Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Bitterroots (Lewisii rediviva) have begun flowering in our yard. Whereas the sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) signals the beginning of spring, to me, bitterroots flowering begins summer. Bitterroots, the Montana state flower, are a beautiful, showy, and easy to grow plant, but they can be pretty tough to showcase in your garden.

Many gardeners fear bitterroots are difficult to grow since their flowers are so large, and delicate looking. However, they are surprisingly tough plants and the main way to kill them is to water them too much (they need none, if planted in Missoula) or plant them in too fertile, rich soil. They enjoy the well-drained, rocky, gravelly soils found here. As my wife says, "they thrive on neglect".
The flowers, though large and striking are essentially on the ground, though the plants are long-lived, the flowers are short-lived, and they open and close with the sunlight. This last feature is especially irritating, since when I go to work in the morning the flowers are closed, and when I return from work in the evening, they are closed. I was able to get home a little early today and caught them in the act (they probably started flowering a few days ago). By the time they flower, their leaves have disappeared, and once the flowers fade, there is nothing to see until November when they begin to push their succulent, needle-like leaves through the soil. The leave flourish in early spring, and begin to fade as the buds appear in June.

It is important to remember where you plant bitterroots, since they are not above ground for much of the year. Also, you don't want to place them near other plants that might crowd them out. So many things to consider. Nevertheless, bitterroots are beautiful, striking flowers, the plants are easy to grow from seed, and they are such a wonderful part of the history, culture, and ecology of the prairies that used to cover the Missoula valley.


  1. Never seen these before, very stunning. We just returned from Yosemite and saw likely 100 flower species blooming in the wild, yet these impress me.

  2. You might have to take vacation time, to stay home during bitterroot season!

  3. I always love seeing bitteroots in the desert around here, I just never thought about them in our xeriscape garden. Did you plant them from seed?

  4. Thank you all for your comments. Bitterroots are truly beautiful and even more special up close.
    We did grow all our bitterroots from seed, and they have also volunteered around the yard pretty well. They also tolerate being transplanted probably better than any other plant I know (transplanted from one part of the yard to another- don't dig them up from the wild).
    Thanks again,