Natural and Cultural History of Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax)


Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt.) is a source of food, habitat, and raw material for animals, pollinating insects, and people across its range in the Western United States. The plant has long been used by Native Americans, who harvest the leaves for basketry and other crafts. More recently, beargrass has become an important component of international trade for the commercial floral greens industry. Changes in natural and anthropogenic disturbances are occurring within the range of beargrass, including fire frequency and severity, plant harvest intensity, and land use. This report documents how changes in disturbance patterns might affect beargrass and its associated ecosystem diversity, identifies gaps in knowledge or potential conflicts in human use, and records quantitative and qualitative information on the natural and cultural history of beargrass. We list and discuss some key sociocultural, environmental, and economic issues that relate to managing beargrass and the forested ecosystems in which it grows. These include a lack of information on the main factors affecting beargrass reproduction and persistence, including the importance of pollinators and light environment on plant fitness; differences in desired leaf properties sought by traditional and commercial harvesters; and inconsistent documentation on the volume and properties of harvested beargrass in total and by harvester group. Future research needs include advancing knowledge of the effects of human and natural disturbances on the plant and its habitat, including silvicultural practices, leaf harvest practices, and fire (both prescribed and wild).

Provenance: Contributed to Sipnuuk Food Security Collection by Arielle Halpern, doctoral student in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, in association with research for her dissertation-in-progress: Effects of Prescribed Fire on Tanoak Associated Plant Assemblages and Karuk Cultural Use Species

Rights: US Department of Agriculture Pacific Northwest Research Station