Thumbnail Filmstrip of Big Bluestem - Kaw Images
Big bluestem is a warm-season perennial bunch grass native to North America. It grows 36 to 72 inches and changes color throughout the year from blue-green during growing season to golden tan at maturity. Big bluestem requires full sun and does best in moist, well-drained sandy and clay loam soils. It does well in low fertility soils. Big bluestem seed heads resemble a turkey foot with a three section branching structure. It is considered a highly desirable tall grass and is commonly referred to as one of the big four prairie grasses along with little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass. Big bluestem provides excellent grazing for livestock and excellent cover for wildlife. It should be given periodic rest from grazing during the growing season and should not be grazed shorter than 8 to 10 inches to maintain plant vitality. Big bluestem responds well to dormant season burning especially during it's first few inches of new growth.
Kaw Big Bluestem is a cultivar released in 1950 in cooperation with the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station. It is a composite of lines selected after four or more generations from progeny of 200 accessions collected in 1935 from the native Flint Hills Prairie south of Manhattan, Kansas. Kaw is tall and more uniformly leafy and later in maturity than commonly found big bluestem.