Andropogon gerardii

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Common names: Big Bluestem; Turkeyfoot

Andropogon gerardii
Andropogon gerardii AFP.jpg
Photo by the Atlas of Florida Plants Database
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheobionta
Class: Liliopsida - Moncots
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Andropogon
Species: A. gerardii
Binomial name
Andropogon gerardii
Natural range of Andropogon gerardii from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Taxonomic Notes

Synonyms: Andropogon gerardi Vitman, Andropogon provincialis Lamark, and Andropogon furcatus Muhlenberd ex Willdenow

Varieties: none


Also known as big bluestem or turkeyfoot, A. gerardii is a native perennial graminoid that is a member of the Poaceae family. It is tufted, and contains short, scaly rhizomes. It is known for being a tall graminoid, ranging from 6 to 8 feet tall, and is very leafy at the basal region with some leaves that are carried up on the stem. As well, big bluestem contains rhizomes that are usually 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface for clonal reproduction [1].


A. gerardii is distributed across the United States and Canada, but not past New Mexico or Montana [1].



Big bluestem can be found in prairies, open woods, along riverbanks, meadows, and even roadsides. It is particularly abundant in lowland prairies and sandy areas [1]. It develops best in mesic communities. [2] It is usually the dominant species within the ground community. [3] The soils within these habitats can range from sandy or loamy to clay or mesic bogs. [4]

Associated species - Panicum virgatum, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Sorghastrum nutans [5]


A. gerardii has been observed to flower from August until October [6].

Seed bank and germination

Seeds will usually germinate within 4 weeks when regularly irrigated [1].

Fire ecology

The rhizomes of A. gerardii are known to resprout after a fire disturbance, and regeneration following fires is much quicker in the springtime than the summertime since the rhizomes contain winter-stores with carbohydrates [1]. As well, flowering of A. gerardii has been seen to significantly increase in late-summer fires rather than early-spring fires. [2]

Use by animals

A. gerardii is utilized by birds and mammals for nesting and escape cover during the summer and winter, and contributes to the spring nesting habitats since it resists lodging under snow cover [1]. It is also one of the most important forage species for animals in the tallgrass prairie regions. [7]

Conservation and Management

For management, A. gerardii has a considerably weak seedling compared to its competition, so control of its competition is necessary, such as high mowing for weed control or even grazing of competing cool season grasses before the big bluestem is 1 inch tall in the spring [1].

Cultivation and restoration

There are several cultivars available of A. gerardii, including 'Bison' (ND), 'Bonilla' (SD), 'Champ' (NE, IA), 'Kaw' (KS), 'Earl' (TX), 'Niagara' (NY), 'Pawnee' (NE), and 'Rountree' (IA) [1].

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 USDA Plants Database URL:
  2. 2.0 2.1 Copeland, T. E., et al. (2002). "Fire season and dominance in an Illinois tallgrass prairie restoration." Restoration Ecology 10(2): 315-323.
  3. Howe, H. F. (1995). "Succession and Fire Season In Experimental Prairie Plantings." Ecology 76(6): 1917-1925.
  4. Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: Last accessed: June 2018. Collectors: Robert A. Norris, John B. Nelson, Robert K. Godfrey, R. Kral, A. F. Clewell, Gary R. Knight, Loran C. Anderson, Jean W. Wooten, S. Mitchell, Ann F. Johnson, Wilson Baker, R. Komarek, J. M. Kane, Annie Schmidt, Floyd Griffith, Cecil R. Slaughter, R. C. Kennedy, and B. Tadych. States and counties: Florida: Gulf, Liberty, Wakulla, Jefferson, Leon, Jackson, Franklin, Gadsden, Calhoun, Santa Rosa, Washington, and Nassau. Georgia: Thomas, and Grady. Missouri: Callaway.
  5. Abrams, M. (1988). "Effects of Burning Regime on Buried Seed Banks and Canopy Coverage in a Kansas Tallgrass Prairie." The Southwestern Naturalists 33(1): 65-70.
  6. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. Accessed: 1 JUN 2018
  7. Gould, F. W. (1967). "The Grass Genus Andropogon in the United States." Brittonia 19(1): 70-76.