Big Bluestem – Trending!

Today was another cold one but we do see the “warming trend” with temperatures now well above zero degrees F at least!  It was a beautiful day outside and some staff and volunteers took advantage and went out in to the gardens to bring in more elements of the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  Larry and Bill headed out to bring in more arches and lights while Larry H. spent some major time outside as well.  Pat M. continues to efficiently process incoming lights.  Mark S. was over to tidy up the Horticulture Center and Janice stopped by to continue work on selection of our Spring Plant Sale (Mother’s Day weekend!) vegetables.  We had our Garden Development & Maintenance Committee meeting this morning which included Christy, Christine, Maury, Big John, Hal, Gary and Larry H.  We also saw Mary W, Shirley C., Marv B. and many others today.
I’m a big fan of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) as seen at the Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL) in the photo above.  This denizen of the tall grass prairie also dominates our 1 acre prairie restoration at RBG.  This full sun grass will typically get 4′ – 8′ tall depending on soils and moisture and ultimately develops significant roots, making it quite drought tolerant.  This grass is less prone to flopping in leaner soils and while it doesn’t mind the richer soils, it may get quite tall and flop in those situations.  This grass has a light, “bluish cast” when emerging and maintains some of this coloration well in to summer.  Fall color will typically vary from a gold (seen below) to a showy pink (three photos down).  This grass has a long history of use in restoration projects, native plantings, wildlife-themed plantings, etc. but hasn’t had much value (yet) in the residential landscape as a taller grass option.  However, there are now quite a few selections of this grass being made for foliage color.  Many selections (see below) feature a more prominent deep pink or even red fall color.  Some selections are coming out now that feature more blue summer color as well (see ‘Mega Blue’ below).  The future of this grass in the landscape industry looks bright to me and the few examples below should help you form an opinion on the increased ornamental value of this tough and durable native grass in our traditional landscapes.
fall color of big bluestem in the RBG prairie (2014)
fall color of big bluestem in the RBG prairie (2014)
fall color of the big bluestem in the RBG prairie (2013) – morning shot with perfect lighting!
Andropogon gerardii ‘Red Bull’ in summer
Andropogon gerardii ‘Red Bull’ in fall
 Andropogon gerardii ‘Rain Dance’ (July)
 Andropogon gerardii ‘Rain Dance’ (July)
 Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ (October)
Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ (September)
 Andropogon gerardii ‘Indian Warrior’ (September)
Andropogon gerardii ‘Mega Blue’ (summer)
Andropogon gerardii ‘Pawnee’