State Symbol: Illinois State Prairie Grass — Big Bluestem (Adropogon gerardii)

photo of Big Bluestem

The land that became the State of Illinois was covered by prairie grasses. Big Bluestem may have been the most widespread and abundant grass throughout the true prairie. Big Bluestem grows in such tall and dense stands that it often prevents other grasses from growing around it by shading them out. In the past this resulted in large areas of almost pure big bluestem in the prairies.

Big bluestem grows to a height of between three and ten feet (one to three meters). It has tall slender stems. The grass is green throughout much of the summer; the stem turns to blue-purple as it matures ó thus, the name bluestem. The seed heads usually have three spike-like projections and resemble a birdís foot. Another common name for big bluestem is turkey foot. Big bluestem has deep roots and strong rhizomes. Consequently, it forms very strong sod. Big bluestem is excellent forage. It also yields two to four tons of hay per acre.

The Symbol

On August 31, 1989, Governor Thompson signed into law a bill designating the big bluestem as Illinoisí Official Prairie Grass. The bill passed the General Assembly after the big bluestem was chosen in a poll of students conducted by the state Department of Conservation.

Read more about the Illinois Prairie and about Midewin Prairie.

J.R. Johnson and J.T. Nichols, 1982, Plants of the South Dakota Grasslands: a photographic study, S.D. State University, Brookings, SD, Agriculture Experiment Station, Bulletin, No. 566, 166pp.
J.E. Weaver and F.W. Albertson, 1956, Grasslands of the Great Plains, Lincoln, NE: Johnson Publishing Company, 395pp. Prairies Forever non-profit organization site has links to prairies in states, projects. Prairies of Illinois, information by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 50 Years of Change in Illinois Hill Prairies. Article by Kenneth Robertson, et al, for the Center for Biodiversity, Illinois Natural History Survey. Ken Robertsonís siteís links to prairie info