Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ethnobotany 101: Bear Grass

Xerophyllum tenax

Bear grass is unmistakeable in the Cascades. Clumps of grass-like leaves arching outward with tall flower stalks holding the showy white flowers (shown above) can be seen everywhere along roads and trails in Mt. Rainier National Park. It is generally found in the upper montane and lower sub-alpine ecosystems, where drier soils exist. Although some horticulturalists have tried to cultivate it for the nursery trade, it is better left alone in the wild where it can grow naturally.

For centuries, Native Americans have used the leaves, weaving them together, to form baskets and mats. Bears eat the fleshy bases of the leaves (thus the name).


Ethnobotany: The study of the interaction between plants and people, with a particular emphasis on traditional tribal cultures. Ethnobotany is a branch of botany, the study of plants, and is closely related to cultural anthropology, the study of human societies.
[Source: Encarta Encyclopedia]

Most of you know that I'm a big fan of wildflowers. Plant taxonomy and Ethnobotany are both related fields that draw me in. Perhaps some day, I'll write the perfect field guide for those around me who love flowers but don't have the scientific background that (sometimes) is required to read many modern field guides.

Anyone know a good publisher?

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful flower. I've seen pictures before but never up close. How pretty!