Big bluestem is one of the tallest grass species in the Tallgrass prairie, ranging from 3 feet to 8 feet (.91 to 2.43m) tall. Big bluestem can be easily recognized by its height, and the distinctive rames it has. The rames are the seed head structures that hold the seeds at the end of the grass stem. Big bluestem has three rames making the shape of a turkey’s foot, which is why it is also referred to as “Turkeyfoot.”
Big bluestem is found in the eastern half of the continent, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a dominant Tallgrass prairie species but can also be found in forested ecosystems that have frequent fire. The fire opens up the tree canopy, which lets in more light and allows the big bluestem to reside in pine-bluestem or post oak savannah communities.
Big bluestem is a warm-season, photosynthetic species, meaning it grows during the summer and goes dormant during the winter. Big bluestem is adapted to fire and grazing, and increases with fire. This is one reason why prescribed fire is encouraged in the prairie ecosystems.
Cattle and bison graze big bluestem. It also provides cover for small mammals, songbirds, bobwhite quail, prairie-chickens and white-tailed deer.