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Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) is a small perennial herb in the Montiaceae family.

Lewisia rediviva 9789.JPG
Lewisia rediviva var. rediviva in Wenas Wildlife Area, Washington
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Montiaceae
Genus: Lewisia
Species: L. rediviva
Binomial name
Lewisia rediviva

The genus Lewisia was moved in 2009 from the Purslane family (Portulacaceae) with adoption of the APG III system, which established the Montiaceae family.



The plant is native to western North America from low to moderate elevations on grassland, open bushland and forest. Its range extends from southern British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon east of the Cascade Range to southern California, and east to western Montana, Wyoming, northern Colorado and northern Arizona. A small species of dry rocky or gravelly soils, it bears a single pink to lavender to white flower.[1][2][3][4][5]


Lewisia rediviva is a low-growing perennial plant with a fleshy taproot and a simple or branched base. The flower stems are leafless, 1–3 centimetres (0.4–1.2 in) tall, bearing at the tip a whorl of 5–6 linear bracts which are 5–10 mm long. A single flower appears on each stem with 5–9 oval-shaped sepals.[3] They range in color from whitish to deep pink or lavender. Flowering occurs from April through July.[1] The petals (usually about 15) are oblong in shape and are 18–35 millimetres (0.7–1.4 in) long.[3] At maturity, the bitterroot produces egg-shaped capsules with 6–20 nearly round seeds.[3]

History and cultureEdit

French trappers knew the plant as racine amère (bitter root).[6] Native American names included spetlum/sp̓eƛ̓m̓ or spetlem, meaning "hand-peeled", nakamtcu (Ktanxa: naqam¢u),[7] and mo'ôtáa-heséeo'ôtse (Cheyenne, "black medicine")[8]

The roots were consumed by tribes such as the Shoshone and the Flathead Indians as an infrequent delicacy. Traditionally, the Ktunaxa cooked bitterroot with grouse. For the Ktunaxa, bitterroot is eaten with sugar; other tribes prefer eating it with salt.[9] The Lemhi Shoshone believed the small red core found in the upper taproot had special powers, notably being able to stop a bear attack.[6]

Meriwether Lewis ate bitterroot in 1805 and 1806 during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The specimens he brought back were identified and given their scientific name, Lewisia rediviva, by a German-American botanist, Frederick Pursh.[6]

The bitterroot was selected as the Montana state flower on February 27, 1895.

Three major geographic features, the Bitterroot Mountains (running north-south and forming the divide between Idaho and Montana), the Bitterroot Valley, and the Bitterroot River (which flows south-north, terminating in the Clark Fork river in the city of Missoula), owe the origins of their names to this flower.[6]


  1. ^ a b Sullivan, Steven. K. (2015). "Lewisia rediviva". Wildflower Search. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  2. ^ "Lewisia rediviva". PLANTS Database. United States Department of Agriculture; Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  3. ^ a b c d Klinkenberg, Brian (Editor) (2014). "Lewisia rediviva". E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  4. ^ Giblin, David (Editor) (2015). "Lewisia rediviva". WTU Herbarium Image Collection. Burke Museum, University of Washington. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  5. ^ "Lewisia rediviva". Jepson eFlora: Taxon page. Jepson Herbarium; University of California, Berkeley. 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Trivia |". Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  7. ^ "FirstVoices: Ktunaxa words". Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  8. ^ Cheyenne Dictionary[permanent dead link] by Fisher, Leman, Pine, Sanchez.
  9. ^ Ashley Casimer. "Nutrition: Ktunaxa People and the Traditional Food History". Aqam Community Learning Centre. Archived from the original on 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit