According to Wildflowers of Montana, by Donald Anthony Schiemann, beargrass “is a conspicuous plant” when in bloom.
I concur. Beargrass is loud. Beargrass is explosive and showy. When on display, this is a plant that cannot be ignored.
In the Rocky Mountains, beargrass ranges from Canada through Montana and down into northwestern Wyoming. Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) is not actually a grass at all. Beargrass is a member of the lily family. The stalk and huge plume of white flowers can reach as much as six feet in height. Most of these plants thrust white plumes about 3 feet into the air at the end of June. Native Americans used the grass-like leaves of this plant for weaving baskets. One of the common names for the plant is Indian Basket Grass, which reflects its use for weaving baskets. Beargrass is also one of the first plants to return to areas struck by wildfire—providing that the fires are not so intense they destroy the root system.
Beargrass is a perennial, but normally blooms only on five to seven year cycles. Moreover, communities of beargrass tend to bloom all together on the same cycle, which makes for amazing displays on those years when the populations opt to bloom. This happens to be one of those years at Seeley Lake in the Swan Valley and on mountainsides near Flesher and Rogers Pass. In some places, our Montana forest understory looks as if a fireworks display was frozen in place just a few feet off the ground amongst the shadows of the pine and fir trees. The sweet smell is overpowering.
Yesterday, I spent the better part of two hours wandering the forest in admiration. I have never seen anything that compares to this year. Posted today are a few photos from my time in the beargrass.