Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'

The Blues little bluestem    Perennial of the Month-- October 2012  Perry caricature

skizz-ah-KEAR-ee-um  sko-PARR-ee-um

Common name:  The Blues little bluestem

Family:  Poaceae, grass

Height x width: 3-4ft x 1.5-2ft.

Growth rate, habit: moderate, erect clumper

Foliageslender to 1/4in. wide, bluish, broom-like appearance; pinkish stems (culms);  turning burgundy-red in fall

Flowers:  purplish-bronze in 3in. long racemes near tips in fall, on branched stems; fluffy white seedheads follow into early winter

Hardiness: USDA zones 3-9

Soil:  average to dry, well-drained

Light: full sun

Pests and problems:  none significant, may rot if too wet, may flop if too little light or too much fertility

Landscape habit, uses:  borders, massed along walks or walls, contemporary gardens, prairie gardens with other wildflowers, wildlife gardens; combines well with perennial salvia, sedum, purple smokebush, false indigo, coreopsis, yarrow, Russian sage, other grasses

Other interest: a warm season grass (waits until warm weather to resume growth in spring) which tolerates high heat and humidity; provides nesting and food (seeds) and protection for birds, food of several butterfly and moth larvae; deep rooting make it drought tolerant, but also more difficult to transplant; species is native to open woods and fields (tallgrass prairies in particular) in much of eastern North America, state grass of Nebraska, species was cultivated by early settlers and ranchers as forage for cattle; this cultivar has better gray-blue foliage than the species, may still be seen listed in former genus Andropogon,, originally selected by Dr. Richard Lightly formerly of the Mt Cuba Center for Piedmont Flora in Delaware    

Other culture: cut to several inches (3-4) above ground level in late winter or early spring; thrives on neglect, good plant for eroded or tough sites

Propagation:  divide in spring if needed

Sources:  many online and local specialty nurseries

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