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Bitterroot

Scientific Name:
Lewisia rediviva
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: kañü'teu (Kelly 1932); kaŋiči (Couture et al. 1986); kangita (Fowler 1989); kongida (Fowler 1989); kaɲətə (1989)
Description:

Plant
Lewisia rediviva is a low-growing herbaceous perennial with a fleshy taproot. Each plant has many succulent, linear leaves that form a rosette. Leaves are tapered at the base and blunt at the top, but are usually withered by flowering time. Taproot is thick, fleshy and radiating. The plant produces many stems each with a solitary flower that ranges in color from white to purple. Flowers have 10-19 petals which close each night, opening again with the morning sun. Dark, shiny seeds are enclosed in an ellipsoid capsule 5-6 mm long.

Starch granules
Centric hilum. Granule size distributions are multi-modal, with maximum length ranging from 6-37 microns. Granules are heteromorphic in shape, spheres most common. Granules also appear in compound form, with diads and triads also present. Component granules of compounds are irregular, hemispherical to polyhedral. Also common is a conspicuous form that appears as a sphere with one side folded onto itself. Lamellae are sometimes visible on larger grains, and most grains have a small white dimple with shallow radiating cracks emanating from the hilum. Extinction crosses are bright, clear, and even with thick arms.

Habitat:

Lewisia rediviva grows across a broad elevational gradient from sea level to 6,500 feet. It can be found in open woodland and sagebrush shrublands with pine, oak, or juniper. It prefers gravelly or rocky slopes and ridges.

Distribution:

Lewisia rediviva isfound from the Pacific coastal mountain ranges east to Montana, Wyoming, Nevada and Utah.

Ethnography:

The taproot of Lewisia rediviva was an important source for many Native American groups. The root was harvested with a digging stick then prepared for eating by removing the bark and boiling, steaming, or pit-roasting. Roots were prepared both fresh and dried.

As food
Northern Paiute: "Bitter root (Lewisia rediviva Pursh.) (kañü'teu) was pulled and boiled "like macaroni." It could also be dried. Informants asserted that the Warm Springs Indians ate bitter root." (Kelly 1932:102)

Northern Paiute: "The spring plant collecting area was a highly significant part of the larger seasonal round.  At specific sites, the roots of various species were collected. These included sego lily, bitterroot, yampah, wild onion, biscuitroot, and several species of Lomatium." (Couture et al. 1986:154)

Northern Paiute: "Bitterroot grows throughout the area, and it is consistently harvested.  In some cases it is taken exclusively, even though bitterroot is never the most numerous species.  When a period of warm weather, which encourages the growth of bitterroot, is followed by a sharp cold spell, the caudex of the plant contracts and the leaves shrivel.  This makes the plant difficult to find and to dig. Yet it is still the object of the search." (Couture et al. 1986:156-157)

Northern Paiute: "The primary method of preserving roots is air-drying, preferably in a sunny spot out of doors, exposed to breezes. Bitterroot, in particular, turns an undesirable pink color and becomes bitter if improperly dried." (Couture et al. 1986:157)

Northern Paiute: "[Bitterroot] Grows in big clusters and the whole plant is pulled. The meat of the root is a reddish color...The roots are about the length of the first finger...The skin is peeled off and the root is boiled and eaten this way without grinding." (Fowler 1989:43)

Northern Paiute: "[K]aɲətə grows along the foothills in sandy soil. You eat the tops just like spinach. This is an early plant; dried up in late June. Boil it like spinach or roast the roots in bunches by covering with coals." (Fowler 1989:44)

Other
Northern Paiute: "Bitterroot and biscuitroot have long been major trade items exported by the Harney Valley Paiute…In 1982, a gallon of cleaned, dried bitterroot sold for $80, and four gallons of fresh biscuitroot for $35." (Couture et al. 1986:157)

Distribution Map: