150 Boise icons: Bitterbrush

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 6, 2013 

Bitterbrush, native to the hills around Boise, is a gnarly, medium-sized shrub. Its tiny, pale yellow flowers look like miniature wild roses. This is appropriate because bitterbrush — Purshia tridentata in formal circles — is a member of the rose family. This might also have something to do with its exquisite fragrance.

“Their annual bloom is on right now, filling the air with sweet perfume,” said reader Christopher Trollan, who nominated bitterbrush as a Boise icon. “My wife says it’s like a small perfume forest.”

Bitterbrush is a key winter food source for deer, elk and antelope. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game recruits volunteers to plant bitterbrush, along with sagebrush, early each spring. Rodents eat bitterbrush seeds, sometimes eating a plant’s entire seed production for the season. Luckily, bitterbrush has remarkable regenerative properties. It can sprout roots where branches touch the ground and produce new plants.

Lewis and Clark collected bitterbrush in Montana in 1806. The plant’s botanical name honors Frederick Pursh, the botanist who was the first to classify many of the Western specimens the explorers collected. “Tridentata” means three-toothed, a leaf trait bitterbrush shares with sagebrush.

• Find bitterbrush in the Foothills around Boise in the same places you find sagebrush and arrow leaf balsam root. Its range extends from the Cascades east to Montana and Colorado, and south to New Mexico.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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