Home Gardening Lewisia: My Favorite Martian Flower

Lewisia: My Favorite Martian Flower

Lewisia: My Favorite Martian Flower

I have a theory, that the fleshy-leaf, flower-flashing Lewisia (aka bitterroot) is not of this world.  Horticulturalists will tell you the diminutive beauty was discovered by and named after explorer Meriwether Lewis on his expedition through the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon, but I have a hunch there’s a cover-up involved. Yep, a conspiracy to hide the plant’s true origin: Mars.

holding potted Lewisia

Just look at it, so bizarrely unique as if pluck from the set of Avatar

(Um, I’m referring to the plant.)

Lewisia in bloomThe pint-sized portulacaceae explode with floriferous exuberance in late spring and early summer, creating a fireworks display of flaming petals.

vibrant colored lewisiaThe color display can last up to a month, and then the plant bows out of the limelight to rest up for next year’s show. Because standing water will rot the plant’s roots and leaves, Lewisia requires excellent drainage. Whether from Mars or the Pacific Northwest Coastal Range, Lewisia is very at home in my garden and in my heart. Consider it for yours.

See what other gardeners are saying about Lewisia:


  1. I love it! Martian flowers!

    Tom – I love Indian food. Madhur Jaffrey is one of my heroes and I get good results from using her recipes. “Turn you face away when you add the chili peppers”. I would like to “cook ahead”, making some of her Indian sauces and preserving them in glass jars. Not wanting to poison myself and others, do you have any tips on “canning” sauces??

    Your comments would be very welcome.

    PS I am the proud owner of a new Yamaha Vino 125 motor scooter and you are only a ferryboat ride away. Do you allow fans to prostrate themselves on your front porch stairs and to bring gifts to the canine gods? Shoot me an e-mail!

  2. So timely! Thank you so much for today’s lesson. We were relaxing out in our yard on Mom’s Day, letting our chucklings (ducks and chicks) out for their first time, when my daughter disappeared into the garden of our new home. “What coukd be more exciting than chucklings,” i pondered.

    When she returned, she had a bouquet of collected flowers for me, which included one of these.

    Holy cow! I couldn’t believe that we can grow a flower here in the PNW that looks like it comes from Hawaii!

    Happy gardening!

  3. I was curious about the name. Now that I looked it up I wonder how the Native American’s figured out that if they cooked the bitter root, it wouldn’t be bitter any more and was good mixed with nuts or meat. So says the web site about the Montana State Flower….

  4. Looks like this romantic post with the gorgeous flower is titillating some flirtatious currents here, how exciting to witness it all! Love this flower, but these days I am into Lebanon’s wild flowers, got me 4 books on the topic, I am discovering that this tiny country has more species of flowers to count than Italy or France!

  5. I too love lewisias, but they don’t love me. Or maybe it’s my climate — they like the dry soil but the direct sun is too hot here in C. Or. My poor darlings suffer along, their numbers dwindling with each winter, then are briefly replenished at the nursery next spring. I really need to find a better place, maybe morning light? Funny, I don’t find them that odd — maybe I’m also from Mars?

  6. I had heard of Lewisias before but had never seen them. Down here in the desert we don’t get very many plants like those. Side note: you should plant some Clarkia nearby.

  7. Hey Tom, I know of this cool flower but I never
    knew that it is…. Bitterroot! How interesting!!
    And something else….’Play Misty for Me’ I’m your biggest fan!! Careful… 😉 Or maybe that person is just an outgoing type who is stoked about you and your cool life on Vashon!! I am along with everyone else but alas there isn’t
    a ferry from L.A. to your pad!! Hahaha

  8. Just when I think it can’t be done, you startle me out of believing that your blog can’t get any better!!! What a wonderful entry! I love Lewisia and I have one now-I wonder what color it will be. Thanks for introducing me to such a wonderful mystery of a flower/plant. Thanks Tom

  9. Just a reminder of another wonderful Lewisia — Lewisia rediviva. This is what I think of as the ‘real’ lewisia, discovered by Lewis growing in the mountains of the West. This smaller, more succulent plant (than the L. cotyledon you show here, Tom) is the state flower of Montana. The leaves mostly die back before the flowers appear, seemingly out of bare earth, thus ‘rediviva’. Flowers are white or pink, and really beautiful. They need good drainage, though, so probably not great in maritime zones.

    There’s another one, even more spectacular than cotyldeon, and that is L. tweedyi, native to Washington. Again, drainage is key, and it is a bit more tender than the others, I find.

    Oh, those Lewisias. Get yours now, and yes, put some Clarkia right next to them.

  10. Thanks Marie,
    And Kathy, wow, great info, I’m on it! My friend Bart is a big Lewisia fan and grows quite a few, though like you say, he protects them from winter rains.

  11. Are they good for hanging baskets? And do they look green and healthy through the winter? The few plants I have look great through the spring and summer, then sickly through the winter.

  12. Renae, I say nope to the hanging basket idea. Lewisia are great for rock gardens and areas with sharp drainage in the winter. But alas, they look pretty ratty until spring too.


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