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Waterton Lakes National Park
Anne Elliott
© All Rights Reserved
southern Alberta
near Canada-US border
Bear Grass
Xerophyllum tenax
© Anne Elliott 2017
Corn lily family
7 July 2017

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Bear Grass / Xerophyllum tenax

Bear Grass / Xerophyllum tenax
We are under a Severe Thunderstorm Watch again this evening (12 July 2017). The temperature was a wonderfully cool 17C this morning, getting up to 24C this afternoon. Yesterday was a cool day, too, which felt wonderful after at least two weeks of heatwave. It seems that smoke from the devastating British Columbia wildfires has now reached us.

Do bears eat Bear Grass? No, they don't, though they do sometimes use the leaves as denning material. Deer, elk, goats and bighorn sheep are known to eat Bear Grass.

For many years, I had 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 flower in this photo was seen on 7 July 2017, also in Waterton, along the Akamina Parkway.

Friend Darlene and I arrived in Waterton (from Calgary) around 1:00 pm, stopped and had lunch and then went to see the Cameron Falls on the edge of town. The cold spray felt so good on such a hot day! Afterwards, we drove up the Akamina Parkway, to Cameron Lake, stopping along the road to photograph a few of the thousands of beautiful Bear Grass flowers. Many were growing along the edge of the road, but in places, you could look through the forest and see many more. We also stopped to look at the Penstemon plants, and I was delighted to see a small Orange False Dandelion plant in bloom (the third photo posted this morning). I've only ever seen about three of these plants before.

"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.


A very quick stop at Cameron Lake itself and then we were on our way back down the Akamina Parkway so that we could go up the Red Rock Canyon Parkway, to visit the beautiful canyon. On the way there, we made a quick stop to check for a Lazuli Bunting. We were in luck, but I could only get very distant shots of this beautiful little bird.

By this time, we needed to get to the Canyon Youth Camp, where we would be staying two nights. Supper was being served at 6:00 pm, but we could check in any time after 5:00 pm. After supper, most people went on a hike up to Crandell Lake, but I decided not to go, as I remembered what the trail was like. I did follow everyone for just a very short way but knew that I was not going to do the rest of the hike. Instead, I walked around the camp, finding a few flowers to photograph, and then I bumped into the camp manager and we got talking. I mentioned one of my favourite plants, Pinedrops, that I had seen last year on one of the paths that led out of the camp. The manager said he had already checked, but had only found last year's dead stems. He took me back to the location - and I spotted several new stems partly hidden in the long grasses. He was so happy to see that this plant was doing well, after all. He also took me on a short walk through the edge of the forest and down to the river. About 20 minutes after getting back to the camp buildings, a Black Bear wandered along the edge of the same trees that we had walked through to get to the river! Could only get a really poor photo that I probably won't post - or maybe I will, just for my own records. Shortly after this sighting, everyone else arrived back at the camp, and it was time to get to bed before all the lights were turned off.

 Ken Dies
Ken Dies club
Cool grass. I have not encountered it before, unfortunately.
2 years ago.

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