Our Glorious Grasses ~ Bushy Bluestem

A favorite photo of early blooming bushy bluestem at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

One of our most dramatic fall grasses, bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) thrives across the southern half of Texas. Unlike other species in the bluestem genus, A. glomeratus prefers sunny, moist locations; it often decorates ditches or fills low, damp fields with its unmistakable foliage.

During the growing season, the grass develops in pretty green bunches, sometimes tinged with tones of blue or copper. In autumn, its feathery plumes emerge — sometimes quickly and dramatically — showing why the grass also is known as ‘beardgrass.’ Eventually, it takes on an attractive rusty color that endures throughout the winter.

Like other bluestems, the grass is beneficial to a wide variety of wildlife, giving food, shelter, and nesting material to small mammals, insects, and birds.

A grasshopper gloms on to a sheaf of A. glomeraus stems at Bastrop State Park in October

Despite its bunched-up appearance and growth habits that sometimes make details hard to discern, its feathery seeds are extraordinarily pretty, especially when seen against a blue sky and still-green foliage.

A glimpse of autumn gold at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge


Comments always are welcome.

63 thoughts on “Our Glorious Grasses ~ Bushy Bluestem

        1. Just yesterday, after taking over 300 pictures, I thought about how in the old days that would have meant paying for nine rolls of 36-exposure color film or slide film and the associated developing.

        2. Had it not been for digital cameras, I never would have taken up photography. The cost of developing would have been prohibitive. It’s cheaper to learn from my mistakes these days.

  1. That’s an especially fluffy bunch you found in the top photo.

    Just half an hour ago a post in the Texas Flora group made me glom on to the fact that botanists have reclassified all the bushy bluestem in Texas as Andropogon tenuispatheus. That means it’s curtains for wordplay about glomming on to things in connection with our bushy bluestem.

    1. A. tenuispatheus was applied to the plant as early as 1912 , when it had a common name of salt marsh bushy bluestem. Even earlier, tenuispatheus was listed as a variety. Another variety, pumilus, is attached to A. glomeratus on the Wildflower.org site, with A. tenuispatheus as a synonym. It seems odd that tenuispatheus would be applied to all bushy bluestem in Texas, since I’ve found it in Kerr, Uvalde, and Gillespie counties, where conditions are quite different from the coastal counties.

      Do you know why the change was made? Could we have both varieties in Texas? If we do, why would they change the species’ name of all bushy bluestem? Taxonomic changes often boggle my mind; I think I’ll just go to work, where things are simpler!

      1. I see that I wasn’t quite accurate in my comment. I should have said that none of the bushy bluestem in Texas is now classified as A. glomeratus in the strict sense, which grows east of the Mississippi. An explanation of the changes can be found on pages 214-217 of this article.

          1. When I figured out that the bit of A. cretaeus in far east Texas is A. glaucopsis, I looked on the maps and sure enough: Hardin and Jasper counties are in the area I roam. I don’t think I could tell one species of bushy bluestem from another, but it’s good to know that ‘other’ species might be around.

        1. What a fabulous site. After I read your linked article a couple of times, I poked around, typed ‘texas flora’ into the search box, and found a number of papers-to-be-explored: not to mention a few familiar names.

          It makes better sense to me now. I noticed that the article was published only a year ago, and both the USDA and BONAP maps still are showing, for example, A. glaucopsis, the former name for A. cretaceaus. How long does it take for such changes to be made? I presume there must be a process: consultation, peer reviews, committees, and such.

          I noticed this tidbit in the introduction: “An analysis of historical accounts of Gaillardia pulchella (Asteraceae) strongly suggests that its modern occurrence east of Texas is adventive, rather than native.” That section of the article made interesting reading, too.

          1. There’s often quite a lag in updating sites. A lot of changes seem to have gotten made a decade ago that aren’t yet reflected in the USDA and BONAP. Eason’s book uses newer names than those sites. I don’t know why it takes them so long to update.

