Bear Grass Plant Description

Written by amy le
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Bear Grass Plant Description
Bear grass flower (flower 1 image by Anton Chernenko from

A common native plant in the Western United States, bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) is also known as Western turkeybeard, Indian basket grass, bear lily or soap grass. Despite its name, bear grass is part of the lily family and not a true grass. When bear grass is left to grow undisturbed, it slowly spreads to cover a large area. When bear grass blooms en masse, it is truly magnificent.


Bear grass is found in Western Canada and the Western United States, from Washington to Central California and east through Idaho, Montana and Northern Wyoming. It grows mainly in and around forests in the Coast Ranges, the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. Bear grass is also used as a landscape plant.


Bear grass is a very hardy plant that takes full or partial sun. It does grow in shady areas, but will not bloom. It prefers sandy, well-drained soil, but can grow in rocky and clay soils. Bear grass also grows at high altitudes. Bear grass is fire, frost and drought tolerant.


Bear grass is grasslike in nature and grows slowly in clumps 3 to 6 feet high. It is an evergreen perennial herb. After blooming, the plant dies, but new plants grow quickly from underground rhizomes or from seeds.


It takes up to 7 years for bear grass to bloom. The thick flower stalks grow up to 6 feet tall. Beautiful bunches of white, fragrant, star-shaped flowers grow and bloom in a conical shape. The plant flowers from late spring to midsummer.


American Indians used the leaves of bear grass to weave baskets and roasted the roots for eating. Native Americans used the grass medicinally to treat broken bones and sprains, wash and protect open wounds and soothe irritated eyes. Because the plant is strong and fibrous, it is sometimes used to weave rope.

Today, florists also use bear grass in flower arrangements because of its durability.

Fun Fact

According to the United States Forest Service: deer, elk and other big-game animals eat bear grass flower stalks, and grizzly bears use it in their winter dens.


Consult your doctor before using any herbal or plant-based remedies.

Bear grass rhizomes can be toxic when eaten if not properly prepared.

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