Xerophyllum tenax

common beargrass


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Liliopsida (monocotyledons). Subclass - Liliidae. Order - Liliales. Family - Liliaceae (lily family). Genus - Xerophyllum Michx. (beargrass). Species - Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt. (common beargrass).

Ecology: Beargrass is a source of food, habitat, and raw material for animals, pollinating insects, and people across its range in the Western United States. The plant has long been used by Native Americans, who harvest the leaves for basketry and other crafts. More recently, beargrass has become an important component of international trade for the commercial floral greens industry.


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.

Beargrass is a herbaceous, rhizomatous plant with a perennial mass of narrow, long, basally clustered leaves.


Some threats are fire frequency and severity, plant harvest intensity, and land use.


The plant can reproduce both vegetatively (by sprouting from the rhizome) and sexually (by flowering).

When flowering, beargrass produces a single, erect, unbranched flowering stalk that bears a dense, terminal inflorescence of 50 to 400 flowers.

Species Distribution


USDA Plant Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds.  1993+.  Flora of North America North of Mexico.  19+ vols.  New York and Oxford.

Intermountain Herbarium
Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http//:intermountainbiota.org/portal/index.php. Accessed on February 04.

Burke Museum Plant Image Collection
The plant image collection at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.

Jepson Manual
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. $131.95, hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.