Lewisia Rediviva, The Bitterroot

Bryan Spellman

Plains, United States

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Featured in the Wildflowers of North America group and in the Endangered or Vulnerable Plants group.

Montana’s State Flower, the Bitterroot, has given its name to the mountain range that separates Montana from Idaho, the River flowing north alongside US Highway 93, and the Valley through which that river flows. Its own botanical name comes from the fact that Meriwether Lewis gathered samples which he carried home from the Corps of Discovery’s trip west. Even though the samples were desiccated and apparently dead, they came back to life when planted—hence Lewisia for Lewis and Rediviva because they were “reborn.”

Unlike the California Poppy which can be seen almost anywhere in its “home” state, the Bitterroot is shy and hard to find. It grows mainly on open slopes in rocky soil, and usually does not put out leaves until after the flower’s bloom has died.

The Salish people native to the Bitterroot Valley, and their neighbors to the southeast, the Lemhi Shoshone, ate the taproot, and according to Wikipedia, the Shoshone considered the red core of the taproot to be a good bear repellant. In 1895, the Montana State Legislature named it the state flower of Montana.

This example was found on the bare hillside to the north of the city of Missoula, the hill I see as I look out my study window. The photo was taken on June 25, 2007, using a Nikon D80 DSLR fitted with a Sigma 18-50 mm tele/zoom lens set at 38mm. ISO 200, f /8.0, 1/400 second.

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