Wyoming Native Plants
Plant of the Month
Common Name: Bitter root
Scientific Name: Lewisia rediviva
Bitter root plant.
Think spring! Bitter root, (Lewisia rediviva), blooms its bright pink flowers in mid-late spring. Look for it growing close to the ground in many of Wyoming’s dry sagebrush communities; its unique size and color will stand out brightly against the surrounding sagebrush and forbs. Each small plant has several buds that open their delicate petals into fully blooming flowers when the sun comes up before they close their flowers again at night.
Although this plant does not provide much for wildlife forage (Anderson & Roderick 2000), it was an important component of many Native American tribes’ diets. Its thick root was peeled, then could be boiled, steamed, or dried, depending on what it was needed for. It provided many uses; it could be eaten by itself, used to thicken gravy, mixed with camas bulbs or berries to create a sweet treat, (Moerman 2010) or used medicinally to cure sore throats, poison ivy and sores, as well as to increase milk flow after childbirth (Moerman 2009).
Bitter root is a difficult plant to grow, so the Native Americans who readily used the plant must have done so in a sustainable manner. Transplanting is not an option because digging them up in the wild kills them and growing it from seed requires a lot of time and care. Because of this, bitter root does not hold high value in restoration and reclamation efforts, regardless of how abundantly it grows in Wyoming’s dry range conditions (Anderson & Roderick 2000).
Moerman, Daniel E. 2009. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press, Inc. 271p.
Moerman, Daniel E. 2010. Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press, Inc. 139p.
Native Plants of Wyoming
Wyoming is home to a diverse variety of native plants due to its wide range of weather, geography, and habitats. Many botanical species occur commonly throughout the state, while there are also many rare or threatened plants that only occur in a few areas. One of Wyoming’s most commonly known native plants is the state flower, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia).
In the spring and early summer Castilleja species light up the sagebrush dominated rangelands with their bright red, yellow, pink and orange flowers. From the sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii) to the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha), larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), and bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) there are a wide variety of flowering plants in the Wyoming rangeland that thrive amongst the sagebrush.
Some of our native plants simply require the wind to disperse their seeds, but a majority of flowering plants rely on pollinating birds and insects to reproduce (see additional resources for more information on pollinators). Our native plant communities are threatened by many factors including changes in land use, invasion of non-native species, and overgrazing. The BLM manages the land through invasive species control, rehabilitation, and restoration to help support our native plant habitat.
Want to research a specific plant? Search the species in Wyoming.
Ethnobotany in Wyoming
Ever look out over our Wyoming landscape and wonder how people survived in this harsh land long ago? How did they make it through the frigid winters and dry summers in this windblown region without all of our modern comforts? In part, they survived by finding some ingenious ways to use our native plants. Plants were used as food, medicine and much, much more. This study of how people utilized plants is called ethnobotany.
To explore the ethnobotanical properties of many of our native plants, click on the link below:
Ethnobotany of the Middle Rockies