A Very Bushy Bluestem


While frost forms in the American midwest and trees take on dramatic colors in the northeast, changes in Texas grasses mark the season’s turning along the coastal plain.

One of our most dramatic grasses,  bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) grows both tall and full, its blue-green summer foliage becoming a rich, coppery brown as autumn ripens. Rooted in the Greek words for ‘man’ and ‘beard,’  both the genus name, as well as the less-favored common name of bushy beardgrass, refers to the long, soft hairs of its seed heads.

Native to the southeastern United States, parts of central Mexico, and the Caribbean, the plant can be found as far north as New England. Unlike other members of Andropogon, it thrives in moist soil, preferring areas such as roadside ditches, swamp margins, seasonal ponds, wet pastures, and river banks.

Generally, the full beauty of the grass emerges gradually, until its changed color and sunlit tufts of fluff dominate the surrounding landscape. But at least one plant at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge couldn’t wait, exploding into full autumn glory ahead of its companions.


Comments always are welcome.

42 thoughts on “A Very Bushy Bluestem

  1. I prefer your photo with its fly-away fluff to the real thing, which sets me off, unfortunately. They are beautiful, these fluffy grasses — this one, especially. A lovely photo, Linda.

    1. You have my sympathies. We’ve had a front with some decent north winds come through, and whatever is blowing on the wind (probably ragweed) is making its presence felt. I’m eager for the color changes to come, too. There’s nothing more lovely than multi-colored autumn grasses.

    1. I don’t doubt that it’s in your area; it’s shown in all of the counties from the coast northward, including Harris and Montgomery. I see it along our drainage ditches, or bordering the roadways where water tends to collect. The prettiest stands of it I’ve ever seen were on the Rio Frio near Concan and at Garner State Park, where the copper-colored grass and cypress trees were just gorgeous.

  2. I wonder where in New England it appears. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but maybe now I’ll recognize it. We have a few marshy areas in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, and many more to the south (Mass., Conn., Rhode I.).

    1. Massachusetts and Rhode Island it is. It shows up in New York, too, but that’s not really New England. This GoBotany page has a map and details. It may have crept a little farther north, but those states are considered the formal limits of its range. If it’s around, it’s pretty easy to recognize, especially once it’s fluffed out and turned that beautiful coppery color.

    1. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a singular display of fluff, from top to bottom. It seems odd that only one of those plants would explode like that, but to paraphrase my grandma, there’s just no accountin’ for nature!

    1. You’re right — and what does it say about me that I never saw it as a duster? That makes me laugh.

      It really is a fine grass. Once it takes on its color, it can last well into winter, providing nesting material and good cover for birds and small mammals. Prairie chickens, field sparrows, juncos, and other song birds enjoy the seeds.

      I found this the same day I found the little moth bedded down in the rain lily, but the best find of the day will be of even more interest to you — I came upon a bird I’d never before seen. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it’s native here, and apparently common despite being rarely seen. I’ll have its photos up next!

    1. That’s the story of my life, GP. I’m constantly going around muttering, “That’s gorgeous. I wonder what it is?” At least this one’s easy to recognize, and easy to identify. Because it’s large, and tends to clump, it’s pretty obvious even at a distance. And when that fluff gets going? There’s no question.

    1. I know that milkweed fluff’s been used for everything from flotation devices to pillows, but I’ve never heard of this plant’s fluff being used in such ways. After poking around a little, I didn’t find any historical notes, either, so there may be something about it that makes it less useful. There seems to be the same distinction between Spanish moss and ball moss. Spanish moss is used for everything from mattresses and pillows to the traditional Cajun architectural mud-and-moss technique known as bousillage, but ball moss just hangs around on the trees.

    1. It’s listed for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, so you may have been surrounded by it — literally. On the west coast, it can be found in southern California and the Napa Valley, but it doesn’t show up at all in Oregon or Washington. It is a striking plant. I hope to find some good stands of it later this fall, once it’s taken on its color.

  3. Your mention of it existing in MA made me look at the GoBotany page you linked wondering why I haven’t seen it…couldn’t miss something that cool. It’s @100 miles away. Maybe I will visit the Cape again one of these days and get to see it. I realize that in Texas a hundred miles is a short drive.
    The comment above about the fluff being a pain for folks reminded me of our local cottonwoods in the springtime. Our warehouse floor gets covered with the fluff stuff if we have the doors open on a breezy day. It doesn’t sweep well.

    1. Believe me — when the fluff starts flying (whether from thistle, Baccharis, milkweed, goldenrod, or whatever) varnishers know it. The only thing worse is pollen. At least there’s a chance of polishing out the fluff after the varnish dries. With pollen, you’re sunk.

      I laughed at your comment about distance. Then, I wondered. I went to ye olde distance calculator and found it’s 125 miles from my place to the Watson Rare Plant Preserve, and about the same to the Sandylands Sanctuary, and I don’t think a thing about popping up there for a day. In the other direction, two hours gets me to Nash Prairie, the San Bernard refuge, or the Gulf beaches. Of course, now that I prefer not to drive the open road at night, the coming of winter will bring some changes — or shorter stays at my favorite destinations.

      1. Although not fluff, I occasionally have some sort of large dust specks or other airborne stuff land on my wet lacquer, ahem, including some of what remains of my formerly brown now gray hairs.. As you mentioned with your example, it can just be rubbed and will break off and become unseen.
        I have lost my zeal for night driving. I do it when I have to, like when chasing a sunrise, but am not at all fond of doing so. And when driving to North Quabbin in the dark, one must always be watchful for the occasion moose in the road. That’ll dent the heck out of your car not to mention harm the moose and driver severely. I hate cold weather…but, the sun rises later and the sub-32° water makes for great abstracts and frozen waterfalls. Still as exciting as that sounds, the dark is a bit challenging now.

  4. My first thought was ‘oooh, bad hair day!’ My second thought was of a particular Looney Tunes cartoon starring Pepe Le Pew, where he and the cat end up on an ocean liner. The cat gets wet and hides under a hair dryer hood, which slowly rises to reveal this giant pompom with cat eyes and whiskers. It cracks me up every time.

  5. That grass is absolutely gorgeous, so soft and fluffy in the seed heads and yet so sharp and forceful in the stems.

    I’ve always been a big fan of the various grasses using in local landscaping in both my home location and the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne. Sometimes I like grasses more than flowers.

    1. It was the size of the fluff that drew me to this initially, but the contrast did make the image even more appealing. What’s interesting about grasses is that they flower just as our roses and lilies do; it’s just that their flowering isn’t so immediately obvious. I think they’re much harder to photograph, too — especially the delicate ones. One advantage of bushy bluestem is that it doesn’t wave about in the wind quite so easily.

  6. It seems far too soft and cuddly for a beard, Linda. The shape is right, however, for a humdinger of a beard. –Curt

    1. Think Whitman. Longfellow. Unnamed hordes of 19th century grandfathers. For that matter, think ZZ Top. With a beard like that, you don’t even need to be a sharp-dressed man.

  7. Even for bushy bluestem, that is unusually bushy, as your title makes clear.

    Your mention of the plant’s range got me looking at the USDA map and I noticed the presence of bushy bluestem on Long Island, so chances are I saw it there when growing up but without giving it heed. Its presence in the Bronx made me wonder if Edgar Allan Poe ever saw it, or even better wrote about it.

    1. I almost titled the post “The Bushiest Bluestem,” but realized it might or might not qualify. “The Bushiest Bluestem, at Least in My Experience” seemed a little long and awkward, so I went with what we have.

      At the northern edge of its range, like Long Island and the Massachusetts Cape, I suspect the moderating influence of the ocean has allowed it to gain a foothold. As for Poe, I’m not sure the plant would be horrifying enough for him, although the Imp of the Perverse might have influenced this one. I can imagine Sue Grafton incorporating the grass into her “x is for y” series of murder mysteries: B is for Bluestem could be interesting.

    1. I suspect you’d only touch it once, since the fluff has a tendency to fly away at the slightest disturbance — at least, once it’s really ripe, as this seems to be. I’ve thought and thought about what could have caused that whole stem to explode at once, and I just don’t have a clue. We’ll chalk it up to the sweet mystery of life, and just enjoy it!

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