    1. Here’s a nice article from a fellow in Kerrville that might be of value to you. From what I’ve heard, deer tend to leave Gulf muhly alone, and the huge spreads of little bluestem and bushy bluestem everywhere suggest those grasses aren’t among the deers’ favorites.

      I was happy with the photos. One thing you might consider is that bushy bluestem holds its form and color well into winter: even late winter. Its shades of rust and copper are beautiful.

  2. Love the hopper!

    I’ve been seeing more and more articles about adding in native grasses to your backyard/front yard landscapes. They are wild life friendly and suited for local climate conditions. On top of that, they are lovely to look at and add so much interest to your garden.

    1. Isn’t he the cutest thing? I knew his colors matched the grasses nicely, but I didn’t realize what an extra-special combination it was until I saw him on the computer.

      There are some gorgeous native grasses, and some of them do quite nicely even in a small yard. Two of my favorites are mentioned in this Charleston magazine article: sea oats and what we call Gulf muhly. In the article, its name is purple muhly. I’m going to feature it next, I think. I finally found it out on the prairie.

    1. That’s the best compliment I ever could receive, GP. I certainly have come to appreciate Nature far more than I did in my younger years; if I can bring you along, so much the better!

    1. Our grasses really shine in the fall. All through the summer they’re just “there” — and then, they start attracting attention. For whatever reason, the grasshopper seemed appreciative, too. He looks like he was made for that grass.

    1. I don’t know, and I couldn’t find any information. I have read that Native Americans rubbed little bluestem into fiber and used it as a lining for moccasins. The Go Botany site says that the Rappahannock people made an infusion of the roots to treat poison ivy. There’s another natural solution for you!

  3. The detail in that grasshopper’s wing is amazing…looks like fine lace. I wonder what happened to one of his antennas.

    1. At first, I thought his antenna was tilted toward the camera and had partly disappeared, but it does seem as though he lost a part of it somewhere. Who know how? It’s rough out there — it could have been through an encounter with a predator, or a really bad landing somewhere. His wings do look especially lacy. I don’t know enough about grasshoppers to know if that’s common, but it surely is attractive.

  4. Looks as though a puff of air would be all it takes to disburse that glob of seeds. I would bet a field of blue stem would be beautiful being rippled by the wind.

    1. Bushy bluestem is so stout it doesn’t exactly ripple, although it does blow nicely in a strong wind. For rippling, I enjoy the little bluestem and silver bluestem; I could watch them for hours. I think I have a photo of a field full of silver bluestem from Kansas; I’ve not seen it so often around here.

  5. Beautiful captures, Linda. The big bluestem at both Lost Maples and also at Enchanted Rock were gorgeous. That grasshopper is well-appointed!

    1. Given the lack of color in the foliage during your trip, I’m glad that the grasses ‘performed’ well for you. I still remember a visit to the Rio Frio when both the cypress and the bushy bluestem turns a glorious rust color at the same time. It was spectacular.

    1. You’d have to do a whole lot of blowing for these, Curt. Dandelions are one thing, but when the bushy bluestem fills out with seed, it would be quite a challenge. We had one good cold snap, which seems to encourage their color change, but now it’s warmed up again, and I haven’t been out and about to see what they’re up to. Maybe this coming weekend…

          1. Thanks for sharing the article, Linda. And it is particularly relevant to us since we live right in the middle of the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest. All I have to do is walk up to the back of our property where the forest begins.

            We’ve seen two of their operations this year, including one that was just beyond the hill our property and backs up to, and the other one a few miles down the road. They are also using new heat driven technology. One which can spot small fires immediately at night. There has been a fair amount of local media coverage on their success. As there should be.

            Peggy and I have argued for a long time that a strong prevention program would cost almost nothing in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars that go into fighting forest fires once they have taken off.

            1. When I saw that the article concerned southwest Oregon, I dug a little further and realized it was related to the area of your home. You’re absolutely right about the importance of prevention. Granny wasn’t thinking about forest fires when she taught me that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but it certainly applies here.

