Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt.
Family: Liliaceae, Lily
Genus: Xerophyllum
Synonyms: Zerophyllum tenax
Other names: bear-grass
Nomenclature: tenax = tenacious
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Medicinal plant
No edibility data

General: robust, evergreen perennial, flowering stems erect, 50-150 cm tall, from short rhizomes, 1-2 cm thick.

Leaves: mainly basal, in large clumps, grass-like, tough and wiry, 15-60 cm long and 1.5-4 mm broad, with sharp, finely toothed edges. Stem leaves alternate, similar to the basal but much shorter.

Flowers: white, fragrant, many in a terminal cluster that is at first short, cone-shaped, but elongating to as much as 50 cm tall, club-shaped or bottle-brush-like, in late flower. Flower stalks slender, 2.5-5 cm long. The 6 tepals oblong, distinct, mostly 6-8 mm long. Stamens as long as or exceeding the tepals. Styles proper scarcely 1 mm long, the 3 branches curved back, about 3 mm long, stigmatic the full length. June-August.

Fruits: capsules, 5-7 mm long, dry, oval, strongly 3-lobed, the seeds 2-6 per compartment.


Drier, open woods and clearings, montane to subalpine zone, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also from s.e. B.C. and s.w. Alberta to CA and ID.
Medicinal Uses

The roots have agents that check bleeding by contracting blood vessels, and were used for this purpose by the Blackfoot and Kashaya Pomo Indians. A poultice of the chewed root was applied to wounds. A decoction of the grated root was used as a wash on bleeding wounds, sprains and broken limbs. The washed roots have been rubbed to make a lather and then used to wash sore eyes.

Other Uses

A watertight basket can be made from the leaves. This basket has been used for cooking food in. The fibers are split from the leaves and then used. The plant is also used to decorate baskets. The small leaves have been used to make dresses as well. The plants were burnt every year. The leaves were harvested in the spring when they first started to grow out of the charred rhizome. Prior to using, the leaves were soaked in water to make them pliable, but if left too long they turned green. The dried and bleached leaves have been are used for weaving into hats and capes as well.

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