This month, I would like to introduce you to a plant that is deceiving. Well, at least its common name is. Xerophyllum tenax, commonly called bear grass, is actually not a grass at all; in fact, it’s part of the lily family. This is a really neat plant whose leaves are traditionally used by Native Americans in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to weave baskets, hats, and other everyday objects.
The word xerophyllum (pronounced ‘zer-oh-FIL-um’) means “dry leaves,” while the word tenax means “strong.” This is a very adequate description of the plant itself, since its leaves are strap-like, very tough, and adapted to live in very dry conditions. While the common name may be misleading, there are good reasons for it. The leaves of a bear grass plant are long and thin and resemble tufts of grass. Furthermore, bears were often seen digging up the starchy rhizomes (underground structures of the plant) in the springtime for their high nutritional value. Also, common lore among Native Americans suggests bears used the plants as bedding. I bet the fluffy flowers and long leaves make a nice soft bed!
Bear grass leaves come in one color: green. These leaves make great accents in floral arrangements and bouquets and their thin nature allows for some very creative results. I couldn’t find any resources stating the allergenic rating of the plant, but I think it’s safe to assume that the leaves won’t trigger any sniffles. Be cautious though, because the leaves have sharp, finely toothed edges that can cut fingers if you’re not careful. Other members of the lily family are poisonous, so it’s best to not take any chances by eating bear grass. I don’t know why anyone would want to eat leaves that are tough enough to use to make baskets, anyway!
Bear grass should be available year-round because it is an evergreen perennial in its native habitat. It can last for two to three weeks in a vase if you replace the water every third day with cold water and keep the water level near the top of the vase. And bear grass doesn’t require re-cutting with vase arrangement water changes.
Bear grass can be used in all types of creative ways in floral arrangements and bouquets, such as wrapping some bear grass along the inside of a glass vase before arranging your flowers.
Bear grass is a very versatile addition to any wedding day floral decor. Give it a try… I’m sure you’ll be “bear-y” pleased with the outcome!
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What other creative ways can you think of to use bear grass?