CPC Plant Profile: Eastern Turkeybeard
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Plant Profile

Eastern Turkeybeard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

The white flowers of Xerophyllum ashpeloides are borne atop a stout spike that projects up to 1.5 meters from the base of the plant. Photo Credit: Dorothy Long
Description
  • Global Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Liliaceae
  • State: VA, WV, AL, DE, GA, KY, NC, NJ, SC, TN
  • Nature Serve ID: 153738
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/25/1988

Xerophyllum asphodeloides is a very unusual plant, and one of only two species in its genus in North America. Its various common names (beardtongue, turkeybeard) refer to the tuft of grass-like, long leaves that rings the base of the single, tall inflorescence bursting with showy white flowers. Its genus name, Xerophyllum, means "dry-leaved" and refers to the anatomical adaptations it has made to its xeric, rocky habitat, principally in mid-elevation sparse oak-pine glades along the Appalachian range. Its stronghold lies in 22 counties of interior Virginia, but it is found sporadically from New Jersey to West Virginia and Tennessee. It has been extirpated from Delaware and Kentucky. Research and Management Summary: A small number of studies have been performed on this species, and, to date, no information on management activities is available. Plant Description: Xerophyllum asphodeloides is an herbaceous perennial with perfect, white flowers borne atop a stout spike that projects up to 1.5 meters from the base of the plant. A tuft of grass-like basal leaves (up to 40 cm long and 2 mm wide) arises from the thick rhizome. Flowers 1 cm wide open from bottom to top along the raceme, which can reach 30 cm in length.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 10/01/2020
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods. Seed collected in 1988 was still germinable in 1995, indicating that the species is capable of seed-banking. Dormancy can be broken using cold, moist refrigeration.

  • 10/01/2020
  • Living Collection

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods.

  • 10/01/2020
  • Tissue Culture

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods. Seed collected in 1988 was still germinable in 1995, indicating that the species is capable of seed-banking. Dormancy can be broken using cold, moist refrigeration.

  • 10/01/2020
  • Seed Collection

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods. Seed collected in 1988 was still germinable in 1995, indicating that the species is capable of seed-banking. Dormancy can be broken using cold, moist refrigeration.

  • 10/01/2020
  • Propagation Research

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods. Seed collected in 1988 was still germinable in 1995, indicating that the species is capable of seed-banking. Dormancy can be broken using cold, moist refrigeration.

  • 10/01/2020
  • Genetic Research

The phylogeny of the Melianthaceae (Liliaceae) is being studied by Wendy B. Zomlefer and Kent D. Perkins at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Moderately widespread from the New Jersey pine barrens south along the mountains of the southeast (Kartesz 1999). Large numbers of occurrences within New Jersey and Virginia; populations elsewhere relatively few and currently under serious threat to existence.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

As articulated for Hudsonia montana, a co-occurring rare species of the Appalachians (USFWS 1983), Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Cooperative 1996, and information from the pine barrens of New Jersey (Good and Good 1984), threats include:

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Xerophyllum asphodeloides is reported from 41 counties across its range (USDA 2001), with unknown numbers of additional occurrences in New Jersey and Alabama. Data are insufficient for estimating the global population.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

The phylogeny of the Melianthaceae (Liliaceae) is being studied by Wendy B. Zomlefer and Kent D. Perkins at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Xerophyllum asphodeloides from seed and tissue culture, and maintains plants in the collection at Garden in the Woods. Seed collected in 1988 was still germinable in 1995, indicating that the species is capable of seed-banking. Dormancy can be broken using cold, moist refrigeration. Norman A. Bourg and Douglas E. Gill at the University of Maryland have documented positive effects of fire on Xerophyllum asphodeloides (Bourg and Gill 2000).

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

No published information is available regarding specific management of Xerophyllum asphodeloides.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Identification of environmental factors that promote establishment and persistence of the species at various sites Identification of pollinators, herbivores, and dispersal agents Management trials in protected areas using controlled burns to promote establishment of Xerophyllum asphodeloides

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Studies to determine if fire enhances seed germination Controlled reintroduction trials

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Xerophyllum asphodeloides
Authority (L.) Nutt.
Family Liliaceae
CPC Number 6634
ITIS 505767
USDA XEAS
Common Names beartongue | Eastern turkeybeard | grass-leaved helonias | mountain asphodel
Associated Scientific Names Xerophyllum asphodeloides | Helonias asphodeloides
Distribution Xerophyllum asphodeloides is extant (and disjunct) in New Jersey. It is reported from Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. The species is considered hi
State Rank
State State Rank
Alabama S1
Delaware SX
Georgia S1
Kentucky SX
North Carolina S3
New Jersey S4
South Carolina S2
Tennessee S3
Virginia S4
West Virginia S1
Habitat

Xerophyllum asphodeloides is found in two disjunct habitats that share the same features of dry, acidic sandy or gravelly soils. These two locations are the pine barrens of Ocean County, New Jersey, and mid- to high-elevation (1000 m or 2000-3000 feet) quartzite or granite ridges with xeric oak-pine glades along the Appalachian mountains of Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Both habitat types are dominated by various species of Pinus and Quercus with a sparse canopy, and a park-like understory with scattered shrubs and herbaceous species (including other rare and specialized species) that can tolerate dry, nutrient-poor conditions. In the mountains, these communities tend to occur on west or northwest-facing slopes, where the primary source of water to the system is rainfall and fog.According to reports from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1983), Mueller (2001), Rawinski et al. (1994), and the reports of other botanists, Xerophyllum asphodeloides tends to co-occur with: Quercus prinus (chestnut oak), Quercus marilandica (blackjack oak), Pinus echinata (shortleaf pine), Quercus stellata (post oak), Sassafras albidum (sassafras), Pinus rigida (pitch pine), Aster dumosus (aster), Aster paternus (white-topped aster), Cypripedium acaule (pink lady's-slipper), Polygonella articulata (jointweed), Solidago odora var. odora (sweet goldenrod), Solidago puberula var. puberula (goldenrod), Trichostema dichotomum (blue curls), Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry), Hudsonia ericoides (golden heather), Hudsonia montana (mountain heather) Ilex glabra (inkberry), Kalmia angustifolia (sheep laurel), Leiophyllum buxifolium (sand myrtle), Lyonia mariana (staggerbush), Myrica pennsylvanica (bayberry), Pyxidanthera barbulata (pyxie-moss), Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak), Rhus copallinum (winged sumac), Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry), and Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry). Kuser and Zimmerman (1995) also record Xerophyllum asphodeloides from around the margins of Atlantic white cedar swamps in the New Jersey pine barrens.

Ecological Relationships

Xerophyllum asphodeloides may be aided in its establishment by fire, as it appears to be most common in areas that have a history of burning and increases flowering following controlled burns (Gill and Bourg 2000). Its large rhizome may enable it both to store water and to weather a fire by becoming dormant underground. Its seeds may be able to form a dormant seed bank; ex situ studies indicate long-term viability of seed in storage (W. E. Brumback, New England Wild Flower Society, personal communication). This species is well adapted to its dry habitat, as its thin, coarse leaves are clumped densely together in a compact tussock, which conserves water by minimizing evaporation. The strikingly tall inflorescence of this species produces white, nectar-producing flowers, making it unique among the flora typical of this dry habitat. The flowers may attract moths and other flying pollinators; however, no literature has been published to date on pollination. Perfect (hermaphroditic) flowers may also be capable of self-pollination. Patterns of herbivory, seed predation, and seed dispersal, are unknown.

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID

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