Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Xerophyllum tenax


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Crane, M. F. 1990. Xerophyllum tenax. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : XERTEN SYNONYMS : Xerophyllum douglasii Helonias tenax SCS PLANT CODE : XETE COMMON NAMES : beargrass Indian basket grass Squaw-grass soap-grass Quip-Quip bear grass bear-grass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of beargrass is Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt. [54]. LIFE FORM : Forb FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Beargrass grows from British Columbia east to southwestern Alberta. It extends south through the Coast Ranges and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada to central California. It also extends south in the Rocky Mountains into Idaho, Montana, and northwestern Wyoming [51,70]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir - spruce FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine STATES : CA ID MT OR WA WY AB BC BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 4 Sierra Mountains 8 Northern Rocky Mountains KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K003 Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest K004 Fir - hemlock forest K005 Mixed conifer forest K007 Red fir forest K008 Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest K009 Pine - cypress forest K012 Douglas-fir forest K013 Cedar - hemlock - pine forest K014 Grand fir - Douglas-fir forest K015 Western spruce - fir forest K029 California mixed evergreen forest SAF COVER TYPES : 205 Mountain hemlock 206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir 207 Red fir 210 Interior Douglas-fir 211 White fir 212 Western larch 213 Grand fir 215 Western white pine 218 Lodgepole pine 226 Coastal true fir - hemlock 227 Western redcedar - western hemlock 228 Western redcedar 229 Pacific Douglas-fir 230 Douglas-fir - western hemlock 231 Port Orford-cedar 234 Douglas-fir - tanoak - Pacific madrone SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Within its range, beargrass is often a dominant on upper slope sites under subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis), Shasta red fir (A. shastensis), grand fir (A. grandis), western white pine (Pinus monticola), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) [10,11,18,22,80]. In southern Oregon it is a useful indicator of cool summer soil temperatures [65]. In the Cascade Mountains of Oregon beargrass is an indicator of cold and dry forest sites [48,49]. The grand fir/beargrass habitat type indicates the cool-dry limits of the grand fir zone in Idaho [18,79]. Published classification schemes listing beargrass as an indicator species or a dominant part of vegetation in habitat types (hts), community types (cts), or plant associations (pas) are presented below: Area Classification Authority WY forest hts Alexander 1986 CA, OR: Siskiyou forest pas Atzet and Wheeler 1984 Mountain Province sw OR: Siskiuou Region forest pas Atzet and others 1984 n ID forest hts, cts Cooper and others 1987 e Wa, n ID forest hts, cts Daubenmire and Daubenmire 1968 WA: Cedar River montane forest cts Del Moral and Long 1977 Drainage OR: c Cascades forest pas, cts Dyrness and others 1974 Pacific Northwest general veg. pas Hall 1984 w OR forest pas Halverson and others 1986 OR: w Cascades forest hts, cts, pas Hawk 1979 OR: Willamette NF general veg. pas Hemstrom and others 1987 w OR forest pas Hemstrom and others 1982 WA: Mount Rainier NP forest hts, cts Moir and others 1976 MT forest hts Pfister and others 1977 e ID, w WY forest hts Steele and others 1983 c ID forest hts Steele and others 1981 c OR general veg. pas Volland 1985a


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Beargrass flower stalks are a delicacy for deer and elk and are eaten by other big game animals as well [18,90]. Beargrass foliage is of low forage value. Elk eat beargrass during early summer in Montana [31,57,90]. Thick mats of beargrass and sedge (Carex spp.) provide excellent feeding sites for pocket gophers [48] and other rodents which attract raptors [10]. Sometimes grizzly bears use beargrass leaves as nesting material in their winter dens [95]. PALATABILITY : The relish and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for beargrass in Montana is rated as poor for cattle, sheep, horses, elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer [27,35]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : Beargrass provides fair cover for small mammals but poor cover for small nongame birds and upland game birds in Montana [27]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : In Montana beargrass has potential for erosion control and long-term revegetation, with high biomass production, good growth on gentle or moderate slopes and fair growth on steep slopes [27]. Beargrass seed needs at least 12 to 16 weeks of cold stratification for germination; seed germinates best in vermiculite. Further propagation details are available [78]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Native Americans in the Rocky Mountain region traded this plant to tribes from other areas. Eastern prairie tribes used the boiled roots for hair tonic and as a treatment for sprains. Coastal tribes bleach and dye the leaves for decorative designs woven into baskets [58] and Southwest tribes use it in basketweaving. New beargrass leaves produced the first year after a fire are preferred for basket weaving because they are stronger, thinner, and more pliable [53]. In recent years florists have discovered that beargrass leaves make sturdy long-lasting greens, and some National Forests are issuing permits for beargrass harvesting [24]. Beargrass rhizomes may be toxic to people [58]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : West Coast Sites: Beargrass is very frost tolerant [43,48]. When beargrass is an understory dominant in the Pacific silver fir and mountain hemlock zones of the Oregon Cascades, the site is usually very frost-prone, often droughty, and frequently poor in nutrients [43,48]. Conifer regeneration is often difficult on these sites due to cold subsurface soil temperatures, high surface temperatures after snowmelt, rapid soil drying, beargrass-sedge mats, pocket gophers, and a short growing season with prolonged frosts [48,49]. Management suggestions for these sites include using a shelterwood system, managing residual Pacific silver fir, or providing other types of protection [48]. On some Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock and western white pine sites in central and southern Oregon, beargrass cover may be very dense (60 to 75%), which creates a serious planting barrier [10,30]. Clearcutting and scarification in Oregon often produce areas with high densities of beargrass and sedge that provide good habitat for pocket gophers which feed heavily on tree seedlings [48,49]. However, in an Oregon study of an area with low beargrass cover, beargrass disappeared immediately after logging and reappeared in trace amounts 4 years later [28]. On partial cuts in southwestern Oregon mixed-conifer and mixed-evergreen forest types, beargrass presence indicates that good natural regeneration is probable [38]. In many western hemlock and tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) associations of southwestern Oregon, beargrass indicates poorer (cooler, dry) sites [10]. Rocky Mountain sites: In eastern Washington, Idaho, and western Montana, subalpine fir and mountain hemlock sites with beargrass as an understory dominant are often too droughty in the summer for Engelmann spruce regeneration [22]. Beargrass is generally a dominant on cool, dry sites in the Rocky Mountains where both site preparation and shade may be needed for prompt regeneration. Lodgepole pine is frequently dominant in early succession on these sites [73,79]. Beargrass decreases sharply or may be lost completely after scarification on all Montana habitat types because of mechanical damage to its rhizomes [9,52]. Beargrass may take 25 or more years to recover from scarification [5,9]. Other Disturbance: Because of its tough, wiry leaves and tufted growth form, beargrass is tolerant of trampling [17]. Chemical Control: Beargrass appears to be fairly resistant to many herbicides [26,60]. Moderate control can be achieved with bromacil, hexazinone, and terbacil, which are also associated with conifer seedling mortality. Since beargrass roots are deeper than those of most conifer seedlings, beargrass control may be less necessary than control of other competitors, such as long-stolon sedge (Carex pensylvanica), with shallow roots that compete directly with conifer seedling roots. Detailed information about chemical control has been reported by Dimock [26] and summarized by Miller and Kidd [64].


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Beargrass is a perennial, evergreen herb from the lily family with basal leaves that form dense clumps or tussocks [81]. The linear leaves arise from a short, woody rhizome and are scabrous, tough, and wiry [51]. If pulled or stepped on, the grasslike leaves easily slide out of their sheaths [58]. Any particular plant may not bloom for several years but when it does it will produce a leafy flowering stalk that may be up to 6 feet (15 dm) tall with numerous small white flowers [51]. The sequence of bloom is from the lowest flowers to the upper flowers resulting in a knob of tight buds on top of the flower cluster [42]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Colonies of beargrass tend to bloom in 5- to 7-year cycles, possibly when environmental conditions are right [58]. After fruit set, the plants that bloom die. However, normal vegetative reproduction of offshoots has already occurred [42]. The fruit is a small three-lobed capsule containing several seeds [42]. Seeds are 0.16 inch (4 mm) long and average about 830,000 per pound (1,830,150/kg) [70,78]. The seed needs cold stratification for germination [78]. Vegetative reproduction is by offshoots of the rhizome [42]. Beargrass is usually considered to be long-lived because of its continual production of offshoots [56]. Following disturbances, including mud flows and debris slides, beargrass sprouts from rhizomes [2]. When buried in tephra, which forms a new surface horizon, beargrass rhizomes do not elongate and grow into the tephra. Instead the plant continues to grow from the old rhizome for at least the first year [6]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Beargrass is widely found as a understory dominant in cool western spruce-fir forests. It is also common under alpine larch (Larix lyallii) and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis)-subalpine fir stands on cold, rocky sites at upper timberline [7,34]. It is less common below the subalpine zone [56]. Common understory dominants growing with beargrass are huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), grouse whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium), and sedges [22,18]. Rocky Mountain sites: At the northeastern limit of its range in Waterton Park, beargrass is found on moderate to steep south-facing slopes on colluvial and morainal landforms with Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), subalpine fir, and whitebark pine [1,67]. Beargrass is dominant with menziesia (Menziesia ferruginea) in subalpine forests near the border between the United States and Canada [19]. Although they grow together, beargrass favors more xeric conditions than does menziesia [63]. In northern Idaho beargrass grows predominantly on ridges and the upper portions of slopes [22,69]. Pure stands of beargrass are found in treeless open parks with summer-dry soils on high ridges and southerly slopes in northern Idaho and eastern Washington [21]. In northern Idaho western redcedar (Thuja plicata) stands, beargrass is most common at higher elevations [40]. In Montana, beargrass may extend slightly from the forest into adjacent grasslands [76]. West Coast sites: In the Coastal Mountains of Oregon, beargrass is found on steep sites on well-drained, frequently shallow, soils on rugged, rocky topography near ridgetops [50]. It is often in areas with active sheet erosion [50]. In the Oregon Cascades it may be dominant on cold dry ridges and mountain tops from 4,700 to 5,800 feet (1,433-1,768 m) with soils that are poorly drained in spring and excessively well drained in summer. These sites often show no sign of having been previously forested, but this community could be a prolonged seral stage [49]. While beargrass grows on most sites in the western hemlock zone of Oregon, Washington, and northern California, it has higher cover on drier sites and grows well on talus or scree slopes [30,34,77]. In the silver fir zone it does best toward the xeric end of the moisture gradient [30]. Understories on relatively dry silver fir and mountain hemlock sites may be depauperate with little growing besides beargrass and huckleberry [33,34]. In Oregon's subalpine fir zone it does best on upper south slopes and ridges [34]. Beargrass is common in the mixed-evergreen and mixed-conifer zones on relatively cool, dry sites under Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), grand fir, incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), tanoak, golden chinquapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla), and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) in southern Oregon, northern California, and the Siskiyou Mountains [12,34,77]. In the pygmy forest region of California, it grows in stands of Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) and