Beautiful Bitterroot

During the summer of 2011, I entered into a small love affair with a wonderful little succulent rosette. I would see them scattered about the sagebrush. They always brightened my day. They seemed so foreign compared to the northeastern flora I was used to. The cylindrical leaves were tightly packed and hugged the ground, no doubt to get away from the constant winds that blow across the terrain. It didn't take long to learn its name. The flora I was using told me that these plants were none other than Lewisia rediviva, more commonly known as bitterroot. 

Bitterroot is native to much of North America west of the Rockies. It can be found growing at elevations ranging from 2,500 feet to over 10,000 feet. This is one hardy little plant. Its position taxonomically speaking has changed a bit as of late. This species was once placed in the family Portulacaceae but recent analyses now suggest it in a new family - Montiaceae. 

The rosette of leaves are produced from a cylindrical taproot in late summer. They will remain green throughout the fall and into the harsh winter, insulated under the snow. This allows the plant to get a head start on photosynthesis come spring. As the snow slowly melts away, bitterroot begins producing flower buds. 

As the flower buds mature, the leaves begin to senesce. Very often you will find flowers and no leaves, which may lead some to believe they have witnessed two different plants. Either way, the flowers are quite the spectacle. Blooming time varies depending on latitude and elevation but between the months of April and June, bitterroot enters reproductive mode. If you're a fan of big flowers on small plants, then this species is right up your alley. The 2 inch flowers are borne flush with the ground and vary in color from stark white to bright pink. Their display is made all the more magnificent by the fact that bitterroot is often found growing in bare soil, devoid of other flowering forbs. 

Further Reading: