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Environmental Studies

Hypoxis hirsuta (Yellow Star Grass) Liliaceae

Hypoxis hirsuta, or yellow star grass, can easily be mistaken for grass when not in bloom with its characteristic bright yellow flower.  Typical of prairies, yellow star grass has a wide range in North America and can be found in different types of habitats in Illinois but is endangered in New Hampshire and possibly extirpated in Maine. Interestingly, Hypoxis hirsuta has been placed in two families other than the Liliaceae family; the Amarylidaceae, or daffodil family and the Hypoxidaceae, or star grass family. 

 Photo by Donald Stanley

Physical characteristics

 Leaf: The long, grass-like, linear leaves are located only at the base of the stem. They are hairy, which is the meaning of the species epithet “hirsuta.” As typical with plants in the Liliaceae family, the veins in the leaves are parallel. 

Flower | Seeds: Typical of the Liliaceae family the  Yellow star grass flower has six tepals; three sepals and three petals that all look like petals and are the same color. The bright yellow tepals are hairy on the outside and surround six stamens. The plant produces a capsule which contains small black seeds. The flower is pollinated by insects and the flower produces no nectar.

Stem: The stem is leafless except for the base and is hairy, or pubescent, on the upper portion. The plant produces corms, which resemble bulbs and are similar in function, as storage for food. The corms,  while under ground, are composed of mostly stem tissue.

Life span: The Yellow star grass is a perennial flower which means it takes more than two years to complete its cycle. 

Ecological characteristics

The Yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta) are found in dry prairies, savannahs and open woodlands.  It likes soils that are mesic, wet and dry. It is often found in calcium rich soil. Yellow star grass is found throughout the Unites States and Canada as shown in the map below. The light green indicates counties where the plant is found and is native. The dark green indicates states where the plant is found, and the brown indicates where the plant is not found. 

Source: Prairie Moon Nursery

Importance to the ecosystem

The Yellow star grass in addition to being a producer, providing needed oxygen to other organisms, is a source of food for many insects, birds and mammals. 

Relationship with other species

Non-human: Various species of bees, flies, and beetles visit the flower yellow star grass to feed on it’s pollen and small rodents feed on the corms, the bulb-like underground structures.

Humans: Native Americans used the plant to make a tea that was used to treat heart conditions and the corm was used to treat ulcers.  According to The Cherokee Herbal:  Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions, it can be used to treat depression and to enhance mood. 

Pests: This wildflower isn’t bothered by foliar disease or pests when it is growing.

Fly pollinating flower of hairy star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta).Photo by Chris Helzer

Other interesting facts

  • In Latin the word Hypoxis means “somewhat acid”
  • The plant has no known economic value, but some of its relatives in India are known to have properties similar to ginseng.
  • The famous Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) described yellow stargrass for science in his monumental Species Plantarum of 1753.



Yellow Star Grass | Missouri Department of Conservation. [online] Retrieved May 27, 2013 from http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/yellow-star-grass

Chadde, S. (1998). A Great Lakes Wetland Flora. Calumet, Mich.: PocketFlora Press.

Concord.newenglandwild.org (n.d.). Hypoxis hirsuta (common star-grass): Go Botany Concord Flora. [online] Retrieved May 27, 2013 from http://concord.newenglandwild.org/species/hypoxis/hirsuta/ 

Garrett, J. (2003). The Cherokee herbal. Rochester, Vt.: Bear & Co..

Gobotany.newenglandwild.org (2011). Family: Hypoxidaceae (star-grass family): Go Botany. [online] Retrieved May 27, 2013 from http://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/family/hypoxidaceae/ 

Helzer, C. (2013, December 1 2011). Photo of the week—December 1, 2011. The Prairie Ecologist, [web log] Retrieved from: http://prairieecologist.com/2011/12/01/photo-of-the-week-december-1-2011/ [Accessed: May 31, 2013].

http://nativeplants.msu.edu/uploads/files/Common%20goldstar.pdf (2013). Untitled. [online] Retrieved from: http://nativeplants.msu.edu/uploads/files/Common%20goldstar.pdf [Accessed: 27 May 2013].

Illinoiswildflowers.info (n.d.). Yellow Star Grass (Hypoxis hirsuta). [online] Retrieved from: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/yl_stargrassx.htm [Accessed: 21 May 2013].

Kswildflower.org (2007). Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses - Yellow stargrass. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.kswildflower.org/flower_details.php?flowerID=341 [Accessed: 21 May 2013].

Missouriplants.com (n.d.). Hypoxis hirsuta page. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Hypoxis_hirsuta_page.html [Accessed: 27 May 2013].

Pick4.pick.uga.edu (2011). Hypoxis hirsuta - Common goldstar — Discover Life. [online] Retrieved from: http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?search=Hypoxis%20hirsuta [Accessed: 27 May 2013].

Thewildclassroom.com (2007). Amaryllidaceae - (Daffodil family) Plant Family Web: Videos / Descriptions / Links. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.thewildclassroom.com/biodiversity/floweringplants/Amaryllidaceae.htm [Accessed: 27 May 2013].

Wildflower.org (2012). Hypoxis hirsuta (Common goldstar) | NPIN. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=HYHI2 [Accessed: 27 May 2013].

PLANTS Profile for Hypoxis hirsuta (common goldstar) | USDA PLANTS. (2013, May 21). Welcome to the PLANTS Database | USDA PLANTS. Retrieved May 21, 2013, from http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=hyhi2


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