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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Reader photo: Beargrass bloom booms

Beargrass blooms along the trail to Scotchman Peak overlooking Lake Pend Oreille near Clark Fork, Idaho. (Mark Cochran / Courtesy)
Beargrass blooms along the trail to Scotchman Peak overlooking Lake Pend Oreille near Clark Fork, Idaho. (Mark Cochran / Courtesy)

Summer “snow drifts” of blooming beargrass are luring hikers to Selkirk Mountains trails this month.

Named by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, beargrass isn’t a grass. It’s a plant that can have numerous basal rosettes on a common root system, sprouting a tuft of coarse grasslike leaves with a stem that can sprout almost like a corn stalk.

Mount Spokane was a spectacle of blooms last week and now the white blooms are blanketing the slopes of Scotchman Peak overlooking Lake Pend Oreille, as the photo above by Sandpoint hiker Mark Cochran shows.

“Factors for abundant plant blooming include ideal amounts of spring rainfall and moisture present in the soil,” according to a Glacier National Park website blurb on beargrass. While some beargrass can be found blooming every year, park managers note that mass blossoming of beargrass typically occurs every five to 10 years.

At the time of Lewis and Clark, “bear grass” was a common name for yucca (commonly called soapweed today), which bears a superficial resemblance to beargrass, the Glacier Park site notes. “Native Americans have used beargrass leaves for basket weaving and roots were used to treat injuries.”

Bears do not eat the plant, but they will use leaves as denning material. Sheep, deer, elk, and goats are known to eat beargrass. At some tempting state of the bloom, those big-game animals will bite off the white flowering head and leave the tall stalk standing like a lamp post without the lamp.

“Other common names for this plant include bear lily, pine lily, elk grass, squaw grass, and turkeybeard,” the Glacier site says, although you won’t hear those terms much around this region.

Here, it’s called beargrass… a good excuse for a hike.

–Rich Landers

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