Bolander pine (P. bolanderi) [88]. Westman [88] considers beargrass a heliophilic (sun-loving) plant which does well on these relatively unproductive, open sites. Soils: Beargrass grows on a variety of soils and is able to grow well on very shallow or rocky soils [30,43]. It does well on basaltic lava flows in southern Washington but does not grow well on pumice [33,34]. On serpentine soils in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon and California, beargrass grows most vigorously on submesic to mesic sites, while on olivine gabbro soils, it is found on xeric to subxeric sites [89]. In the Siskiyous it is the most useful indicator of small serpentine outcrops [89]. It may dominate the herbaceous layer on serpentine and other ultramafic soils under Douglas-fir, western white pine, Port-Orford-cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), huckleberry oak (Quercus vaccinifolia), and, at higher elevations, white fir (Abies concolor) [10,47,89,94]. In Montana it often occurs in association with volcanic ash soils [71]. In the Garnet Mountains of Montana, where beargrass is prominent on soils formed from granite and quartzite, essentially no beargrass occurs on soils formed from limestone [37]. In Montana growth is poor on gravel, sand, and dense clay; fair on clay; and good on sandy loam, loam, and clay loam [27]. Its growth is poor on organic, saline, sodic, and sodic-saline soils but good on acidic soils [27]. Elevation: Elevational ranges in some western states are [27]: Minimum Maximum feet meters feet meters Montana 5,000 1,524 8,800 2,682 Wyoming 7,200 2,195 7,200 2,195 California sea level 6,000 1,829 SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Beargrass is moderately shade-tolerant [56,68]. It survives but seldom blooms under a forest canopy. In forest openings it grows vigorously and blooms profusely [22,42,50,58]. In the subalpine fir, silver fir, and mountain hemlock zones of Oregon, beargrass is a fire-resistant species that becomes dominant in early succession [33,34]. In Rocky Mountain forest stands with dense overstories, cover of beargrass will be reduced with time [59]. Following severe disturbance, beargrass seedlings may be abundant, but regrowth is slow [59]. Beargrass appears to be very sensitive to competition from shrubs following disturbance [56]. Frequently, growth and cover of established beargrass plants declines for 2 to 8 years after canopy opening [56]. In the western redcedar-western hemlock zone of Glacier Park, beargrass has very high frequency in early and mid-seral communities but becomes rare in old age forests [39]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Beargrass blooms in July in Wyoming. In Montana buds are formed by May, and full bloom begins in July and ends in August [27]. In California flowering is from May to August [70]. In southern Oregon flowering begins in late June, bloom continues and fruit set begins in the first weeks of July, with fruiting continuing into September [75]. In Washington during 1974, beargrass fruits were green on August 27. By September 10, half the fruits were brown and by September 25 the fruit was opening and shedding seed. On October 10 all the fruit was open [96].


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : The primary fire adaptation of beargrass is its ability to sprout from rhizomes following fire. Beargrass is a survivor species that is present before a fire and regrows in place after the fire [84]. The meristematic region, or growing point, of a beargrass rhizome is restricted to the area of the leaf base on the upper surface of the rhizome. Since this region is the only portion of the rhizome able to produce new growth, it is critical to the plant's survival [15]. The meristematic region often lies at or above the interface between organic material and mineral soil where it may be damaged by duff-consuming fires [15]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Xerophyllum tenax
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Since the meristematic region of the rhizome usually is found near the interface of organic horizons and mineral soil, beargrass is quite sensitive to fire [15,81]. If the basal leaves are moist, they may protect the meristem to some extent, but if they are dry they can be an added fuel source which increases the heat pulse at the base of the rosette [15]. Generally, if the fire is light enough or if the duff is moist enough for the duff layer to remain intact, the rhizomes will survive. However, if severe fire removes most or all of the duff layer, most beargrass rhizomes will be killed [81]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : The response of beargrass to fire is quite variable [15]. Two important factors in beargrass recovery appear to be the impact of the fire on the soil