Splitbeard Bluestem (Ternarius)

The Splitbeard Bluestem (Ternarius) is generally described as a perennial graminoid. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Splitbeard Bluestem (Ternarius) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Splitbeard Bluestem (Ternarius) will reach up to 3.9 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Splitbeard Bluestem (Ternarius) is not commonly available from nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -18°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Livestock: Splitbeard bluestem is grazed readily by cattle in the spring shortly after growth starts. However, it is seldom abundant enough for forage for cattle. If it is the principal winter forage, the cattle should be fed a protein supplement.

Ornamental Landscaping: Splitbeard bluestem is used as an ornament in landscapes and in flower arrangements because of its fluffy, cottony, and silvery seed heads scattered over the length of each stem. To some people, the grass evokes images of shooting fireworks.

Wildlife: Splitbeard bluestem benefits wildlife. Several species of birds and mammals eat the seeds and use the plants for cover. The white-tailed deer and rabbits also browse the plant.

Erosion Control: Splitbeard bluestem does well in controlling erosion when slope planting in poor or sandy soils.

Conservation Practices: Splitbeard bluestem, because of its growth habit, potentially has application when established with certain conservation practices; however, conservation practice standards vary by state. For localized information, consult your local NRCS Field Office. NRCS practices include the following: 327-Conservation Cover; 342-Critical Area Planting; 386-Field Border; 390-Riparian Herbaceous Cover; 393-Filter Strip; 512-Pasture and Hay Planting; 550-Range Planting; 560-Access Road; 562-Recreation Area Improvement; 643-Restoration and Management of Declining Habitats; 644-Wetland Wildlife Habitat Management; 647-Early Successional Habitat Development/Management; 656-Constructed Wetland; 657-Wetland Restoration; 658-Wetland Creation; 659-Wetland Enhancement.

General Characteristics

General: Grass Family (Poaceae). It is a native, warm-season, herbaceous, perennial bunch grass that begins its growth in April. The culms are up to 5 feet tall, slender, and erect. The purple sheaths are covered with hair, especially during early plant growth. The upper part of the plant is rounded and the lower part is slightly flattened and keeled. The blade is [! to ¼ inch wide, 10 to 16 inches long, usually hairy, and curly at maturity. The ligule is small and membranous. The inflorescence has three to six pairs of racemes about 2 inches long with a small tuft of hair at the base. The spikelets are long and hairy. The sessile spikelet is ¼ inch long with a twisted and bent awn that is up to 1 inch long. The pedicillate spikelet is absent or rudimentary. The pedicel is flattened, densely white pubescent, and shorter than the sessile spikelet. After the seed disseminates, a tuft of silver hair remains, which suggests the common name, paintbrush bluestem.

Required Growing Conditions

Splitbeard bluestem is found in fields, ditches, and open woods throughout the southeastern United States. For current distribution, consult the Plant Profile for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: The USDA Hardiness Zones for splitbeard bluestem is 6 to 10. It grows best on well-drained, coarse to medium textured, fertile soil in full sun. However, it can grow in a wide variety of soil conditions and exposures, including light shade and coastal conditions.

Splitbeard bluestem is propagated from seeds or by plant division. The white seeds are produced from early to mid-fall when the clumps reach a basal diameter of 1¼ inches or more. For division, the plants are reproduced from buds at the base of the culms. However, of the two propagation methods, it is best to plant splitbeard bluestem by seed.

The seeds should be planted in late winter as a dormant seeding or when daily temperatures average in the low 60’s. Broadcast the seed and culti-pack, if the right field conditions exist. The seeding rate should be 10 to 12 pure live seed pounds/acre. The seeds should be planted to a depth of ¼ to ¾ inch. If the right field conditions do not exist or intensive seedbed preparation is undesirable, then disk the site and leave the surface as rough as possible. Do not attempt to create a smooth uniform appearance for the seedbed. Broadcast the seed and leave it undisturbed. When seeding under minimal seedbed preparation, increase the seeding rate by 50%.

It is not recommended to mix splitbeard bluestem seeds with cool season grass seeds. In parts of the United States where cool season grasses dominate, the warm season grasses can be taken over because they develop slower than the cool season grasses. It is also recommended that seed should not be moved more than 300 miles north, 100 miles east or west, or 200 miles south of its point of origin.

If division is the desirable way to propagate, then the plants should be placed at 12 inch-centers because the rate of spread is slow.

General Upkeep and Control

Splitbeard bluestem does not require fertilizers as the plants can grow in low fertility areas. Overgrazing and frequent haying of splitbeard bluestem results in an increase of this plant. However if splitbeard bluestem becomes weedy, then burning or mowing is recommended. Check with the local extension service for recommended herbicides. Splitbeard bluestem has no known pests or problems.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Graminoid
Growth Period Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability No Known Source
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Bunch
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 3.9
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Green
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -18
Soil Depth for Roots 10
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Slow
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 3400–11000 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 10
Minimum Frost-Free Days 140 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA