Herbs & Plants

Xerophyllum tenax

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Botanical Name :Xerophyllum tenax
Family: Melanthiaceae
Genus: Xerophyllum
Species: X. tenax
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Liliales

Synonyms: Helonias tenax – Pursh, Xerophyllum douglasii – S.Wats.

Common Names :Bear grass, Squaw grass, Soap grass, Quip-quip, and Indian basket grass.

Habitat:Xerophyllum tenax is native to  Western N. AmericaBritish Columbia to California.  Grows on  Dry sunny hills and open woods. Moist places in open woods and clearings, from sea level to 2100 metres

Xerophyllum tenax is an evergreen grasslike Perennial  plant ,  growing to 1.2m by 2m at a slow rate. It grows in bunches with the leaves wrapped around and extending from a small stem at ground level. The leaves are 30-100 cm long and 2-6 mm wide, dull olive green with toothed edges. The slightly fragrant white flowers emerge from a tall stalk that bolts from the base. When the flowers are in bloom they are tightly packed at the tip of the stalk like an upright club.


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.

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.

Cultivation :
Requires a well-drained soil in full sun. Prefers a fairly moisture-retentive sandy peaty soil. Requires a damp peaty soil. Plants can be difficult to cultivate. Plants are hardy to about -20°c, especially if the roots are given a good mulch in the winter. If left undisturbed, plants can form quite large colonies, spreading by means of their tough rhizomes. Plants do not flower every year, there are often gaps of 5 – 7 years between flowering.

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.

Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Root.

Root – baked.

Medicinal Uses:
Ophthalmic; Styptic.

The roots are styptic. A poultice of the chewed root has been applied to wounds. A decoction of the grated root has been 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
Basketry; Fibre; Weaving.

A watertight basket can be made from the leaves. This basket has been used for cooking food in. The fibres 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. 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 are used for weaving into hats and capes.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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