Xerophyllum tenax

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Xerophyllum tenax
Glacier National Park, Montana
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Melanthiaceae
Genus: Xerophyllum
X. tenax
Binomial name
Xerophyllum tenax
  • Helonias tenax Pursh
  • Melanthium spicatum Walter 1788, not Burm.f. 1768
  • Xerophyllum douglasii S.Watson

Xerophyllum tenax is a North American species of plants in the corn lily family.[1][2] It is known by several common names, including bear grass, soap grass, quip-quip, and Indian basket grass.[3]


Xerophyllum tenax is a perennial herb[4] that can grow to 15–150 centimetres (6–59 inches) in height. It grows in bunches with the leaves wrapped around and extending from a small stem at ground level. The leaves are 30–100 cm (12–39+12 in) long and 2–6 millimetres (11614 in) wide, dull olive green with toothed edges. Emerging from the tip of the stalk like an upright club, a tightly packed raceme bears slightly fragrant white flowers. These have six sepals and six stamens. The plant produces small, tan-coloured seeds, which germinate after a cold period of 12 to 16 weeks.

Depending on site-specific and environmental conditions, plants may bloom every year or only once every decade, though back-to-back blooming of individual plants is rare.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The plant is found mostly in western North America from British Columbia south to California and east to Wyoming, in subalpine meadows and coastal mountains, and also on low ground in the California coastal fog belt as far south as Monterey County. It is common on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascades, northern Sierra Nevada and Rockies.[6][7][2]

Depending on conditions such as moisture and temperatures it periodically blooms in large concentrations.[8]


X. tenax is an important part of the fire ecology of regions where it is native. It has rhizomes which survive fire that clears dead and dying plant matter from the surface of the ground. The plant thrives with periodic burns and is often the first plant to sprout in a scorched area.

Mount Rainier National Park
Washington state

Deer and elk eat the flower and other parts of the plant.[9] Bears eat the softer leaf bases.[10]


The fibrous leaves, which turn white as they dry, are tough, durable, and easily dyed and manipulated into tight waterproof weaves.[11] Native Americans have woven the plant in baskets,[12] including the Hupa, who use it to create a border pattern.[13][11] Native Americans historically roasted the rootstock for food;[12] they also ate the pods, which are good cooked.[9] Native Americans also braid dried leaves and adorn them on traditional buckskin dresses and jewelry.[14][11]

In culture[edit]

It is a common myth that beargrass blooms every seven years.[8]


  1. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ a b Calflora taxon report, University of California, Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt. beargrass, common beargrass
  3. ^ United States Department of Agriculture Plants Profile: Xerophyllum tenax
  4. ^ "Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin". www.wildflower.org. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  5. ^ "Beargrass". US National Park Service. Retrieved 2022-07-05.
  6. ^ Flora of North America, Profile and map: Xerophyllum tenax
  7. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  8. ^ a b "Beargrass Blooming Bountifully in the Flathead". 11 July 2019. Retrieved 2022-07-05.
  9. ^ a b Reiner, Ralph E. (1969). Introducing the Flowering Beauty of Glacier National Park and the Majestic High Rockies. Glacier Park, Inc. p. 4.
  10. ^ Fagan, Damian (2019). Wildflowers of Oregon: A Field Guide to Over 400 Wildflowers, Trees, and Shrubs of the Coast, Cascades, and High Desert. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-4930-3633-2. OCLC 1073035766.
  11. ^ a b c Plants for a Future, Xerophyllum tenax - (Purs.)Nutt.
  12. ^ a b Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 553. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  13. ^ Murphey, Edith Van Allen 1990 Indian Uses of Native Plants. Glenwood, Ill. Meyerbooks. Originally published in 1959 (p. 2)
  14. ^ Campbell, Paul Douglas 1999 Survival Skills of Native California. Gibbs Smith (p. 209)

External links[edit]