Tennessee Yellow-eyed Grass

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Tennessee Yellow-eyed Grass

Xyris tennesseensis

ListedJuly 26, 1991
FamilyXyridaceae (Yellow-eyed Grass)
DescriptionPerennial grass with basal, linear leaves and stalks that bear small, yellow flowers.
HabitatSeepages, wet meadows, streambanks and shallows.
ThreatsConversion of land to agriculture, logging, road maintenance.
RangeAlabama, Georgia, Tennessee


Xyris tennesseensis (Tennessee yellow-eyed grass) is a perennial which grows in clumps from fleshy, bulbus bases to a height of 2.3-3.3 ft (0.7-1 m). The deep green, linear leaves, 5.5-17.7 in (14-45 cm) long, arise at the base of the plant. Long stalks produce brown, conelike flower spikes at their ends. During August and September, small, pale yellow flowers open in the late morning and wither by mid-afternoon. Fruits are capsules containing numerous tiny seeds.


This yellow-eyed grass occurs in open or thinly wooded areas with moist soils. It is found in seepages, wet meadows, and on the banks or shallows of small streams. While most yellow-eyed grasses prefer acidic soils, this species occurs on neutral to basic soils.


Tennessee yellow-eyed grass was first described in 1978 from a specimen collected in 1945 from Lewis County, Tennessee. It is known from three physiographic provinces: the Western Highland Rim of Tennessee (Lewis County), the Cumberland Plateau of Alabama (Franklin County), and the Valley and Ridge Province of Georgia (Bartow and Gordon Counties).

The species currently survives at seven sites: five in Lewis County, Tennessee, and one each in Franklin County, Alabama, and Bartow County, Georgia. Two of these sites have populations in the thousands, while another is limited to a few dozen plants. The others support populations of several hundred. Each site occupies less than an acre. Most populations are on private land, but plants extend onto a highway right-of-way in Alabama and onto National Park Service landthe Natchez Trace Parkwayin Tennessee.


The main threat to Tennessee yellow-eyed grass is disturbance of its habitat by conversion to agriculture, logging, and highway maintenance. Many of the larger stream bottoms and other moist habitat have been converted into pasture or row crops, or developed for housing. A historic site in Gordon County, Georgia, is now a soybean field. The population in Alabama has been disturbed by logging and gravel quarrying. Since 1982, the number of plants there has declined from several hundred to fewer than a hundred.

Highway construction and maintenance activities are also a threat to remaining sites. One population in Bartow County, Georgia, was destroyed by road construction. Three others are located near roads and are at risk from road work.

Conservation and Recovery

Most critical habitats of the Tennessee yellow-eyed grass are on private land, and are potentially threatened by development or other activities. The Tennessee Department of Conservation and the Nature Conservancy have negotiated agreements with several landowners to protect populations. The conservation department also has an agreement with the National Park Service to protect the critical habitats found on federal land. The Fish and Wildlife Service published a Recovery Plan for the Tennessee yellow-eyed grass in 1994. The goal of the Recovery Plan is to achieve 15 protected and managed, self-maintaining populations of the rare plant. This will be achieved by protecting and managing known populations, searching for additional ones, and possibly by establishing new ones on suitable habitat. The plan also has provisions for monitoring populations of the Tennessee yellow-eyed grass and studying its ecology and habitat needs.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


Kral, R. 1978. "A New Species of Xyris (sec. Xyris ) from Tennessee and Northwestern Georgia." Rhodora 80(823):444-447.

Kral, R. 1983. "A Report on Some Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Forest-related Vascular Plants of the South." USDA, Forest Service, Technical Publication R8-TP2.

Kral, R. 1990. "A Status Report on Xyris tennesseensis." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jackson, Mississippi.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. "Recovery Plan for Tennessee Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyrix tennesseensis Kral)." Jackson, Mississippi.

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Tennessee Yellow-eyed Grass

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