Scientific name: Balsamorhiza sagittata
FACTS: Last year we described Woolly Balsamroot, one of the three main species of this plant that grows throughout the Blue Mountains.
The plant in the photo here is the largest and most common of the three, arrowleaf balsamroot, which grows at most elevations.
It has just begun to show up at low elevations, and will bloom at gradually higher elevations well into June. It is found from Southwest Canada and the Dakotas, to Arizona, and west to the Cascade Mountains.
As noted in last year's article, Balsamroot is a familiar spring flower, with bright yellow sunflower-like heads in open rocky hillsides and forest meadows.
This one is typically 1 foot to 2 feet high, with large gray-green leaves shaped somewhat like an arrowhead. It is nearly identical to Balsamorhiza deltoidea, which grows in the Columbia Gorge and halfway up Cabbage Hill near Pendleton.
The other common species of balsamroot in the Blues is Serrated Balsamroot, which has dark green leaves with serrate-toothed edges.
All balsamroot species have a single flowering head at the top of a leafless stem. These heads, as in all members of the sunflower family, are made up of many separate tiny flowers. Each flower will produce a single seed.
Balsamroot species have been used by Indian tribes throughout the west for food. The roots were prepared and cooked, young leaves were eaten raw or steamed, and the seeds were pounded to make flour. The Okanagan Indians also smoked the leaves like tobacco.
Where to find: Look for arrowleaf balsamroot plants on open grassy hillsides and in forest meadows in the Blue Mountains from April to June.