Sacahuista (Microcarpa)

The Sacahuista (Microcarpa) is generally described as a perennial subshrub or shrub or graminoid. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Sacahuista (Microcarpa) has gray-green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Sacahuista (Microcarpa) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Sacahuista (Microcarpa) will reach up to 4 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Sacahuista (Microcarpa) generally appears in field collections and doesn't tend to be commercially available. It can be propagated by container. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below 14°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Beargrass formed the stuffing or warp of Papago coiled baskets. The blades were cut off near the ground and the saw-like edges are scraped away with a knife, split in two or more sections, and bundled and stored until used. Beargrass leaves were sometimes used in Jemez Pueblo ring baskets and they were the preferred materials for other southerly Rio Grande Pueblos earlier in this century. The Pima used beargrass in their baskets. They sun-dried the leaves and then split them into four, five or six strands before using them. These materials are still being gathered today and woven into baskets. The Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico ground beargrass seeds into flour for food. They also drank a tea of boiled beargrass roots as a cure for pneumonia and rheumatism.

General Characteristics

General: Lily Family (Liliaceae). This native, acaulescent perennial has long, narrow leaves with small teeth along their margins. The leaves are narrow--6-12 mm. wide and 6-12 dm. long. Beargrass has a dense cluster of white flowers on a long stalk, up to 2 m tall. The flowers are minute and cream-tan, and the round fruits are deeply notched at the apex. The seeds are light yellow-brown to nearly black and finely wrinkled.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: The plant is found on exposed mountainsides throughout much of Arizona, and similar elevations eastward through New Mexico into western Texas and adjacent Chihuahua and northeastern Sonora.

General: Establish the plant by seed. Plant the seeds in a flat in a nursery at a depth that is the width of the seeds. The seeds should be planted in the spring in well-drained soil with a coarse layer of sand on top and gently watered. Protect the flat from animals. Let the surface of the soil dry out between watering. If the flats are watered too often, this can cause the plants to rot. A good indicator of over-watering is that the plants wilt. Once the seedlings have leaves and are at least two inches tall with sturdiness to them, transplant them into individual pots with good drainage holes. After transplanting, put the containers in a shady area that is protected from wind and animals such as a lath house or a shady grove of trees.

After one and one-half years, plant the plants outdoors in lower elevations in mid-to-late fall or early winter. In higher elevations where the ground freezes, it is best to plant the plants when the ground thaws. After planting, water the plants and let them dry out on the surface between watering. During the rainy season, supplement with hand watering if the rains are insufficient. Plant the plants in a well-drained, well-aerated soil. Plant in partial shade, using a shade cloth or other means until well-established and then remove the shade cloth to expose the plant to full sun. Water the plant through the summer. It will be necessary to water the plant for several years until well established. In areas without summer rainfall, continue to water the plant in summer throughout the life of the plant.

General Upkeep and Control

If the plant begins to have an unkempt matted appearance, prune it back in late winter or early spring after the danger of frost is past.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Subshrub, Shrub, Graminoid
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Field Collections Only
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Crown
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 4
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Container
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature 14
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Slow
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–9.5 pH
Precipitation Range 7–7 inches/yr
Planting Density 1700–3400 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 280 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA