Definitions

Bitterroot

Bitterroot

[bit-er-root, -root]
Bitterroot, river, c.120 mi (190 km) long, rising in SW Mont. and flowing north to join the Clark Fork River near Missoula. A Roman Catholic mission was established on the river in 1841, and missionaries are credited with introducing farming in the area. The Bitterroot Valley experienced rapid population growth in the 1990s.
bitterroot: see purslane.

Segment of the northern Rocky Mountains, U.S. Extending north-south 300 mi (480 km) along the Idaho-Montana border, its peaks average about 9,000 ft (2,700 m); Idaho's Scott Peak is the highest, at 11,393 ft (3,473 m). Owing to the mountains' inaccessibility from the east, the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1805) had to travel north more than 100 mi (160 km) to find a route through the range. Bitterroot National Forest extends across the centre of the range.

Learn more about Bitterroot Range with a free trial on Britannica.com.

This article is about the plant. For the river, see Bitterroot River.
The bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursch) is a small, low, pink flower with yellow center. It is the state flower of Montana in the United States.

The plant is a low-growing perennial plant with a fleshy taproot and a simple or branched base. The flower stems are leafless, 1-3 cm tall, bearing at the tip a whorl of 5-6 linear bracts which are 5-10 mm long. A single flower appears on each stem with 6-9 oval shaped sepals. They range in color from whitish to deep pink or rose during May and June. The petals (usually about 15) are oblong in shape and are 18-35 mm long in length.

At maturity, the bitterroot produces egg-shaped capsules with 6-20 nearly round seeds.

The plant grows on gravelly to heavy, usually dry soil, in scablands or foothills areas. It is found on sagebrush plains to the lower mountains, in western and south central Montana, it is also the state flower of Montana. It ranges in the north from British Columbia to southern California, and on the east side of the Cascade Range to Colorado and Arizona.

The roots were consumed by local tribes such as the Shoshone and the Flathead Indians as an infrequent delicacy.

The bitterroot was selected to be the Montana State Flower on February 27, 1895. Three major geographic features, the Bitterroot Mountains (running north-south and forming the divide between Idaho and Montana), the Bitterroot Valley, and the Bitterroot River (which flows south-north, terminating in the Clark Fork river in the city of Missoula), owe the origins of their names to this flower.

The Lemhi Shoshone believed the small red core found in the upper taproot had special powers, notably being able to stop a bear attack.

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