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Xerophyllum tenax (Common beargrass)
Glase, Terry

Xerophyllum tenax

Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt.

Common Beargrass, Western Turkeybeard, Bear Lily, Pine Lily, Elk Grass, Squaw Grass, Beargrass, Turkeybeard

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Synonym(s): Helonias tenax


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Western Turkeybeard or Beargrass makes a fountain of curved, rigid, grass-like, evergreen leaves, to 3 ft. tall, which are attractive without flowers. The central flower stalk rises a foot or more above the leaves and bears a dense plume of hundreds of creamy-white flowers. At the top of a stout stalk that grows from a massive bunch of basal leaves bloom many tiny flowers in a dense, broad, white raceme.

Native Americans used the leaves to weave garments and baskets and ate the roasted rootstock.


From the Image Gallery

38 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 6 feet tall when flowering.
Leaf: Green.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: CA , ID , MT , OR , WA , WY
Canada: AB , BC
Native Distribution: Coast Ranges and interior mts. from n. CA to B.C.; also Rocky Mts. of MT, WY & ID
Native Habitat: Open woods, dry slopes & ridges below 6000 ft.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Variable.
Conditions Comments: Beargrass is a pioneer species in some habitats and disappears after taller plants shade it out. It is not a reliable bloomer in a garden setting but the leaves are attractive. In nature, beargrass flowers profusely the season after a fire. After flowering, the leafy tuft supporting the flower stalk dies, but young offset clumps will have already formed to replace the old.


Use Wildlife: Rocky Mt. goats eat this plant in winter. The tough leaves, however, are unpalatable to all other grazers.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes


Description: Sow treated seeds. Seedlings take several years to flower. Offsets may be used as a faster source of new plants.
Seed Treatment: Soak in distilled water 24 hours and stratify 4 months in vermiculite. Remove germinating seeds at weekly interval. A burn treatment has also given good results.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

Status: FACU
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Xerophyllum tenax in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Xerophyllum tenax in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Xerophyllum tenax


Record Modified: 2023-04-12
Research By: TWC Staff

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