A Bitter Tale of Root and Bloom.

The word “bitterroot” doesn’t conjure up warm and fuzzy images of beautiful flowers and endless horizons unless, of course, you are from Montana or just finished a wildflower hike along the Bitterroot Range of mountains. For ten months of the year, the root lies dessicated and undetected in dry, gravelly ravines until the right combination of sunny warmth, moisture, and light urges this dried up root to push one of the more beautiful blossoms to the surface for all to enjoy. Most of the time, the bloom is not accompanied by leaves and it seldom stretches skyward by more than a few inches. Colors range from white to pink to lavender and sometimes all join in for a bold display.

Bitterroot is beautiful amongst the rocks and lichens.

The Native Americans valued the root which was harvested just before blooming and a bag full of Bitterroot could purchase a horse. Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame thought his collected plant had died when he brought back several from the extended trip up and down the Missouri River but to everyone’s surprise, the following Spring, the root came back to life. The scientific name, Lewisia rediviva, honors Lewis and celebrates the “new life” with the second word. Bitterroot is native to the Rocky Mountains and varieties of Bitterroot can be found from Mexico through Canada.

Bitterroot blooms in its native environment.

Campanion bloomers are varied and occasionally showy and perhaps the best examples are Bear Grass, Indian Paintbrush (which will be covered when we visit Wyoming), Blue Columbine (we discussed in beautiful detail in Colorado), and Fairy Slipper. Here are a few to give you a flavor of wildflowers in our Rocky Mountain states.

A Bear Grass “Super bloom” occurs every 5-7 years in the Rockies.
Indian Paintbrush among the Fir and Spruce.
The Blue Columbine covers the wetter valleys in Montana.
The Fairy Slipper looks like a cross between an Iris and a Lady’s Slipper but it is the only member of its genus.
Bitterroot can be poisonous to cats and dogs but roots were prized by Native Americans who peeled and boiled them.

Wow!! Doesn’t that want you to call Delta and book a flight to Helena, Montana? Wait until late Spring and early summer, as temperatures are in the negative range at present and snow swirls are common but I see a return trip in the future!

Now we are off to another prairie state, Nebraska, where the seemingly unlimted varieties of prairie wildflowers takes a familiar turn.

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