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

Introduction to Vascular Plants


© Virginia Skilton     (Photo ID #3953)


E-Flora BC Static Map

Distribution of Xerophyllum tenax
Click here to view the full interactive map and legend

Species Information

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.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


If more than one illustration is available for a species (e.g., separate illustrations were provided for two subspecies) then links to the separate images will be provided below. Note that individual subspecies or varietal illustrations are not always available.

USDA Species Characteristics

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


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)
1741 660 2515
Slope Gradient (%)
36 0 140

Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]

186 2 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
3 0 6
Modal Nutrient Regime
# 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)

Habitat and 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.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Synonyms and Alternate Names:
Helonias tenax Pursh

Taxonomic 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