WEST GLACIER – What’s the deal with beargrass?
Bears have very little to do with the tall wildflower. What’s more, it’s not even a grass.
Be that as it may, beargrass is blooming in ways it rarely does in parts of Glacier National Park this summer. Glacier public information officer Denise Germann says the prolific blossoms are especially visible near park headquarters and the West Entrance to the park.
The notion that it only happens once every seven years is an old wives’ tale, according to Germann.
“Beargrass can bloom whenever climactic conditions are ideal,” Germann says, and this year they’ve obviously been spot-on.
This spring produced the right amounts of rainfall and moisture in the soil to lead to blooming beargrass virtually everywhere the plant is present in the West Glacier area.
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While you can always find some beargrass blooming in Glacier every summer, right now there’s virtually no challenge to the hunt. Such mass blooms occur every five to 10 years in these parts, according to park managers.
Xerophyllum tenax is its scientific name, and it can grow 5 feet tall or more. It recently was split off from the lily family, and placed in the Melanthiaceae family, according to Germann.
Germann says a single plant can have numerous basal rosettes on a common root system, but each rosette will bloom just once. The lowest of the plant’s many small white flowers bloom first, leaving a dense knot of buds at the top that resemble a nipple.
The name beargrass was first applied by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, apparently because the plant bears a vague resemblance to soapweed, a part of the yucca family. Back in the day, soapweed was often referred to as “bear grass.”
It’s also been called bear lily, pine lily, elk grass, squaw grass and turkeybeard, Germann says.
Deer, elk, goats and bighorn sheep are known to eat beargrass, but not bears. Bears do sometimes use it as a denning material, however.
At Glacier Park, beargrass can start blooming in the lower valleys in late May, and continue into August in the high country.
And 2013 is one of those years where the blooms have busted out all over in the West Glacier area this month. If you’re headed that way, enjoy the sight, because it doesn’t happen every year.
Just remember – inside the park’s borders, you’re not allowed to pick any flower or remove any plant, Xerophyllum tenax included.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.