Dig Deeper


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Quick Look

Andropogon are clump forming, warm-season grasses in the Poaceae family. Close cousins of Schizachyrium, they offer clear choices for sustainable landscapes. The North American native species we offer are tough and resilient, with deep, fibrous root systems allow them to endure drought, neglect, and poor soil. And they provide food and shelter for wildlife.

These Andropogon species have a solid appeal for erosion control, in massed plantings, at the back of mixed borders, as screening, and in meadow and prairie plantings.

Broomsedge (<i>Andropogon virginicus</i>)
Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)
Split-Beard Broomsedge (<i>Andropogon ternarius</i>)
Split-Beard Broomsedge (Andropogon ternarius)

Digging Deeper

Approximately 13 species of Andropogon are native to North America, with over 100 species distributed in temperate and tropical regions, including Africa, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. This genus includes grasses that produce important products worldwide, such as sorghum, several East Indian spices, and fragrant oils used in perfumes.

Andropogon comes from the Greek andr (man) and pogon (beard), likely a reference to the hair-like stems and male-only spikelets. The genus Schizachyrium is closely related, with some taxonomists arguing Schizachyrium should remain within Andropogon. In fact, many species once included in Andropogon have been moved to other genera, including Eragrostis, Cymbopogon, Saccharum, and Spodiopogon.

North American Roots

Along with Sorghastrum nutans , Panicum virgatum , and Schizachyrium scoparium, Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem) was a major component of the North American tall grass prairie. This sea of grasses kept soil in place with extensive root systems, provided forage for livestock, hosts for butterflies, and food and cover for wildlife. Most of that prairie has since become farmland, subdivisions, and cities; however, state and local groups are working to create stands of native grasses and forbs to restore this important ecosystem.

The states of Illinois and Missouri honored Big Bluestem by appointing it official State Grass. In Canada, residents of the Province of Manitoba mounted a campaign to vote for an official prairie grass. Among four native-grass candidates, Big Bluestem won with 47% of the votes.

In the Southeastern U.S., it is a common grass in the understory of longleaf pine communities.

Big Bluestem (<i>Andropogon gerardii</i>)
Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
<i>Andropogon gerardii</i>
Andropogon gerardii

Andropogon in Today’s Landscape

With their tall grass prairie origins, Andropogon seems to be custom-made for planting in masses. Yet, designers can create lovely tableaus with a few plants interplanted with other perennials and native grasses. These are wonderful additions to difficult landscapes, those with infertile, dry (or intermittently dry) soil and full sun. Do not over fertilize: they will grow too fast, become spindly, and droop. Be sure to check plant listings for comprehensive species information.

Also, foliage can be noticeably ornamental. The leaf colors of A. gerardii leap from greens and blues to reds and purple, then golden brown after frost. In winter, orange-gold fields of A. virginicus (Broomsedge) glow when backlit by the sun. A. gerardii ‘Red October’ PPAF turns brilliant red in fall.

The blooms of these grasses are complex and interesting for those willing to take a closer look. A. gerardii has curious turkey-foot shaped blooms, while A. ternarius (Split-Beard Broomsedge) produces a multitude of lovely puffs of white. Their tiny hairs catch the light and put on a brilliant show in fall. For added variety, A. glomeratus (Bushy Bluestem) bears big, bushy seed heads. All can be used in cut, or dried, flower arrangements. Blooms and foliage join together in down-to-earth, natural beauty.

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