Nevada bitterroot (Lewisia nevadensis) is a native perennial that can be found in the Rocky Mountain states and westward at elevations of 4,500 to 12,000 feet. Its habitat is moist mountain meadows, open forests and vernally moist gravel flats.
Pygmy bitterroot (Lewisia pygmaea) is very similar to Nevada bitterroot and hybridizes with Nevada bitterroot where the two ranges overlap. The two species are distinguished by flower color, sepal margins and elevation. Pygmy bitterroot occurs from altitudes of 9,000 to 12,250 feet. Since these specimens were growing along Modoc National Forest Road 40N03 near Egg Lake (Modoc County CA), where the elevation is near the lower limit of Nevada bitterroot’s range, I believe these are Nevada bitterroots.
Growing from a fleshy taproot and caudex (basal stem structure from which new growth arises), Nevada bitterroot grows low to the ground. The narrow lencelolate leaves are basal and entire. The two opposite bracts are near the middle of the flower stem.
Nevada bitterroot plants have 1 white (rarely pink) flower at the end of the stem. There are 9 to 15 petals, two sepals and many stamens. The fruit is a capsule that at maturity contains many dark, shiny seeds.
Native Americans collected Nevada bitterroot roots as a nourishing supplement to their diet. The roots were usually eaten dried because they are bitter when raw. The roots were also boiled and mixed with meat or berries.
Another common name for L. nevadensis is Nevada lewisia.