E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt.
bear-grass (common beargrass)
(Previously in Liliaceae)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Ed McMackin  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #88098)

E-Flora BC Static Map
Distribution of Xerophyllum tenax
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Species Information

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Perennial herb from a short, stout, somewhat woody rhizome; flowering stems erect, robust, 0.5-1.5 m tall.
Basal leaves numerous in large clumps, rigid, wiry, narrowly linear (grass-like), 20-90 cm long, 1.5-6 mm wide, harshly rough-margined with tiny teeth; stem leaves several to many, reduced upward and eventually bract-like.
Inflorescence a dense, pyramidal, terminal cluster, at first bulbous and nippled, later elongating, 10-40 cm long, of numerous, stalked flowers, the stalks slender, 2-5 cm long; flowers white to cream, saucer-shaped, of 6 similar, distinct tepals, the tepals oblong, 5-10 mm long; stamens 6; pistil 1, 3-chambered.
Capsules, broadly egg-shaped, 3-lobed, 5-7 mm long; seeds oblong, 2 to 5 in each chamber, 3-4 mm long.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

USDA Species Characteristics

Flower Colour:
Blooming Period:
Fruit/Seed characteristics:
Colour: Black
Present from Summer to Fall
Source:  The USDA

Habitat / Range

Dry to mesic coniferous forests, glades, meadows and clearings in the montane and subalpine zones; locally common in SE BC; E to AB and S to WY, ID and CA.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Additional Notes

Bear grass is a spectacular BC native plant that remains uncommon in cultivation, probably because it can take some time to reach flowering size. Bear grass looks like a grass but is actually from the lily family. Its fine, shiny, toothed grass-like foliage forms an attractive evergreen mound. Its dramatic cone-shaped flower spikes can reach six feet in height. The flowers are creamy-white and fragrant. Evenly moist, well-drained soil in part shade to sun.

Note Author: Gary Lewis, Phoenix Perennials


Ecological Framework for Xerophyllum tenax

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 660 1741 2515
Slope Gradient (%) 0 36 140
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
2 186 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
0 3 6
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: AT(25), ESSF(423), ICH(91), IMA(1), MS(7)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Helonias tenax Pursh

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References