The Idaho Botanical Garden created its Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden in 2006 to mark the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806).
The importance of botany to both explorers is apparent in the number of western plant species named "clarkia" or "lewisii" - including Idaho's state flower, syringa, or philadelphus lewisii.
"So we thought, why not create a single snapshot of the plants Lewis and Clark encountered on their journey?" said Julia Rundberg, director of the Botanical Garden.
Staffers perused the explorers' journals and came up with a list of 140 plant species. The Lewis and Clark native garden, which stretches across a sunny hillside at the Botanical Garden, includes 125 of those species. The remainder are on the garden's wish list.
The garden's collection includes plants native to the range that stretches from Great Falls, Mont., to The Dalles, Ore. Boise sits roughly in the middle. The staff has recreated four distinct biomes for the collection: prairie, mountain, wetland and coniferous forest - a challenge in the dry desert Foothills where the garden is located.
"We've been able to create microclimates with soil amendments, water, creating shade with rocks and tree canopies," said Rundberg.
Successes include bear grass, which usually prefers growing near glaciers in higher, cooler, wetter regions than Boise.
Bitterroot has been fun to grow, said garden botanist Ann DeBolt, "as long as we can keep the rabbits from eating them."
There are challenges. A Lewis and Clark plant like red mountain heather (phyllodoce empetriformis), isn't available commercially, and probably wouldn't survive in Boise even with gardener intervention, DeBolt said.
Two onion species noted by Lewis and Clark, Geyer's onion and Tolmie's onion (allium geyeri and allium tolmiei, respectively) are "in production" in the garden's propagation bed, said DeBolt. They'll join the collection one day.
Rundberg looks forward to a time when the Lewis and Clark garden might offer a chance to organize special events - a syringa festival, for example, to capture the brief but fragrant blooming season of Idaho's native.
A syringa fest might not be as showy as lilac festivals in other cities, said Rundberg.
"But it would be our own."
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