The bitterroot flower belongs to the small lewisia genus and is a member of the portulacaceae family. Bitterroots – which are the state flower of Montana – are low growing perennial plants with short, leafless stems and large, cheerful heads. Each stem sprouts a single 2 inch head which is made up of six to nine unequal and overlapping sepals, as well as roughly fifteen petals and about five linear bracts. Their colors range from a muted, rosy pink to a bright, creamy white. Given that these plants are well known for their ability to be revived after exposure to harsh, dry conditions, it is not surprising that they often grow their best in full sun and sandy soil.
The bitterroot flower gets its scientific name – lewisia rediviva – from two distinct sources. The word “rediviva” refers to the plant’s ability to restore its fresh, vibrant beauty, even after a long drought. As for the “lewisia,” that comes from the plant’s collector, Meriwether Lewis. Although Lewis may have been given credit for the discovery of the bitterroot flower, it had actually been in use for many years by several Native American tribes. One of its uses was as an important food staple – mainly as a filler in meat patties and mixed plates. The roots of these plants were most often boiled into a thick, slightly bitter jelly-like paste. It was also sometimes dried and ground so that it could be used to thicken stews. In addition to their use in the culinary realm, bitterroot flowers also have some interesting home remedy applications. For instance, the roots can be turned into poultices, powders or eaten raw to help treat everything from sore throats and skin wounds, to low breast milk and pleurisy.
As well as being a symbol of pride to Montanans, the bitterroot flower is also the ultimate icon for re-birth and resurrection of spirit. This is no shock given that these plants are said to be capable of living through an entire year without a drop of water. As a gift, these plants are fantastic when given to represent a new start – whether in a relationship, a new job, or even a long-distance move. Because of their short stems, it is uncommon to see these blossoms in a large bouquet; however, they can easily be presented in small nosegays or boutonnieres. They may also given in a low, small vase or growing straight from a pot.