Pictured above: Schizachyrium scoparium
This large genus is found more often in tropical and sub-tropical grasslands. The plants are usually cespitose with compressed or keeled leaf sheaths. Each branch terminates in a single spike-like inflorescence with each sessile spikelet adjacent to a spikelet-less pedicel. Spikelets are 2-flowered but only one contains a fertile floret.
There is 1 species in MN and it is native.
Schizachyrium scoparium (shih za kee’ ree um sco pair' ee um)
- Synonyms: Andropogon scoparius
- Common names: little bluestem; Lakota: peji sasa swula
- Origin and habitat: Native; dry to moist, open or sandy habitats, often planted along roadsides
- Identifying characters: Bunchgrass-type perennial, distinctively purplish or reddish near the nodes. The plant bases are slightly flattened and glabrous. Leaves are scabrous (especially the lower ones) and occasionally have scattered long hairs. Spikelets are hairy and the glumes have a twisted awn 7-14 mm long.
- Comments: An important forage grass that was co-dominant with Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans in our eastern tall-grass prairies. The common name refers to its color when it first emerges from winter dormancy. Fuzzy tops in the fall lead some to call this “old man’s beard”. Germination is generally low but the seedlings will be vigorous (J.E. Weaver, 1968, Prairie plants and their environment, Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln). Several cultivars are available to gardeners (e.g., 'angel fire' and 'blaze'), providing reddish fall colors. It grows well in any well-drained soil. When backlit the fuzzy fall stems and inflorescences appear as if bedecked with crystals. American Indians (notably Lakota) often used this species in making moccasins. It provided good insulation after first rubbing to soften the stems.
Additional species in Minnesota:
Copyright 2002, A.F. Cholewa, J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota / No portion of this guide may be duplicated without written permission of author.