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flower head
Anne Elliott
© All Rights Reserved
southern Alberta
near Canada-US border
Bear Grass
Xerophyllum tenax
Family: Melanthiaceae
© Anne Elliott 2017
24 June 2017
Waterton Lakes National Park
Corn lily family

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Bear Grass starting to open

Bear Grass starting to open
For many years, I longed to see Bear Grass / Xerophyllum tenax, and finally, in 2015, I was lucky enough to visit Waterton Lakes National Park and saw and photographed it for the very first time. The photo I posted today was taken three days ago, on 24 June 2017, when I went on the annual Nature Calgary day bus trip to Waterton Lakes - each year, we go to a different destination in Alberta. The edge of the road we drove along had hundreds (thousands?) of these most impressive wildflowers. Each flower varies in shape - some have just a short length of tiny flowers near the top of the tall stem; others have flowers extending a bit further down the spike. The flower in this photo is still waiting to open all the flowers higher up the spike. Actually, this particular flower was a bit different, as the unopened part was a deep red - usually, it is white/creamy white.

"Xerophyllum tenax is a North American species of plants in the corn lily family. It is known by several common names, including bear grass, squaw grass, soap grass, quip-quip, and Indian basket grass.

Xerophyllum tenax has flowers with six sepals and six stamens borne in a terminal raceme. The plant can grow to 15–150 cm in height. 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. The plant is found mostly in western North America from British Columbia south to California and east to Wyoming, in subalpine meadows and coastal mountains, and also on low ground in the California coastal fog belt as far south as Monterey County. It is common on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascades, northern Sierra Nevada and Rockies.

Xerophyllum tenax is an important part of the fire ecology of regions where it is native. It has rhizomes which survive fire that clears dead and dying plant matter from the surface of the ground. The plant thrives with periodic burns and is often the first plant to sprout in a scorched area. This species has long been used by Native Americans who weave it in baskets. They also braid dried leaves and adorn them on traditional buckskin dresses and jewelry." From Wikipedia.


To have the chance to visit Waterton Lakes National Park three days ago, on 24 June 2017, was such an absolute treat! This was an annual bus trip arranged by Nature Calgary, with the destination being different each year. To visit Waterton for just one day does make for a very long day, though - takes about 3 hours to drive each way, for a start.

We had two main stopping places in the park - the lookout at Maskinonge Lake and a longer stop at Cameron Lake. The views from both places are spectacular. Luckily, we had beautiful weather all day.

Actually, we weren't too sure if the road going through the mountains to Cameron Lake was going to be open. It was due to reopen the day before out trip and, fortunately, the gate was open. Once at Cameron Lake, we found an empty picnic table right near the beach, and ate our picnic lunch. We were able to walk along the forest trail that followed the shoreline on the right edge of the lake. At a certain point, one has to turn around and go back along the same trail. Cameron Lake is one of my favourite places in the park, with a beautiful view of the lake and a pleasant, flat walk through the forest. There didn't seem to be a lot of forest wildflower species in bloom - maybe we were just a bit too early for them. However, the huge, creamy white flowers of Bear Grass growing along the edge of the road up to the lake had everyone in absolute awe. The road is only narrow and our bus was huge, so on the drive there, all we could do was gasp in amazement, with no chance for taking photos. We asked our excellent driver if there was any chance he would be willing and able to stop at one of the very small pull-offs at the edge of the road on the return drive - and he did! He was expecting maybe five or six people would get off, but I think almost everyone wanted to get a close look at these amazing plants. Even the driver himself got out to look and take photos. He had apparently never been to Waterton before and had never seen Bear Grass. We noticed tiny Crab Spiders on two of the flowers; one was lying in wait and the other had caught an insect. These spiders don't construct webs, but camouflage themselves by changing their colour to that of the flower they are hiding in, and then they wait. We also saw several stems of Striped Coralroot orchid in the ditch by some of the Bear Grass.

After spending a couple of hours at Cameron Lake, the driver took us back into town, as some people had said they wanted to eat there before the long drive back to Calgary. Others, including myself, would have preferred to have spent the time somewhere else, seeing nature and taking photos. However, we were able to walk to the lake's edge, from where we were able to take a few scenic photos - something I had been hoping for. On our way back to the bus, some of us called in at a very popular ice cream shop - we all agreed it was the best, tastiest ice cream we had ever had! A huge, single scoop of wild cherry in a waffle cone - what more could one want?

Penny, you did a great job of organizing this wonderful trip for us all! I know a lot of work goes into setting up an outing like this, and we all appreciate the time and effort you put into planning this. Such a perfect destination for this year's annual bus trip! Pam, thanks for your company on this long drive - helped make it far more enjoyable!

Pam J has particularly liked this photo

 Pam J
Pam J club
Exquisite !

Admired in ~ I ❤ Nature
2 years ago.
 Dave Roberts 2014
Dave Roberts 2014
A great close-up capture.

Vu et admiré/Admired in
(translate into English)
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2 years ago.

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