Linum lewisii “Lewis’s Prairie Flax” Linaceae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

Prairie Flax is native to western North America where it grows in dry open areas east of the Cascades and west of the Mississippi. This species was first collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition on July 9, 1806, although there is some debate as to whether it was collected by Meriwether himself or by Captain Clark. After the species was formally described by Frederick Pursh in 1814, the original specimen was lost for nearly a century along with many other historic records. Flax (L. usitatissimum) is among the oldest of all cultivated plants and has been utilized by humans for at least 30,000 years. Here in the Northwest, native peoples used fibers from the stems of L. lewisii to create cordage, string, and textiles and used its seeds to treat all manner of dietary problems, to reduce swelling in wounds and boils, and to remove small, irritating particles from the eye. Learn more about the edible and medicinal uses for L. lewisii here, and learn more about its discovery and discussion in the Lewis and Clark expedition here!

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