FWS Focus



The existence of Tennessee yellow-eyed grass continues to be threatened because of its specialized habitat needs, small population size and continued impacts to its habitat. The potential development of private land, changes in moisture, shade and overcrowding from woody plant encroachment and disturbance events, including severe drought, present continuing threats to the species. Habitat destruction or modification is presently the largest threat to this species. Because the species relies on active management to keep sites open and well-lit, partnerships with private landowners and government agencies to implement active management and easements on their properties are vital to the continued existence of the Tennessee yellow-eyed grass. Protection of this species through habitat management remains difficult and sporadic, because the majority of sites, 17 out of 26, as well as a majority of populations, 14 out of 21, where this species occurs is solely, or partially, in private ownership.

Scientific Name

Xyris tennesseensis
Common Name
Tennessee yellow-eyed grass
Tennessee yelloweyed grass
FWS Category
Flowering Plants

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers



Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Although Xyris species are usually found on acidic soils, Tennessee yellow-eyed grass is restricted to basic or circumneutral soils that thinly cover calcareous substrates with year-round seepage or mineral-rich water flow. This species is found in open or thin canopy woods in gravelly seep-slopes or gravelly bars and banks of small streams, springs, and ditches.

Size & Shape

Tennessee yellow-eyed grass is a rare perennial monocot that is an obligate wetland plant that prefers relatively high pH seeps and streambanks. The plant ranges from 2.3 to 3.3 feet (7 to 10 decimeter) in height. Plants typically occur in clumps where they arise from fleshy bulbous bases. Leaves are basal, the outermost scale-like, the larger one linear, twisted, deep green and 5.5 to 17.7 inches (14 to 45 centimeters) long. The inflorescence consists of brown conelike spikes, 0.4 to 0.6 inches (1 to 1.5 centimeters) in length, which occur singly at the tips of long slender stalks from 12 to 28 inches (30 to 70 centimeters) long. The flowers, which are pale yellow in color and 0.2 inches (4.5 millimeters) long, unfold in the late morning and wither by mid-afternoon. Fruits are thin walled capsules containing numerous seeds 0.5 to 0.02 inches (0.6 millimeters) in length. Flowering occurs from August through September.

Characteristic category



Tennessee yellow-eyed grass is one of many endangered plant species found in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. This plant grows in open areas of various wet habitat types like streambanks, seeps, fens and wet meadows. Tennessee yellow-eyed grass requires relatively specialized habitat that is almost exclusively found in slightly alkaline or circumneutral, gravelly-sandy substrata in rocky calcareous regions of the Ridge and Valley or Interior Low Plateaus physiographic provinces. The modification and alteration of habitat within the species range remains the primary and major threat for this species. Threats to the species include shading from woody trees and shrubs, competition from invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

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, road construction and quarrying. Logging and clearcutting, soil disturbances, cattle trampling and grazing, draining and filling wetlands, stream impoundment, off-road vehicle use and lowering of water table by groundwater pumping all provide additional treats to this species. 


Land covered by evergreen trees in cool, northern latitudes. Also called taiga.

River or Stream



Tennessee yellow-eyed grass was known from only seven sites, with five in Tennessee, one in Georgia and one in Alabama, at the time of listing in 1991 (56 FR 34151-34154). 

Surveys since its listing have resulted in the location of 17 additional sites for a total of 24 sites. Currently, a total of 21 populations are known to be extant including four in Bibb County, four in Calhoun County and one each in Shelby and Franklin counties in Alabama. There are three in Bartow County, one in Floyd County and one, introduced safeguarding, in Walker County, Georgia. Tennessee has six in Lewis County.

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