Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardii
Photo by S. Froelich, Prairie Originals.

Photo by S. Froelich, Prairie Originals.

Big bluestem is a distinctive grass that is recognizable by its flowering head that resembles a turkey’s foot – “turkeyfoot” is also one of its other common names. It is one of the main species of the Tallgrass prairie because it loves the heat and moisture, but occurs throughout the prairie grassland areas in southern Manitoba.

general description

a tall, leafy grass found in large clumps; forms a dense sod; can reach a height of 150 cm (60 in.); perennial; grows rapidly from late spring to early fall


wide, long, blue-green leaves sometimes tipped with red or purple; 50 cm (20 in.) long and 10 mm (3/8 in.) wide; long, silky hairs found near base of leaf and on sheath; both sides smooth; veins distinct


flower heads divided into three to six branches like a turkey’s foot; purplish in colour; the hairy seeds have long, twisted awns; flowers August to September


grows in all soil textures; a heat-loving plant typical in the moist prairies of southeastern Manitoba; in southwestern Manitoba grows in moist lowlands, lower slopes of hills and along waterways; also found in open jackpine woods and along roadsides

best places to see

Manitoba Tallgrass Prairie Preserve; Bird’s Hill Provincial Park; Living Prairie Museum; Spruce Woods Provincial Park; Beaudry Provincial Park; Assiniboine Forest; Big bluestem can often be found growing in ditches throughout the prairie region of Manitoba (including the southern Interlake) especially in years with abundant moisture

Grass species descriptions are from: Moore, J. 2003. Common Native Pasture Plants of southern Manitoba; A landowner’s guide. Critical Wildlife Habitat Program. Winnipeg, Canada.