Magazine article Sunset

Lovely Lewisias

Magazine article Sunset

Lovely Lewisias

Article excerpt

Montana's state flower and its cousins are among the West's favorite natives

In August 1805, one of the Lewis and Clark expedition's hunters surprised a band of Native Americans along the Missouri River. The startled group ran away, leaving behind a few roots they were about to eat. So the hunter took the roots back to Meriwether Lewis, who tasted them and pronounced them "bitter and naucious to the pallatte." (French trappers had named them well: racine amere, or bitter root). Eleven months later, though, when Lewis saw the plant in glorious bloom in the Bitterroot Mountains, he noted it in his acquisitions journal as a "singular plant." He gave a plant to German botanist Frederick Traugott Pursh, who renamed it Lewisia rediviva, ofter Lewis. The plant is now the state flower of Montana.

Among the toughest and most delicately beautiful Western wildflowers, lewisias are drought tolerant to a fault. (Fleshy, water-holding roots in L. rediviva are key to their drought tolerance: On a mature plant, the main root can be thicker than your thumb.) You can easily kill L. rediviva and L. cotyledon by giving them summer water, but if you plant them in fast-draining soil or in pots, they can keep flowering for years.

where to begin

All lewisias are native to parts of the West. If you've never grown them, plant a small colony of L. cotyledon, native to California and Oregon, which bears flowers in white, pink, red, yellow, and orange several times (if you pinch off faded blooms) between spring and fall. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.