The photo above shows the first of the bitterroot to bloom along the trail at the Odessa Craters, a BLM site several miles north of Odessa, WA (Lincoln County)........April 28, 2007.
Bitterroot is a very attractive wildflower suited for dry, naturalized gardens. It is a low plant with numerous narrow leaves in a basal rosette (See photo at right.), and lacking a large flower stem with leaves. The thick, fleshy leaves appear before the flowers appear and whither as the flowers bloom. The leaves range from 1.5-5 cm long and are linear-clavate. The short, leafless stem ranges from 1-3 cm tall, and has a whorl of 5-6 linear bracts from 5-10 mm long at its tip.
The large showy flowers are variable in color, from whitish, rose, to deep pink and occasionally a light peach color. The 12-18 (usually 15) petals are oblong-oblanceolate in shape from 18-35 mm long. The 6-9 (usually 4) sepals are oval, 10-25 mm long, and often similar in color to the petals. The stamens are numerous, numbering 30-50. There may be just one flower on the stem, but more typically there are 2-3. After flowering, the sepals close around the ovary. On maturation of the seeds, the sepals and enclosed ovary as a unit tend to break free of the scape and are then blown across the ground, scattering seeds away from the parent.
The fleshy taproot, although bitter in taste, was highly prized by native Americans as a food source. Commonly it was dug as the leaves developed, at a period when they were less bitter. They were peeled and boiled, then eaten immediately or dried for later use. The bitterroot is also the state flower of Montana.
Bitterroot is suitable for use in rock gardens or in troughs, especially when used east of the Cascade Mts. I have a number of plants that have survived the numerous winter rains west of the Cascades, but they need to be planted on raised sand and gravel beds to the front of the planting, away from other plants which may overwhelm them. Some have survived out in the open all winter, while I have covered others with hoop frames covered with plastic.
Bitterroot is found on dry, gravelly, rocky, and heavy soils from the sagebrush desert to the lower elevations of the mountains. It can take spring rainfall, and the leaves may green up in the fall, but it does not do well with too much winter (or summer) wetness.
Bitterroot may be found east of the Cascade Mts. from British Columbia south through Washington and Oregon to southern California. It is found eastward to Montana, Colorado, and Arizona.
-The photo at left shows bitterroot as seen in scablands near the Odessa Craters several miles north of Odessa, WA........April 29, 2007. The photo at right shows bitterroot still blooming on balds atop Bickleton Ridge in the Bickleton Ridge Unit of the Klickitat Wildlife Area........June 17, 2017.
The photo at left shows the cluster of basal leaves of the bitterroot. Photographed near the summit of Selah Butte, several miles northeast of Selah, WA in central Washington........March 28, 2007. The photo at right shows several basal leaf clusters of bitterroot as seen on scablands along the main east-west access road at the Bickleton Ridge Unit of the Klickitat Wildlife Area........April 11, 2017.
-The photo at left shows bitterroot blooming on gravelly soils at Antelope Mountain Lookout, Malheur National Forest.....July 3, 2010. The photo at right shows bitterroot blooming along the summit ridge of Mount Pisgah, Ochoco National Forest........June 14, 2015.
-Bitterroot blooming at left near the top of the east-facing slopes of Burch Mt., several miles north of Wenatchee, WA.......June 6, 2009. Many of the flowers of this species were nearly white at this location. The photo at right shows bitterroot blooming along the Teanaway Ridge Trail #1226 at a rocky point about one and one-half miles north of its junction with the Iron Creek Trail #1351, Wenatchee National Forest........July 9, 2010.
Typical habitat of bitterroot as seen along Road 1647 at the southern end of Logan Valley, Malheur National Forest........May 28, 2014.
-Bitterroot blooming at left on rocky slopes at a rock pit atop Long Hollow Pass at the south end of the Steens Mountain of southeastern Oregon...........May 31, 2012. Note the bluish native bees helping to pollinate the flowers. The photo at right shows bitterroot with numerous flower buds atop Spanish Peak, Ochoco National Forest.....June 17, 2019.
The photo at left shows bitterroot along the Canyon Mountain Trail #218, Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.........June 21, 2011. The photo at right shows bitterroot and a friend about one mile southeast of Spanish Peak, Ochoco National Forest........June 14, 2015.
Bitterroot blooming along the Canyon Mountain Trail #218, Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.........May 29, 2014.
Bitterroot as seen left on rocky soils near the Odessa Craters, Lincoln County, Washington.........May 8, 2012. The photo at right shows bitterroot flower buds as seen at Fort Rock State Park, Lake County, Oregon.........May 18, 2016.
-Bitterroot beginning to bloom at the junction of Roads 35 and 3517 on Table Mountain, Wenatchee National Forest..........June 4, 2013.
Bitterroot blooming along the Alder Springs Trail #855 near the trailhead, Crooked River National Grasslands........May 11, 2018.