Pygmy Bitterroot
Lewisia pygmaea (Gray) B.L. Robins.
Family: Portulacaceae, Purslane
Genus: Lewisia
Other names: alpine lewisia
Nomenclature: pygmaea = dwarf
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
No medicinal data

General: low perennial, 1-8 cm tall, from a fleshy, branched to simple and carrot-shaped root mostly 1.5-6 cm long and 0.5-2 cm thick. Flower stems usually several from the base, with 2 opposite, linear, joined bracts at midlength.

Leaves: basal, several, fleshy, linear to oblanceolate, 5-15 cm long, 1-6 mm broad, membranous-edged along the broad stalks.

Flowers: single on each stem. The 2 sepals ovate, 2-7 mm long, in fruit up to 12 mm, rounded or seldom pointed, entire to strongly small-toothed and often glandular, from fleshy and not visibly veiny to prominently veined, green to red. Petals 5-9, often glandular-bristly, 6-17 mm long, white or greenish-white to deep pink or somewhat lavender. Stamens 4-12. Style branches 3-6. Late May-August.

Fruits: capsules, about equal to the calyx, membranous. Seeds 15-40, dark brown, rarely nearly black, 1-1.4 mm long, shiny, apparently smooth but very lightly covered with minute, warty bumps, without appendage.


Open, often gravelly, moist to dryish areas in the mountains to above tree line, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also from WA to s. CA, NM and AZ.
Edible Uses

The root of pygmy bitterroot is edible cooked. It can be steeped and boiled. It can also be dried for later use. The root is said to be extremely nutritious, though some native North American Indian tribes believed that eating it could cause insanity. It is easiest to use when the plant is in flower because the outer layer of the root (which is very bitter) slips off easily at this time of the year. The root has a good taste though a decided bitter flavor develops afterwards.

Sub taxa:

Our specimen belong to var. pygmaea (Gray) B.L. Robins, which has sepals mostly rounded, heavily veined, glandular-small-toothed, 2-5 mm long, and leaves which are usually linear, less than 8 cm long.

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