A country still as wild and lovely today as it was centuries ago, Montana is home to those who cherish the open landscapes and enjoy the deep roots that grow in this great land. Montana might be sparsely populated in terms of other states, but the history and culture of Montana run deep. The state was one of the first to select a state flower, and it was the people of the state making the choice rather than elected officials.
Following the World’s Fair in 1893, several citizens of Montana began a campaign to select a state flower. A year later, ballots from every county in the state had been turned in and counted and the pretty pink blossoms of bitterroot had won. The state legislature sanctioned the selection in 1895. A more appropriate choice could not have been made as bitterroot has been an elemental part of life in this rugged state throughout history.
Bitterroot in Montana
To look at bitterroot, you see small pink blossoms near the ground. These pink blossoms are striking along the arid landscape, but it is the sturdy ruggedness of the bitterroot that truly enamors it to the hearts of Montanans. The bitterroot plant is a perennial that can live for up to a year without water. The flowers of bitterroot are a beautiful showpiece for a plant as strong and hardy as the state and its people.
While beautiful in bloom, bitterroot’s true value lies beneath the ground. The roots of bitterroot were heavily prized in Native American culture. The early Americans would harvest the roots and include the blooming season of the bitterroot plants in their annual migration patterns. The roots were harvested, cleaned and dried. They could then be used in cooking as a single ounce had much of the nutrients required in a daily diet. The bitterroot was so valuable to early Americans, in trade a sack of dried bitterroot was equivalent to the value of a horse.
Bitterroot is tremendously hearty once established, but challenging to grow – especially if grown indoors. Bitterroot is best grown from seed, but only when fresh, ripe seeds are available. Sow the seeds on the surface in sun or partial sun in rich, gritty, moist soil. The seeds can take up to two years to germinate, but will be truly lovely once they take root and grow.