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Philadelphus lewisii “Lewis’ Mock Orange” Hydrangeaceae

Missoula, MT
June 11, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Philadelphus was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in 1806. It’s flowers and scent are reminiscent of orange blossoms, thus it’s common name, the mock-orange. Unlike oranges, these attractive shrubs produce dry, 4-parted capsule fruits that are wholly inedible. Their leaves, however, contain saponins and can be crushed to make a mild soap. They are a popular ornamental plant here in the eastern PNW and are the state flower of Idaho. Look for them scattered throughout drier slopes in the west, where they tend to grow singly or in small populations. Here in Missoula, they cover the hillsides with gorgeous white blooms at the beginning of summer, much like Amelanchier in the spring.

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!

Mimulus lewisii “Purple Monkeyflower” Phrymaceae (Scrophulariaceae)

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of monkeyflower was named after the naturalist and explorer, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), who discovered it in Montana, at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Although Lewis was not formally trained as a botanist, he collected and described hundreds of plant species, many of which were completely new to science at the time. Specimens of this particular plant, however, were lost in a flood and never made it back to Washington DC where they would have been cataloged, named, and formally described by Frederick Pursh. Instead, using only Lewis’s descriptions in his journal, Pursh was able to define this plant as a new species!

Balsamorhiza sagittata “Arrowleaf Balsamroot” Asteraceae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2015
Robert Niese

Arrowleaf Balsamroot was first collected by Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) when he was exploring the northern Rockies in 1806. These particular specimens appear to have been munched by some deer (notice that the left side is missing some flowers).

Balsamorhiza sagittata “Arrowleaf Balsamroot” Asteraceae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2015
Robert Niese

Balsamroot is one of the most characteristic plants of eastern PNW habitats. While the coastal Northwest’s lush rainforests are truly a sight to behold, nothing is quite as striking as springtime hillsides covered with Balsamroot and Lupine while dramatic, snow-capped peaks loom in the background. Fun fact: Arrowleaf Balsamroot was first collected by Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) when he was exploring the northern Rockies in 1806.