CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Nolina brittoniana

c. 1991 Steve Shirah

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Nolina brittoniana

Common Name: 
Britton's bear-grass
Growth Habit: 
Subshrub, Shrub
CPC Number: 


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Photographer: c. 1991 Steve Shirah

Nolina brittoniana is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
S.K. Maddox contributed to this Plant Profile.

Nolina brittoniana

Nolina brittoniana is a perennial herb that is a member of the Agavaceae family. It has the typical agave-like long, stiff leaves in a grass-like clump that rise from a bulbous stem. The youngest leaves are erect while the older leaves (up to 6 feet long, 0.5 inch wide) spread on the ground. The flowering stalk reaches from 3 to 6 feet tall, and is topped with a large, showy cluster of small while flowers. Britton's beargrass flowers from March to May, but fruits, leaves, and growth habit are distinctive all year. Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate plants. Both plants are very conspicuous during flowering. The fruits are a papery, symmetrical, 3-lobed capsule, persisting through the summer (FNAI 2000).

This species may be mistaken for Nolina atopocarpa, which is a related species that may occur in the same area as Nolina brittoniana. The two species can be distinguished from one another by the shorter leaves, green (rather than white) flowers, and asymmetric fruits characteristic of Nolina atopocarpa. (USFWS 1996)

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Nolina brittoniana
  Britton's beargrass occurs in a wide range of habitat types, from relatively open scrub to hammocks with closed canopies. All of the habitats where Britton's beargrass occurs are considered upland sites where soil is droughty and infertile, and are fire-dependent and fire-maintained ecosystems. The wide range of habitat types are very different in appearance, physiognomy, species composition, fire dynamics, and land use history, but are closely linked ecologically and historically (USFWS 1999).

Nolina brittoniana is usually associated with evergreen oaks, saw palmettos, various shrub heaths, and xerophytic herbs. Britton's beargrass occurs in association with several rare and/or federally listed species: Polygala lewtonii, Polygonella myriophylla, Polygonella basiramia, Paronychia chartacea spp. chartacea, Persea humilis, Liatris ohlingerae, Hypericum cumulicola, Conradina brevifolia, Calamintha ashei, Bonamia grandiflora, and Ilex opaca var. arenicola. (Wunderlin et al. 1980)

  Britton's beargrass occurs in Hernando, Highlands, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, and Polk counties of central Florida (Coile 2000)

Number Left
  • 75 sites were named on a FNAI survey, and of those, 8 to 10 are protected and managed in a attempt to recover the scrub habitat where they occur. (USFWS 1999)


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Florida S2 LE 4/1/1998  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  When in flower, N. brittoniana is pollinated throughout the day by a variety of visitors. There have been as many as 34 pollinators from six different families observed visiting N. brittoniana (Menges 1996).

  • Habitat loss to agricultural and residential development.
• Fire exclusion leading to overshading.
(USFWS 1999)

Current Research Summary
  • Germination studies have been conducted at Historic Bok Sanctuary (formerly Bok Tower Gardens) to determine length of viability in seeds stored over a period of time.
• Nolina brittoniana responds to fire with increased flowering one year post fire (Menges 1996).
• An on-going study of the demography, breeding system, and genetics of N. brittoniana discusses the use of spatial data to analyze the geographic factors that influence genetic diversity in the species, and aid in protection and restoration efforts for N. brittoniana (USFWS 1999).
• Menges (1996) found that, while most plants produce either male or female flowers, in a few cases a single plant has been found to produce both male and female flowers (making the plant polygamodioecious).
• Pollination is required for successful seed production (TNC 1995).

Current Management Summary
  • Nolina brittoniana is protected and managed in 8 - 10 areas in an attempt to recover scrub species.
• N. brittoniana is present in most of the tracts targeted for acquisition by State and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Polk and Highlands Counties.
(USFWS 1999)
• This species is monitored and managed by the Lake Wales Ridge office of The Nature Conservancy.

Research Management Needs
  • Conduct surveys for populations of Nolina brittoniana in Osceloa County.
• Continue surveys in Polk and Highlands counties and on protected lands.
• Protect and enhance existing populations.
• Continue research on life history characteristics.
• Monitor existing populations of N. brittoniana.
• Provide public information on Britton's beargrass.
(USFWS 1999)

Ex Situ Needs
  • Maintain ex situ collection.
• Conserve germplasm.
(USFWS 1999)


Books (Single Authors)

Baker, M.F. 1938. Florida wild flowers. New York: Macmillan Company.

Coile, N.C. 2000. Notes on Florida's Regulated Plant Index (Rule 5B-40), Botany Contribution 38. Gainesville, Florida: Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.

