The Bitter Root flower is primarily found in the valleys and hillsides of western Montana, Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington. Originally, Native Americans including the Kootenai, Salish, Flathead, Nez Perce and Blackfoot utilized the root of the plant as a food supplement. The various tribes would harvest the root in late spring or in the fall. Preparations included baking or boiling the plant root.
Beutiful Bitterroot Flower However, the preferred use was to sun dry and pulverize the root, add dried berries and a little meat for a great energy boost while on the trail or hunting. This mixture could very well be an example of the first trail mix widely used by mankind. A large field of Bitter Root flowers was located at what now is the intersection of Mount Avenue and Woodford Street in Missoula, less than a mile from the current location of the Bitterroot Flower Shop. For centuries various tribes have camped near this field to harvest the root.
Beautiful Bitterroot Flower This practice continued through the late forties. The tradition was stopped when a grocery store chain purchased the field and built an outlet. By that time the Bitterroot Flower Shop was in full operation. Uninformed folks will try to tell you Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition discovered the Bitter Root flower. This is not the case. Natives introduced him to the root, which he gave a western name. When the expedition wondered into what is now Western Montana they were tired and hungry. The Bitter Root provided. a great pick-me-up. A member of the Purslane family, Lewis named the flower Lewisia Rediviva. Rediviva means, "that which lives again". The plant is very hardy, it will survive in very arid conditions and has even grown after being dug up, allowed to dry, and then replanted. The Bitter Root name refers to the bitter taste of the root. Bitter Roots prefer rocky or sandy soil. The plant sends out narrow leaves 1 to 4 inches long in early fall, that remain green into the winter. Each plant produces multiple blooms, which typically emerge in late spring, depending on location and elevation. The Bitter Root only comes in one color. The bud opens in a bright fuchsia and within hours fades to light pink. Several hours later the bloom dies and turns to a transparent white. The bloom has a very short stem and cannot be used in floral arranging. Montana adopted the Bitter Root as the state flower in February 1895. A beautiful and dramatic mountain range dividing Montana and Idaho was named after the flower, along with a major river, which empties into the Clark Fork River at Missoula. During the 1950s locals combined bitter and root to bitterroot, which is the current usage.