Big Bluestem

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is one of the characteristic plants of the North American prairies, especially the tall grass prairies.

 

Big bluestem plant

Big bluestem plant

 

This particular lone clump has foliage that is three to five feet high, and has inflorescences that are six to seven feet tall.  From all that I have seen in the literature, these heights are typical of the species – hence the name big bluestem.

 

Big bluestem - foliage

Big bluestem – foliage

 

When one tries to characterize vegetative communities by taking measurements, the concept of “absolute cover” (i.e., approximately defined as the shadow cast by the outline of the foliage when the sun is directly overhead) is currently in vogue for wetland delineation purposes.

For your calculations, if you are interested, the width of the foliage “shadow” at its current greatest extent is approximately 6- to 7-feet in diameter.  The width of the basal area “footprint” (i.e., at approximately 2-inches above the ground surface) is approximately 12- to 14-inches in diameter.

 

Big bluestem – basal clump

Big bluestem – basal clump

 

However, when one is working in a prairie or similar one-layered mixed herbaceous/grassland habitat, one should separate the apples (e.g., the forbs) from the oranges (e.g., the grasses).  If you are really interested in these concepts and procedures, check out Dr. J. E. Weaver’s long-term prairie investigations (i.e., from the 1920’s to the 1960’s) as reported in the plant ecology literature.

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