surface and the suitability of the site for beargrass. Beargrass initially decreases after wildfire or relatively hot broadcast burns, although changes in its cover are variable or slight after light burns [9,48]. When slash fires in the Rocky Mountains destroy beargrass rhizomes, beargrass is frequently unable to recolonize the burned site quickly despite its normal ability to persist and thrive in openings [86]. Beargrass regrowth following fire in this area is often slow [59,83,92]. However, in Oregon, while beargrass rhizomes may be killed by hot surface fires, beargrass is likely to invade areas with exposed soil [43]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : Fire severity in the Rocky Mountains: Historically, fires may have been more frequent and less severe in Montana's relatively dry, open subalpine fir/beargrass habitat type and severe but infrequent in moist subalpine areas [23]. In this habitat type beargrass increases after light broadcast fires but decreases after hot fires or scarification [9]. After the Sundance wildfire in northern Idaho, beargrass survived on lightly burned areas. Increases in beargrass cover began 3 to 10 years after the fire, with a maximum cover of 11 percent [84,83]. Where fires encourage fire-dependent shrubs, beargrass cover changes very little once the shrubs become dominant [82]. Following a Montana wildfire, beargrass reached 2 to 3 percent cover in 10 years and remained at that level regardless of other plant community changes [61]. Site differences in the Rocky Mountains: In the subalpine fir/beargrass habitat type, beargrass increased after light broadcast burning, while in the Douglas-fir/blue huckleberry (Vaccinium globulare) habitat type, it decreased after light broadcast burning [9]. On colder sites in the grand fir series in Montana, the cover of beargrass can be much reduced following fire [4]. After clearcutting and broadcast burning in the grand fir/myrtle pachystima (Pachistima myrsinites) habitat type of northern Idaho, beargrass recovery may take up to 23 years [92]. Following severe fire on a subalpine fir/queencup beadlily (Clintonia uniflora) habitat type, beargrass cover and volume did not recover to prefire levels during the first 9 postfire years [81]. Variability in beargrass response on different sites is illustrated by a Montana study comparing the results of different disturbances on several habitat types. Data from 177 plots are summarized as percent constancy/average canopy cover of beargrass on three subalpine fir habitat types [91]: subalpine fir subalpine fir subalpine fir /beadlily /menziesia /beargrass Wildfire: 47/15.3 88/18.8 93/27.2 Clearcut & burned with slash dozer piled: 9/00.5 50/07.0 ----- Clearcut & burned with- out slash piling: 50/07.5 50/00.5 ----- Old growth: 31/14.4 50/01.8 62/21.6 Snowchutes: 38/15.8 50/03.0 100/37.5 FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Fuel Loading: Brown and Marsden [16] have developed an equation to estimate fuel loading of beargrass, grass, and other grasslike plants based on the relationship between plant height and ground cover. West Coast Sites: In the Pacific silver fir and mountain hemlock zones of the Oregon Cascades, scarification or burning following clearcutting encourages the spread of snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus), beargrass, and long-stolon sedge [49]. On some Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock, and western white pine sites in central and southern Oregon, beargrass may be stimulated by fire or scarification and invade clearcuts where it competes with tree seedlings [10,11,43,48]. In the coastal tanoak/evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)-salal (Gaultheria shallon) association, beargrass can be an aggressive invader following fire [12]. Rocky Mountain Sites: In the Rocky Mountains, clearcutting and burning with fire hot enough to reduce duff will reduce beargrass cover [5,9]. Beargrass does not appear to be as invasive in this area as in the Northwest. If beargrass is desirable, then shelterwood or selection cuts are better for its growth than clearcutting and burning [56]. Prescribed Fire: In California, prescribed fires have been used to provide young beargrass shoots for Native American basket makers. Experience with these fires has shown that a fire that consumes between 90 and 100 percent of dead beargrass foliage and 75 to 95 percent of live foliage will stimulate new growth [53]. Flame lengths between 0.75 and 3 feet (0.2-0.9 m) with a spread rate of 1 to 4 feet (0.3-1.2 m) per minute will produce this consumption. Traditional burning took place in the summer and early fall. Possible burning periods and prescription details are given by Hunter [53].

References for species: Xerophyllum tenax

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