimes taller. They may be round in cross section or slightly flattened. They are not grooved, and they do not root at the nodes. The nodes are swollen, and the culms are often wine red or purplish near the nodes. The base of the culm is erect, not laying on the ground and curving upward (decumbent). When young, the culms are light green or bluish green and are covered with a whitish, waxy bloom (glaucous). Later in the season they turn coppery, orangish, or reddish bronze. They remain erect throughout the winter.

Most of the leaves are basal. Stem leaves are alternate and are mostly on the lower part of the culm. The part of the leaf blade that surrounds the stem (sheath) is open, flattened, ridged (keeled) on the back, bluish green, and glaucous. The junction between the sheath and the leaf blade (collar) is pale and whitish. The leaf blade is distinctly narrowed before the collar, and the sheath is distinctly constricted near the collar. Where the leaf blade meets the sheath there is a thin, pliable appendage (ligule). The ligule is 164to (0.5 to 2.5 mm) long and membranous. It has a fringe of short hairs at the top. The leaf blade is green, often glaucous, linear, 3½ to 17¾ (9 to 45 cm) long, and to ¼ (3 to 7 mm) wide. It may be flat, folded, or curve upward along the margins. The midvein is noticeably thickened. Basal leaves may have scattered, long hairs, but stem leaves are almost always hairless.

The inflorescence is a single, spike-like, unbranched cluster (raceme). The racemes appear at the end of each of the several to numerous branches at the top of the culm, and also in the axils of the upper stem leaves. Each raceme is ¾ to 3″ (2 to 8 cm) long, has 6 to 13 spikelets, and is on its own slender stalk that is up to (10 mm) long. It is tan or grayish-white, and it is usually zigzagged at maturity.

There is a pair of spikelets at each node of the raceme. One spikelet is stalkless, the other is stalked. The stalkless spikelet is ¼ to 716 (6 to 11 mm) long. It is usually fertile, containing both male and female reproductive parts (perfect), including 3 anthers. Glumes of a stalkless, perfect spikelet are 316 to (5 to 10 mm) long, lance-shaped to linear, and membranous. The lemma is ¼ to 916 (7 to 9 mm) long, thin, membranous, and transparent. It has a to (2.5 to 17 mm) long awn at the tip. The base of this awn is bent and spirally twisted. The stalked spikelet is much shorter, 132 to ¼ (1 to 6 mm) long. It is usually sterile and has no lemma. Occasionally it is staminate and has a lemma. This lemma sometimes has an awn at the tip. This awn is straight and up to (4 mm) long.


The description above refers to Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium, the only variety that occurs in Minnesota.




18 to 36


Similar Species


Dry to moderate moisture. Prairies, south-facing goat prairies, open woods, pine barrens, dunes, roadsides, railroads, old fields. Well-drained, rocky or sandy soil.




Early August to late September


Pests and Diseases




Little bluestem is often used in prairie restorations.


Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Liliopsida (monocots)  


Poales (grasses, sedges, cattails, and allies)  


Poaceae (grasses)  
  No Rank PACMAD clade  
  Subfamily Panicoideae (bristlegrasses, bluestems, paspalums, and allies)  
  Tribe Andropogoneae (bluestems, lemon grasses, silvergrasses, and allies)  
  Subtribe Andropogoninae (bluestems, thatching grasses, and allies)  


Schizachyrium (little bluestems and allies)  

Subordinate Taxa


common little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium)

creeping little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium var. stoloniferum)

eastern little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium var. divergens)


Many subspecies, varieties, and forms of Schizachyrium scoparium have been described in the past. Most of them have been rejected and are now treated as synonyms. Currently, ITIS recognizes six varieties, GRIN recognizes four varieties, Flora of North America (FNA), USDA PLANTS, and NatureServe recognize three varieties, and Plants of the World Online and World Flora Online recognize no varieties. One variety has been raised to full species level by most sources as seaside bluestem (Schizachyrium littorale).




Andropogon divergens

Andropogon flexilis

Andropogon halei

Andropogon mederensis

Andropogon neomexicanus

Andropogon praematurus

Andropogon praematurus f. hirtivaginatus

Andropogon praematurus f. praematurus

Andropogon preamaturus

Andropogon purpurascens

Andropogon scoparius

Andropogon scoparius f. caesius

Andropogon scoparius f. calvescens

Andropogon scoparius f. scoparius

Andropogon scoparius f. serpentinus

Andropogon scoparius f. simplicior

Andropogon scoparius ssp. euscoparius

Andropogon scoparius ssp. genuinus

Andropogon scoparius subvar. flexilis

Andropogon scoparius var. divergens

Andropogon scoparius var. flexilis

Andropogon scoparius var. frequens

Andropogon scoparius var. genuinus

Andropogon scoparius var. glaucescens

Andropogon scoparius var. maritimus

Andropogon scoparius var. multirameus

Andropogon scoparius var. neomexicanus

Andropogon scoparius var. polycladus

Andropogon scoparius var. scoparius

Andropogon scoparius var. septentrionalis

Andropogon scoparius var. villosissimus

Andropogon scoparius var. virilis

Pollinia scoparia

Schizachyrium acuminatum

Schizachyrium neomexicanum

Schizachyrium praematurum

Schizachyrium praematurum f. hirtivaginatum

Schizachyrium scoparium f. calvescens

Schizachyrium scoparium f. villosissimum

Schizachyrium scoparium f. virile

Schizachyrium scoparium ssp. divergens

Schizachyrium scoparium ssp. neomexicanum

Schizachyrium scoparium subvar. flexile

Schizachyrium scoparium var. divergens

Schizachyrium scoparium var. frequens

Schizachyrium scoparium var. neomexicanum

Schizachyrium scoparium var. polycladum

Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium

Schizachyrium scoparium var. virile

Schizachyrium villosissimum

Sorghum scoparium


Common Names



broom beard grass

broom beardgrass

broom bluestem

little blue-stem

little bluestem

prairie beard grass

prairie beardgrass



The “blue” in the name refers to the color of the emerging shoots in the early summer. The “little” in the name is a misnomer—this is not a little plant—but differentiates it from similarly-named big bluestem.