Service, USDA Forest. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agriculture Handbook No. 450. Washington, D.C: United States Department of Agrictulture, Forest Service.

Small, J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora. New York, NY: Hafner Publishing Company. 1505p.

Ward, D.B. 1979. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida Volume 5: Plants. Gainseville, FL: University Presses of Florida.

Wunderlin, R.P. 1998. Guide to the vascular plants of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 806p.

Books (Sections)

Dolan, R.W.; Menges, E.S. 1998. Chapter 9: Genetic Variation in Nolina brittoniana and Dicerandra Species. In: Menges, E.S.; Dolan, R.W.; Gordon, D.R.; Evans, E.K.; Yahr, R., editors. Demography, ecology, and preserve design for endemic plants of the Lake Wales Ridge, Florida: Final report to The Nature Conservancy's ecosystem research program.

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Myers, R.L. 1990. Scrub and High Pine. Ecosystems of Florida. University of Central Florida Press. Orlando, FL.

Pace-Aldana, B.; Gordon, D.R.; Slapcinsky, J. 2000. Monitoring of Britton's bear-grass (Nolina brittoniana) at Tiger Creek Preserve. In: Gordon, D.R.; Slapcinsky, J.L., editors. Annual Research Report: A Compilation of Research Conducted or Supported by The Nature Conservancy in Florida. Florida Science and Stewardship Programs and The Nature Conservancy.

Electronic Sources

(2001). Floridata - Encyclopedia of Plants and Nature. [Searchable Web site] Floridata.com LC. http://www.floridata.com/tracks/scrub/endangered/menu_end.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. [Web site] University of South Florida Institute for Systematic Botany. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/isb/default.htm. Accessed: 2008.

Denton, S. (2001). Photo Library of Native and Naturalized Plants of Florida. Biological Research Associates. http://www.biolresearch.com/Plants/index.php?id=C. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Abrahamson, W.G. 1984. Post-fire Recovery of Florida Lake Wales Ridge Vegetation. American Journal of Botany. 71, 1: 9-21.

Abrahamson, W.G. 1984. Species response to fire on the Florida Lake Wales Ridge. American Journal of Botany. 71, 1: 35-43.

Bartlett, H. 1909. Nolina in the South Atlantic States. Rhodora. 11: 80-82.

Menges, E.S.; Gordon, D.R. 1996. Three levels of monitoring intensity for rare plant species. Natural Areas Journal. 16, 3: 227-237.

USFWS. 1976. Proposed Endangered Status for 1700 U.S. Plants. Federal Register. 41: 24523-24572.

USFWS. 1993. Endangered or threatened status for seven central Florida plants. Federal Register. 58, 79: 25746-25755.


Christman, S.P. 1988. Endemism and Florida's interior sand pine scrub. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. p.247 + maps, tables & appendices. Final project report on project #GFC-84-101.

Klaudisova, A. 1991. Monitoring of Polygala lewtonii, Nolina brittoniana, Prunus geniculata, Crotalaria avonensis, and Bonamia grandiflora in the Lake Wales Ridge area, Polk County, Florida. The Nature Conservancy.

Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened or endangered forest related vascular plants of the south. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Forest Service. p.718. USFS technical publication R8-TP2, . Vol. 1.

Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. Athens, GA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. p.1305. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical.

Menges, E.S.; Dolan, R.W.; Yahr, R.; Gordon, D.R.; Pickert, R.; Weekley, C.W. 1999. Geographic Correlates of Isozyme Variation in Nolina brittoniana. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Menges, E.S.; Gordon, D.R.; Dolan, R.W. 1996. Demography, Breeding System, and Genetics of Nolina brittoniana. Tallahassee, Florida: Final report to the Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

TNC. 1987. The Nature Conservancy Stewardship Abstracts. The Nature Conservancy. p.104.

TNC. 1995. Element stewardship abstract for Nolina brittoniana - BrittonΖs bear grass. Arlington, Virginia: The Nature Conservancy.

USFWS. 1996. Recovery Plan for Nineteen Central Florida Scrub and High Pineland Plants (revised). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.134.

USFWS. 1999. South Florida Multi-species Recovery Plan. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region.

Weekley, Carl. 1996. Nolina brittoniana Monitoring Report #1. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Weekley, Carl. 1997. Nolina brittoniana Annual Report. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Wunderlin, R.P.; Richardson, D.; Hansen, B. 1980. Status report on Nolina brittoniana. Jacksonville, Florida: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Thorne, F.M., III. 1965. The taxonomy of the genus Nolina Michx. (Agavaceae) in the southeastern United States. [Ph.D.]: University of Georgia, Athens.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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