June 13, 2017
Whitefish Bear Grass bloom is amazing this year - here are 7 interesting facts about this plant
Posted by: Jennifer Fisher
- Bear Grass looks like a grass, but really belongs to the lily family. It is about 4.5 feet tall. Its olive-colored, grass-like leaves grow from the base of the plant and are tough and wiry. The outside leaves clasp around the stem. The leaves have toothed margins, and grow about 35 inches long, getting shorter as they near the flowers, looking very much like a fan.
- The flowers of bear grass grow on a stalk that can be 6 feet tall with many small flowers. Each flower is creamy white, and saucer shaped, and has a sweet aroma. The lowest flowers bloom first, creating a tight knot of buds at the top. The entire flower looks a little like fluffy, upside down ice cream cone. After the fruit sets, the plant dies. It reproduces by seed, and by sending out offshoots from its rhizomes.These plants only bloom every 5 - 7 years, and when they bloom there can be very few of them or almost every single plant will burst into flower. Bear Grass blooms from June until September when the young mountain bluebirds are preparing to take flight.
- Bear Grass is found in open forests and meadows at sub alpine and low alpine elevations in the western United States. It is commonly found under alpine larch (Larix lyallii) and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) stands on cold, rocky sites at upper timberlines.
- Bear Grass is a fire-resistant species that is the first plant to grow after a fire. Bear Grass, and many other native plants, need periodic burns to produce strong, new growth. After a fire Bear Grass sprouts from its rhizomes which lie just under the surface. Light fires of short duration are best. Intense fires which linger in the same place for a long time will kill the rhizomes under the ground, and prevent the Bear Grass from growing back.
- Native Americans in Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia have traditionally made beautiful baskets with the stems and roots of Bear Grass. When the leaves are dried in the sun in preparation for making baskets, they turn a creamy white. Combined with other materials of different colors, beautiful designs were woven into the baskets. Hats and other practical objects were also made of beargrass. Indians of the mountain regions, laden with neatly packed bundles of bear grass, went to the coast to trade with the coastal Indians for wappatoo roots and for the blue beads obtained from the small trading ships that were beginning to find their way up the coast. Using a combination with cedar bark, the Indians of the coast were able to to weave a basket so close that they were watertight. This was without using any gum or resin. The smaller end of a conic shape, or a segment of cone was the bottom of the basket.
- Bear grass, also called turkey beard, one of two species of North American plants constituting the genus Xerophyllum of the family Melanthiaceae. The western species, X. tenax (the dry leaf that holds fast), also is known as elk grass, squaw grass, and fire lily.
- The roots are fibrous but can be eaten either boiled or roasted.