Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues', also known as little bluestem.

By Katherine Hale
Photos by Jason Holmes

Call it by its Latin name, Schizachyrium scoparium, or by the common name little bluestem – either way, this plant is a winner.

Native to the wide Midwestern prairies, little bluestem is right at home in sunny urban landscapes of North Carolina. In Duke Gardens, you can find this species growing in the Piedmont Prairie in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. We’ll be selling several cultivars at our Spring Plant Sale.

One cultivar, 'Prairie Blues', has blue-green spring foliage that turns reddish-purple by mid-summer, sporting tall stalks bedecked with tiny florets that dry into attractive curls. Another selection, ‘Smoke Signals’, has striking dark coloration that makes it stand out at a distance. Leave the frost-killed stalks up for wildlife shelter and winter interest, or cut it back to the base and use in dried flower arrangements—it will look great either way.
Schizachyrium scoparium

The design possibilities with little bluestem are endless. Beautiful in formal mass plantings and perennial borders, adding visual interest to parking strip buffers and rain gardens, or scattered among wildflowers in a meadow—you can’t go wrong. Upright and tidy, little bluestem thrives in heat and humidity as the ultimate low maintenance perennial. Rip out your lawn, never have to mow again and enjoy a continuous show year-round.

Formerly known as Andropogon scoparium, this species has been reclassified as the genus Schizachyrium. Whatever you opt to call it, look for it at our Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 1, from 8 a.m. to noon, or at the Gardens Member Preview Sale on March 31 from 4 to 6 p.m. See you there!

Blogger Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont. 

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