Beautiful Bushy Bluestem

By Betsy Washington, Northern Neck Chapter

Fall is the time that our warm season grasses shine in the garden by adding movement, color, and drama to the landscape. Andropogon glomeratus, or Bushy Bluestem, also called Bushy Bluebeard, is a compact, beautiful native grass often reaching only 2 – 4’ high, with attractive foliage and distinctive dense, feathery inflorescence’s that glow silvery white with pinkish tints in the fall light. In fact, the generic name, Andropogon, refers to the bushy beard-like inflorescences — ‘Andro’ means man and ‘pogon’ means beard. Like its close relatives, Little Bluestem and Big Bluestem, Bushy Bluestem is an adaptable warm season, clumping grass that grows in strong upright tufts with flattened green to blue- green leaves.

Bushy Bluestem Brownsville, VA – Photo by Betsy Washington

In late summer and fall the real show begins when the upright flowering stems are topped with feathery racemes that become densely bushy and club-like. The flowers are enclosed in tightly clustered bushy bracts at the top of the stems and often extend above the foliage. The silvery pink tinged white panicles are particularly showy when highlighted by the low-angled fall sun or a misty early morning. Adding to this fall display, the green to blue-green summer foliage turns a warm copper, orange to rich red, and persists well into winter as do the splashy inflorescences.

Bushy Bluestem Panorama in Early Morning Mist – Photo by Betsy Washington

Unlike its congeners, Bushy Bluestem prefers relatively wet conditions and is found in moist to wet sites in the eastern United States ranging from Massachusetts south to Florida and west to Texas.

In Virginia, Bushy Bluestem is common in the Coastal Plain and infrequent in the Piedmont and Mountains. Look for it in bogs, seeps, interdune swales and ponds, tidal marshes, damp to wet clearings, and wet roadside ditches. Like many other native grasses, Bushy Bluestem is a “pioneer” species, meaning it is among the first plants that seed into an environment, in this case, wet to moist disturbed areas.

Bushy Bluestem Seedhead – Photo by Jen Goelinitz at Flickr license CC BY-NC 2.0

This lovely grass is easy to grow but does require full sun and moist soils with organic matter. In a garden, the foliage can be tidied by cutting back in early spring before new growth emerges. It is excellently grown in native, butterfly, or winter interest gardens and perfect for damp meadows and wet areas near ponds, streams, or nontidal wetlands. Bushy Bluestem also thrives in rain gardens where it provides structure and architectural interest and the fibrous roots help stabilize the shore. The seedheads make excellent additions to cut flower arrangements as a bonus. When “happy,” it will naturally self-seed a bit but can be easily divided in spring to increase plantings.

Bushy Bluestem is the host for several butterfly and skipper species such as the showy Common Wood Nymph Butterfly. And it provides excellent year-round cover for a variety of wildlife and the seeds are eaten by songbirds and small mammals.

Bushy Bluestem was the Northern Neck Native Plant Society August 2023 Plant of the Month.

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