Bitter Root

Lewisia rediviva var. minor

Linanthus dichotomus, Photo by Lara Hartley

Color: White to pinkish

Common name: Bitter Root, Bitterroot

Latin name: Lewisia rediviva var. minor


Height: 1-2 inches

Description: Bitterroot has solitary, silky flowers, up to 7.5 cm wide, and held on short stems. They are composed of 4–9 papery sepals and 12–20 almost translucent petals surrounding a bunch of stamens. Var. minor only differs from its Montana cousins in size being much smaller and in its limited range.

Leaf: The 2-3 mm wide succulent, fleshy leaves are up to 5 cm long. The leaves are held in a rosette and are either evergreen or die back to the thick fleshy roots.

Range: Desert Mtns, Transverse Mountain ranges, San Jacinto Mountains, NV, UT.

Habitat: Rocky open conifer woodland, scrub

Elevation: 1900–2800 m.

Flowering time: Late spring-early summer

Notes: The species name, rediviva, means "brought back to life" and refers to this plant's ability to sprout new growth, even after long periods of drought. The plants, discovered by Lewis and Clark, were already well-known to Native Americans in the area, and eaten by local people. Today, bitterroot is the state flower of Montana and has given its name to the Bitterroot Range, which runs north-south and forms the divide between Idaho and Montana. The common name bitterroot refers to the taste of the roots. The species is also used by several Native American groups as a medicinal plant for sore throats, heart and pleurisy pain, and to increase milk flow after childbirth.

We have an online wildflower field guide that is designed to help you identify desert wildflowers by color, scientific name, region and common name. The pictures are sized to work on the iPod, iPhone, iPad and similar devices. With your iPod or phone you will easily be able to identify wildflowers while in the desert. Links for downloads are on the bottom of the Wildflower Field Guide page.

Photo tips: Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function - usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.

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