Nature Notes: little bluestem | Home & Garden

We asked our friends at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to spotlight something fascinating at ground level. Senior Horticulturalist Elizabeth Fogel has a case of the blues.

Think big: There’s nothing “little” about this ornamental grass – in two ways: First, it can grow several feet tall. And second, it was once one of the dominant grasses of North America’s prairies, so you’ll find it in Virginia and almost all other states.

Think color: Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) provides interest throughout the year. Purplish-bronze flowers dance above the foliage in August and then transition to white, fluffy seed heads that often last throughout winter. And the leaves turn a striking bronze-orange in fall.

And the blue itself? The grass earns the “blue” in its nickname because each leaf has a tinge of blue at its base. This is more pronounced in the cultivar “The Blues,” a variety that features 2- to 4-foot-tall clumps of slender leaves, each with the blue color at the bottom.

Versatile player: With its prairie background, the grass tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and is drought-resistant, so it’s a good choice for sun-baked areas. But it also works well for borders and wooded margins or meadows, and it’s lovely grouped in cottage gardens and rain gardens.