Field Notes

Little Bluestem

October 29, 2019

In the fall we often focus on the beautiful colors of our deciduous trees, but they aren’t the only ones with changing foliage. Although often overlooked, native grasses can also be a real treat in the fall.

Little Bluestem is a hardy native bunchgrass that grows on sandy soils of dunes, dry fields, jack pine forest openings and along roadsides. Called “bluestem” for the blueish hue of the leaves in the spring, in the fall its leaves are a rainbow of colors as they lose their chlorophyll at the end of their growing season. Little Bluestem is a classic prairie plant that grows about 2-4 feet high, and its roots can extend 5-8 feet down into the soil, which helps with erosion control on sandy sites.

The grass is especially visible this time of year as the feathery spikelets on the seeds catch the sun rays. These seeds persist well into winter, which makes it a great wildlife food for many species of migrating and resident birds. The bunchgrass growth form also makes excellent roosting for ground nesting grassland birds, a declining group of species in most in the US.

While you’re out enjoying the leaves, make sure to keep an eye out for this beautiful and important plant!

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