The bitterroot probably needs no introduction at all, as it's Montana's state plant. The slow-growing fleshy taproots were harvested for food by the original inhabitants of the Missoula area. In fact, the valley floor (where south Reserve St runs today) was one of the primary harvesting grounds in this area, and people traveled great distances to collect bitterroots here. This, along with the fact that they are stunningly gorgeous, is why we should all have bitterroots growing in our yards. They love hot, sunny spots, especially ones with a southerly aspect, as this speeds soil warming in early spring when the plants are most active.
Bitterroots bloom in late Spring, and then go competely dormant in the summer. They send up clumps of fleshy narrow leaves again in the fall once the rains resume. Because they vanish completely during the summer, it's important to remember where you planted your bitterroots so you don't accidently disturb them. Plant with summer blooming species to avoid bare patches in the garden. Although they'll reproduce clonally over time, they'll look best planted in groups.
If you purchase these plants in the summer, the container may appear to contain only dirt at first, but when you plant it (and it's recommended that you plant them while dormant), you will observe the orange carrot-like taproot. Take care not to break it while planting! Once established, though, the plant will be long-lived and resilient.
- Lewisia rediviva