Split-beard Bluestem (Andropogon ternarius) recalls confetti-strewn ticker-tape parades or prairie snowstorms. The feathery tufts dance-dance-dance in autumn breezes–suspended in sideways sways–on clear blue days. Even more memorable is to catch these grassy cotton balls backlit by beams of late afternoon light.
Better yet submerge yourself in them and let the grassy reality surround you. Experience prairie and grassy pastures as an ant or a bird. Plunge into their depths and you’ll emerge with a new perspective; maybe even a strong belief in prairie worth sharing with others…
Occasionally mistaken for Little Bluestem, Split-beard Bluestem is named for the silvery white “split” beard, as in the photo above. An older common name was Silvery Beard Grass. I think I like it better.
It shares the genus Andropogon with Big Bluestem, one of the big four grasses, (see my previous blog on that one; Prairie Grass Profile: Big Bluestem) but is very distinctive. With its snowy beard I’ve always thought it must be the wiser one. After all the genus Andropogon means man-beard–a fitting moniker for sure!
It may not actually be wiser, but it is more adaptable.
It thrives in old pastures where broken prairies and broken dreams live together and cedars and elms have moved in with them. It’s hard not see a field full as a replacement for the once unplowed prairie, but nature abhors a vacuum and so the land needs a species that increases with disturbance. This one does it with elan; I’m sure it’s festive spirit remains unaware of its role in the ecosystem.