Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry sandy, rocky or clay soil; prairies, rock outcrops
Fruiting season:July - September
Plant height:8 to 28 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of spike clusters] Raceme-like cluster on the upper stem, 1 to 3 branches, usually 2, rarely 4 to 6. Branches are up to 1¾ inches long and short-stalked, the terminal branch erect to spreading, the lateral branches ascending to slightly drooping.

[photo of flowering spikelets] A branch has 40 to 130 spikelets (flower clusters), arranged on one side of the rachis (stalk), tightly packed in 2 rows. Spikelets are green to purple, 4 to 6 mm long, each with one sterile and one fertile floret. At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are smooth to rough textured, often sparsely long-hairy along the midvein, the lower glume awl-shaped, 1.5 to 3.5 mm long, the upper glume lance-shaped, 3.5 to 6 mm long. The fertile floret is surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma about as long as the upper glume, 5-lobed, short-awned on each lobe, short-hairy at least near the base, with longer hairs along the midvein; the palea is slightly shorter than the lemma and notched at the tip. Sterile lemmas are stalked, long-haired at the base, 3-lobed, 3-awned, shorter than the fertile lemmas but longer awned.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of ligule, node and hairy sheath] Leaves are mostly basal with 2 or 3 alternate on the stem, 1 to 6 inches long, about 2 mm wide, flat in cross-section but often curled, the edges rolled up (involute) especially when dry, usually short-hairy near the base, sometimes with a few long, white hairs along the edge. Sheaths are hairless to sparsely hairy on the surface. Nodes are smooth to minutely hairy. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is a fringe of white hairs .1 to .4 mm long.

[photo of hairless sheaths and long hairs on the collar] The outer edge of the ligule (collar) is often lined with long, white hairs. Stems are erect, or horizontal then rising at the lower node (geniculate), hairless, rooting at the nodes, forming dense clumps and may form mats from short rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of spikelet and grains] Spikelets ripen to light brown, the florets dropping at maturity, leaving the glumes behind. As the florets mature and the spike branch dries, it curls back (recurves) and persists into winter. Grains (seeds) are oblong-elliptic and brown, 2.5 to 3 mm long.


A dry prairie species of the Great Plains and western states and an important forage grass, Blue Grama is also popular as an ornamental grass due to the recurved spikes and dense clumps of curly leaves. It is easily confused with the related Hairy Grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), which is hairier overall, has shorter spikes with fewer spikelets per branch (20 to 50), and the branch rachis extends well past the last spikelet, looking like a spine at the tip (see comparison photo below).

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Polk, Ramsey and Renville counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Andy - Minneapolis
on: 2023-06-21 20:40:15

Planted blue grama in the boulevard a few years back. It handles road salt, foot traffic, and drought with no problem. Amidst this current "moderate drought" designation for my area, it's very healthy--already has many purple spikelets.

Posted by: Stephan - Eden Prairie
on: 2023-07-24 07:48:47

Numerous plants observed growing along the paved trail atop the ridge at the Eden Prairie Bluff Conservation Area, mixed in with sideoats grama. Not sure if the blue grama here is truly a remnant population or was added as part of a seed mix post-trail construction. Definitely not hairy grama since the rachis on these plants did not extend past the last spikelet. Neat to see a shortgrass prairie species growing in the tallgrass prairie region.

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