Blackhawks Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’ PP27,949

Description & Overview

Blackhawks Big Bluestem is an upright selection of our native Big Bluestem characterized by its vertical habit, dark green foliage with purple-red tips in late summer, and deep purple fall color. In winter, the sturdy stems turn tan. Blackhawks is slightly more compact than other cultivars, coming in just under 5 feet compared to selections and the species that can range from 4-7 feet in height. This selection will be a great way to add a splash of color to the landscape will provide benefits to our native wildlife and insects.

Core Characteristics

Wisconsin Native: No – Variety of North American Native
Mature Height: 4-5 feet
Mature Spread: 2-2.5 feet
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Upright
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Adaptable but avoid overly fertile sites
Flower: Burgundy inflorescence, terminal raceme
Bloom Period: August-September
Foliage: Dark green, purple-red tips develop in August
Fall Color: Deep purple, tan in winter
Fruit Notes: 3-part seed head, purple

Suggested Uses:

This warm-season grass is great as a tall border, corner accent, as part of a mass or matrix planting, or in the mid-border of a sunny bed. Established plants will look great individually or in groups. However, you’ll need to be patient with new plantings- they can take up to 3 years to reach their mature height while they establish their deep, extensive root system. This root system also makes Blackhawks Big Bluestem a worthwhile candidate for erosion control.

Wildlife Value:

Blackhawks Big Bluestem should provide similar benefits to wildlife as the species. Of interesting note is that the seeds are darker in color than the species. The seeds may contain more Anthocyanins than the species. We’re unsure if this will increase or decrease the plant’s palatability to wildlife, but we’re interested to see how it performs in the landscape.

Maintenance Tips:

Water deeply for the first year to establish an extensive root system. Fertilizer should not be necessary and may instead cause the plant to flop. Use mulch around the new planting to keep the soil cool, but it should not be waterlogged.

While most grasses are cut back in fall/spring, you should leave Blackhawks Big Bluestem up all winter as it’s useful for habitat material and its seeds are an excellent food source for birds. You can cut the plant back to 3 inches in spring before new growth starts to flush. If you miss clipping it before it flushes, we recommend either carefully clipping the dead stems or just leaving them up and trying next year.


Blackhawks Big Bluestem is not prone to any major insect or disease issues. However, it can have poor form in the wrong locations. If you plant Blackhawks where the soil is rich and moist, it will grow quickly and flop. The best performance is in average sites where the plant’s growth rate is tempered.

Leaf Lore:

Blackhawks Big Bluestem was selected by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens and patented in 2017. It. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we carry several other amazing selections by Brent including Thundercloud Sedum, Jazz Little Bluestem, Daisy May® Shasta Daisy, and American Gold Rush Rudbeckia, to name a few.

This plant has been several years in the making. Blackhawks was a seedling selection from Red October (PP26,283), another Big Bluestem cultivar developed by Brent, which in turn was selected from Indian Warrior (PP24,999). This selection was named after the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team.

Companion Plants:

Use Zagreb Coreopsis and Montrose White Calamint in the foreground planting space or as a border. For larger spaces, you could consider blending groups of Blackhawks Big Bluestem, Jazz Little Bluestem, Rosinweed, Ironweed, and Prairie Blazing Star to have a taller perennial bed. At the end of the day, this is a versatile plant that will do well anywhere you have full sun, average soil, and room for it to grow.

All pictures provided by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens.

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