          1. It is gorgeous. We have little and big bluestem here, which are tough and drought tolerant, while the bushy bluestem seems to prefer moist meadows, which I don’t have. It may be growing here in swampy areas, but mostly what I see are invasive phragmites.

            1. Oh. Phragmites. I’ve heard about those, for sure. I was thinking about the bushy bluestem today, and realized that even in the Texas hill country, where it can be dry and rocky, I see the grass mostly at the bottom of hills, in ditches, and so on — seeking water, for sure.

  6. The last photo is stunningly beautiful. That is all that I can say. I think I might have used those words here before but I am not sure. At any rate the photograph is exquisite- so light and airy.

    1. That’s one of my favorite photos of a grass. The combination of sky and trees behind it made for a pleasant background, and helped to highlight that airiness you like. A field of bushy bluestem can seem a bit pedestrian, mostly because it’s so thick and solid the detail disappear. A single bunch or two can be much more appealing — I’m glad you enjoyed this view.

  7. Grasses are underappreciated and often unnoticed. We are restoring a tall grass prairie here and bought heritage seeds when we reseeded the land. The varieties of grasses, many with deep roots to cope with sparse rainfall, is a joy to behold.

    1. I remember the days when I thought of grass only in terms of a nice lawn. One of the amazements associated with my discovery of prairies involved our colorful, varied native grasses. Your comment about the grasses’ ability to endure through periods of drought brought to mind this article, which might be of interest. The links provided in the article contain additional reading, and the comment section is filled with information.

      1. David is in Ontario, Canada. I found one of his blog entries that shows a part of the land they’re restoring; you can see that here. I only looked at that one blog entry, but I’m sure that if you search his blog as I did, using the keywords ‘prairie restoration’ or ‘grassland restoration,’ you can find more. They’re quite dedicated people, and quite the birders as well.

    1. That grasshopper was a cutie. He looks as though he doesn’t want to leave the grass; he has a pretty tight grip on it. It is a beautiful grass, and when conditions are right, it takes on the most gorgeous coppery color that really shines in the light.

  8. Very pretty. You had me looking up Andropogon glomeratus to see more of its form and in mass. That bushy bunchy-ness certainly is unique. But maybe that’s just my ignorance of prairie grasses.

    1. That ‘bunchy-ness’ you noticed is typical of many prairie grasses. Bushy bluestem is a bunch grass, as is the next one I’m going to feature: Gulf muhly. There are tall bunch grasses, too, such as big bluestem, little bluestem, yellow Indiangrass and switchgrass: all mainstays of the prairie. Bushy bluestem is native in your area, but scattered, as this map shows.

  9. I know the flowering grass is supposed to be the star here, but I’m fixating on that grasshopper. What a great shot! I can almost hear him saying, “Lady, I’m eating here!”

    1. I love that grasshopper! He seems so full of personality, and so utterly determined to resist whatever threat I might have posed. I probably spent five minutes or more trying to get him to smile for the camera, but this was the best I could do!

  10. It appears that we do have this species here in the Northeast but GoBotany shows it only in southeastern MA. Our Big and Little Bluestems don’t flower nearly as attractively as the Bushy. Your lovely image makes me consider a road trip in pursuit. And just as with frogs, a grasshopper improves every picture.

    1. Bushy bluestem can be glorious, especially if you catch it blooming early, while there’s that lovely combination of green, gold, and rust. It enjoys moisture, so its location in your area makes sense. When I see it in the hill country, it’s always alongside a river or stream, or in a valley where water collects in the ditches. And you’re absolutely right about the pleasure of being able to add a grasshopper to an image, especially one that’s so nicely color-coordinated.

    1. It would be interesting to see what you could do with bushy bluestem. It’s rather odd in a way: both delicate and clunky at the same time. Its appearance can change so much as it develops, and it lingers well into winter. I’d love to be able to photograph it in snow — although I’m not really wishing for snow here!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.