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

Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) is a small perennial herb in the Montiaceae family. Its specific epithet rediviva ("revived, reborn") refers to its ability to regenerate from dry and seemingly dead roots.[1]

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.[2][3][4][5][6]


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.[4] They range in color from whitish to deep pink or lavender. Flowering occurs from April through July.[2] The petals (usually about 15) are oblong in shape and are 18–35 millimetres (0.7–1.4 in) long.[4] At maturity, the bitterroot produces egg-shaped capsules with 6–20 nearly round seeds.[4]

The thick roots, coming into season in late spring, can be peeled, boiled, and made into a jelly-like food.[7]

History and culture[edit]

French trappers knew the plant as racine amère (bitter root).[8] Native American names included spetlum/sp̓eƛ̓m̓ or spetlem ("hand-peeled"), nakamtcu (Ktanxa: naqam¢u),[9] and mo'ôtáa-heséeo'ôtse (Cheyenne, "black medicine")[10]

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.[11] The Lemhi Shoshone believed the small red core found in the upper taproot had special powers, notably being able to stop a bear attack.[8]

L. rediviva var. rediviva, Glass Mountain, Owens Valley, California.

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.[8] Based on Lewis and Clark's manuscript, Pursh labeled it "spatlum"; this apparently was actually a Salishan name for "tobacco".[12]

The bitterroot was selected as the Montana state flower in 1895.[13]

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.[8][14]


  1. ^ William Curtis (1801). The Curtis's botanical magazine. p. 123. The specific name rediviva is given by Pursh in consequence of the root, long preserved in the herbarium, and apparently dead, having been planted, revived in a garden in Philadelphia.
  2. ^ a b Sullivan, Steven. K. (2015). "Lewisia rediviva". Wildflower Search. Retrieved 2015-04-23.
  3. ^ "Lewisia rediviva". PLANTS Database. United States Department of Agriculture; Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-23.
  4. ^ 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Giblin, David (Editor) (2015). "Lewisia rediviva". WTU Herbarium Image Collection. Burke Museum, University of Washington. Retrieved 2015-04-23.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "Lewisia rediviva". Jepson eFlora: Taxon page. Jepson Herbarium; University of California, Berkeley. 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-23.
  7. ^ Lyons, C. P. (1956). Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington (1st ed.). Canada: J. M. Dent & Sons. pp. 139, 196.
  8. ^ a b c d "Trivia |". Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  9. ^ "FirstVoices: Ktunaxa words". Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  10. ^ Cheyenne Dictionary[permanent dead link] by Fisher, Leman, Pine, Sanchez.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Bureau of American Ethnology (1910). Handbook of American Indians. p. 624. its supposed name was obtained from Lewis's manuscript by Pursh, who gives it as spatlum (Spatlum Aboriginorum). The name, which is Salishan, is here a misapplication, since spatlûm in the Comox dialect (spätlûm in the Kwantlin) is the name for
  13. ^ Montana. Dept. of Public Instruction (1929). Montana Educational Directory. p. 30. The Montana state flower, adopted by act of the Legislative Assembly, approved February 27, 1895, is the Bitter Root (Lewisia rediviva).
  14. ^ US Forest Service (1909). Names of National Forests with Their Origin, Definition, Or Derivation. Washington. From the plant Lewisia rediviva, which gives name to the Bitter Root mountains and river of Montana and Idaho.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]