Tiny Treasure

Bitter root or Lewisia cotyledon (loo-ISS-ee-ah kot-ih-LEE-don) is a perennial evergreen native to the Pacific Northwest hardy to zone 4 (-30 °F to -20 °F).  They form small rosettes about 12″ across and flowers that range from yellow, reds and white.  Yes this little gem can grow in your perennial garden if, and only if, you have the right location.

After two failed attempts in various locations I spoke with a plantsmith about this particular issue and he told me, “plant them high and dry”.  Lewisia is prone to rot over the winter months and to prevent this they need to be planted in locations where the drainage is quick and fast.  This can be a challenge in Southeast Nebraska where clay is the dominate soil type.  He also suggested planting the crown slightly above the soil grade to keep it dry.

Keeping his advice in mind we decided to try again and planted two along the walkway that is on a steep slope that other plants failed to thrive.  As you know, winter was brutal with no snow and bitter cold weather.  On a few rare occasions when I ventured out I did check on the plants they appeared green and lush.  Even when the snow receded they didn’t show any signs of rot.  When May finally arrived we were treated to the first round of blooms.  Different authors state that you can be rewarded with multiple rounds of blooms over the growing season.  Hopefully that will be the case but we are just excited that we finally found a plant for a challenging location.

This plant isn’t for everyone.  You need to know how the water drains in your landscape before deciding to plant this.  It will not survive in a traditional “flat” garden.  Two failed attempts taught us that.  If you decide to try it buy one or two and give it a go.


Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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