A stiff, bristle-like appendage at the tip of the glume, lemma, or palea of grass florets.



In grasses: The area on the back of a grass leaf at the junction of the sheath and the blade. On moths: the upperside of the prothorax.



The hollow or pithy stem of a grass, sedge, or rush.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



A bract at the base of a grass spikelet. Glumes usually occur in pairs, but occasionally only one is present.



The outer, lowermost of the pair of bracts at the base of the grass floret; it ensheathes the palea.



In grasses and sedges, a membranous appendage at the junction of the leaf and the leaf sheath, sometimes no more than a fringe of hairs. In flowering plants, the flat, strap-shaped, petal-like portion of the corolla of a ray floret.



Long, straight, and narrow, with more or less parallel sides, like a blade of grass.



The small swelling of the stem from which one or more leaves, branches, or buds originate.



An unbranched, elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers. The flowers mature from the bottom up.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



The lower part of the leaf that surrounds the stem.



In flowering plants, a small spike. In grasses and sedges, the basic unit of inflorescence. In grasses, composed of usually two glumes and one or more florets. In sedges, a single flower and its single associated scale.

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Other Videos
  Little Bluestem - Andropogon scoparium at Ion Exchange

Uploaded on Oct 4, 2011

Earthyman views Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparium) also known as Schizachyrium scoparium at Ion Exchange, native seed and plant nursery in NE Iowa ttp://­-SCOPARIUM-%7C-Little-Blue-Stem.html

  Little Bluestem
Karl Foord

Published on Oct 12, 2013

No description available.

  Collecting Seed from Little Bluestem for Seed Bank

Uploaded on Feb 16, 2011

No description available.




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January 2024

Location: Cass County

little bluestem  

Afton State Park

Agassiz Dunes SNA (MN DNR)

Blaine Preserve SNA

Blazing Star Prairie Addition Preserve, South Unit

Blue Mounds State Park

Bonanza Prairie SNA

Boot Lake SNA

Buffalo River State Park

Camden State Park

Carver Highlands WMA, South Unit

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park

Chimney Rock SNA

Cottonwood River Prairie SNA

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve

Des Moines River SNA

Dodge Nature Center

Edward Velishek Memorial WMA

Felton Prairie SNA, Bicentennial Unit

Fort Ridgely State Park

Foxhome Prairie

Frenchman’s Bluff SNA

Frontenac State Park

Glacial Lakes Preserve

Glacial Lakes State Park

Glendalough State Park

Grey Cloud Dunes SNA

Hastings Sand Coulee SNA

Helen Allison Savanna SNA

Hole-in-the-Mountain Prairie

Hythecker Prairie SNA

Jensen Memorial WMA

John Murtaugh Memorial WMA

John Peter Hoffman Spring Brook Valley WMA

Joseph A. Tauer Prairie SNA

Kasota Prairie

Kasota Prairie SNA

Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Kellogg Weaver Unit

Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Weaver Dunes Unit

Kettledrummer Prairie

Kilen Woods State Park

Lake Carlos State Park

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Leif Mountain

Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie

McKnight Prairie

Miller Prairie, East Unit

Minneopa State Park

Minnesota Valley NWR, Wilkie Unit

Mississippi River County Park

Morton Outcrops SNA

Mound Prairie SNA

Mound Spring Prairie SNA, North Unit

Mound Spring Prairie SNA, South Unit

Neal WMA

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Hoffman Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Pavia Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Rengstorf Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Spieker Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Touch the Sky Prairie Unit

Ordway Prairie

Oronoco Prairie SNA

Otter Tail Prairie SNA

Pankratz Memorial Prairie, North Unit

Pembina Trail Preserve SNA, Crookston Prairie Unit

Pembina Trail Preserve SNA, Pembina Trail Unit

Pilot Knob

Pin Oak Prairie SNA

Plover Prairie, East Unit

Prairie Bush Clover SNA

Prairie Coteau SNA

Prairie Creek WMA, Koester Prairie Unit

Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA

Red Rock Prairie

Rice Lake Savanna SNA

River Terrace Prairie SNA

Robert Ney Memorial Park Reserve

Rock Ridge Prairie SNA

Rockville County Park

Roscoe Prairie SNA

St. Croix Savanna SNA

Sand Prairie Wildlife Management and Environmental Education Area

Sandpiper Prairie SNA

Santee Prairie SNA

Schaefer Prairie

Sedan Brook SNA

Seven Sisters Prairie

Sheepberry Fen

Sibley State Park

Spring Lake Regional Park

Spring Prairie Preserve

Springbrook Nature Center

Staffanson Prairie

Tamarack Nature Center

Thorson Prairie WMA

Town Hall Prairie

Tribute WMA

Twin Lakes SNA

Twin Valley Prairie SNA

Twin Valley WMA: North Unit

Tympanuchus Prairie

Verlyn Marth Memorial Prairie SNA

Vermillion Highlands Research Recreation and WMA

Vermillion River WMA

Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Wild River State Park

William O’Brien State Park

Woodland Trails Regional Park

Yellow Bank Hills SNA

Zimmerman Prairie







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