Xerophyllum tenax

Common name: Indian Basket Grass Family: Melanthiaceae
Author: (Purs.)Nutt. Botanical references: 60, 200
Synonyms: Xerophyllum douglasii, Helonias tenax (Pursh.)
Known Hazards: None known
Range: Western N. America – British Columbia to California.
Habitat: Dry sunny hills and open woods187. Moist places in open woods and clearings, from sea level to 2100 metres1, 60.
Edibility Rating (1-5): 2 Medicinal Rating (1-5): 1
Other Common Names: From various places around the Web, may not be correct. See below.
Beargrass FEIS,S, Common Beargrass P, Western Turkeybeard B,
Epithets: From a Dictionary of Botanical Epithets
tenax = tenacious;
Other Range Info: From the Ethnobotany Database
Us(Blackfoot); Us(Flathead)

Physical Characteristics

An evergreen perennial growing to 1.2m by 2m at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 5. It is in leaf all year, in flower from July to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. We rate it 2/5 for edibility and 1/5 for medicinal use.

The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.

Habitats and Possible Locations

Woodland, Sunny Edge, Dappled Shade.

Edible Uses


Root – baked


Medicinal Uses

Ophthalmic; Styptic.

The roots are styptic

257. A poultice of the chewed root has been applied to wounds257. A decoction of the grated root has been used as a wash on bleeding wounds, sprains and broken limbs257. The washed roots have been rubbed to make a lather and then used to wash sore eyes257.

Other Uses

Basketry; Fibre; Weaving.

A watertight basket can be made from the leaves

21, 46, 61, 99, 257. This basket has been used for cooking food in257. The fibres are split from the leaves and then used92. The plant is also used to decorate baskets257. The small leaves have been used to make dresses257. 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 green257. The dried and bleached leaves are used for weaving into hats and capes207, 257.

Cultivation details

Requires a well-drained soil in full sun187. Prefers a fairly moisture-retentive sandy peaty soil1, 200. Requires a damp peaty soil233. Plants can be difficult to cultivate188. Plants are hardy to about -20°c187, especially if the roots are given a good mulch in the winter200. If left undisturbed, plants can form quite large colonies, spreading by means of their tough rhizomes200. Plants do not flower every year, there are often gaps of 5 – 7 years between flowering212.


Seed – we have no information for this species but suggest sowing the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe if possible, otherwise in early spring. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division as the plant comes into growth in the spring.