Bitterroot, Desert Beauty

Bitterroot, or Lewisia rediviva, is a low-growing perennial found in the Western United States. It grows on the ground rather than above it, but does not behave like a ‘spreading’ plant might. The leaves are succulent and the blooms are large, white-pink, and stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful. The fleshy taproot was eaten by First Nations tribes and is the source of life for the plant during droughty summer months.

It grows in gravelly, well-draining soil and is a great example of extreme plant survival. Bitterroot may go an entire month or so without rain, and still these small plants are able to produce a flashy, resource-intensive flower. Living in the sagebrush steppe of the West taught me so much about the awe-inspiring survival abilities of plants, and Bitterroot quickly became my favorite wildflower.

In these images, you can see: 1) how easy it might be to walk right by Bitterroot without spotting it, and 2) the plant’s deep pink-red, tightly wrapped flower buds. If you look closely at the last photo, you can spot just a little of the green leaf.

Bitterroot played a role in Lewis & Clark’s adventures, and you can learn more about the plant at Discovering Lewis & Clark. There you will find a story about how the Bitterroot flower came to be; I’m not sure if it’s actually a traditional legend, but it’s beautiful and so I’ve reposted here.

An old Flathead Indian woman sat weeping on the bank of the In-schu-te-schu, or Red Willow River, in the shadow of the Chi-quil-quil-kane, or Red Mountains, singing a death song for her starving sons. The rising sun heard her plaint, and sent a red spirit-bird to comfort her. The bird promised that from each of her falling tears a new flower would grow, tinted with the rose of his feathers and the white of her hair, and springing from a root as bitter as her sorrow but as nourishing as her love. The prophecy came true, and her people called the plant spetlem–“bitter.”

Posted on August 29, 2010, in Flora and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Exquisite images; what I love is how the petals blend into their stony home. There is a real sense of belonging to the ground.

  2. Thanks Julian, coming from you, that’s a huge compliment! Your blog is beautiful. Thanks for checking mine out! :)

  3. My pleasure! And thanks for the kind compliments. Looking forward to following your roamings, wherever they may take you! Cheers and happy trails…

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