If you have been driving around lately, you have probably noticed a color change on some of our prairies and even in some ditches. These grassy areas are now appearing to have a blue or purple color. Big Bluestem is the reason for the color and is one of Iowa’s native prairie grasses.
Big Bluestem can grow 6′ to 8′ tall. This grass is a favorite to grazing livestock and wildlife, giving it a nickname of “ice cream grass.” Another common nickname for this grass is “turkey foot” because of the appearance of the flowering head typically having three stalks similar to the toes of a turkey. Not only do mammalian herbivores enjoy this plant, but many insects, including caterpillars of a variety of skippers, and grasshoppers also feast off of Big Blue. This native grass also serves as cover for many songbirds.
Big Bluestem grows tall in height above the ground, but like many of our prairie plants, the roots can grow downwards of 10 feet! These long roots help with the stabilization of the soil, making Big Bluestem an important grass on the prairie.