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Portland Nursery


There are some plants that come under my list of must-haves, and Lewisia is definitely among them. A plant destined for rock garden or container, it is relatively a no-muss-no-fuss plant once happily in its niche; a mostly sunny site, quick-draining soil and being kept sufficiently dry in winter pretty much all that’s really required.

Native Lewisias all have the fleshy leaves of their dry country succulent brethren; some have that lightning bolt of intense color typical of the plants of the desert, others more pale and delicate appearing. Each is uniquely lovely and will add a special cheer to your garden with a limited amount of care.

Click on photos to enlarge

Lewisia cotyledon

L. cotyledon - Originating from the Siskiyou Mountains in southwestern Oregon and south into the north coast ranges of California, it makes up the vast majority of Lewisias available for sale, its hardiness and ease of cultivation and hybridization make it a favorite of plant enthusiasts of all sorts, and this Lewisia can be an easily successful specimen in gardens well beyond its native range. Though its appearance would make one think it wanted to bask in full sun, L. cotyledon actually prefers a little shade during the day.

Its flower color can vary from plant to plant as well as among the many blossoms of a single plant. The flowers can be white to yellow to fiery orange to electric pink as well as in a variety of combinations of these, often with the exuberant color reminiscent to that of cacti.  Wide, fleshy evergreen leaves form a basal rosette with the small multi-petaled flowers rising above numerously atop thin stems.

Lewisia columbiana, photo credit SlichterL. columbiana – From the high, rocky reaches of British Columbia to northern Oregon east of the Cascades, L. columbiana and its many naturally-occurring variations are a more diminutive and delicate-appearing group than their showier relatives. The basal rosette of leaves still fleshy and succulent, still evergreen, but instead of being broad they are narrower and much longer than wide. The flowers tend to be fewer-petaled and small, in a more open spray above the leaves, usually white with dark pink stripes or a more solid light lavender to magenta, forming a lovely drift of color when in full bloom. 
Lewisia columbiana var. rupicola, photo credit Trond Steenvar. rupicolaa smaller variety, found on Mt. Rainier, the Olympics and Oregon Coast Range, has flowers of soft lavender often with tiny magenta stripes. 
Lewisia columbiana var. wallowensis, photo credit Slichtervar. wallowensisfrom far eastern Oregon above and around the Snake River, these flowers are smaller still, whitish with pink stripes. In both of these varieties the leaves are smaller and shorter than the species, but still evergreen. 
Lewisia rediviva, photo credit Gary A. MonroeL. rediva – Not commonly found commercially, this tiny jewel makes its home in all manner of arid, rocky locations in the west. In early spring emerge short, thin fleshy leaves, small and indistinct. What follows is the surprising appearance of oversized flowers of pale to deep rosy pink, nestled close to the leaves. By summer all above-ground growth has died back, only the underground taproot patiently remaining until revived by the following spring’s rain. Sharp drainage, winter dry and a waterless spell in summer while dormant, this Lewisia can be successfully grown in our lowlands. 
Lewisia tweedyiL. tweedyi – Though native only to limited areas in British Columbia and Central Washington, hard to find and hard to grow, L. tweedyi deserves an honored place where Lewisias are being discussed. Large (to 8”), wide, fleshy evergreen leaves in a mounding base support stems with silver-dollar sized blossoms with creamy apricot to salmon coloring. These Lewisia want only partial sun, depending on a dry, cool root run. Absolutely perfect drainage required; fine rock mulch can help draw lingering moisture away from the crown of the plant, where root rot is its main threat. All that being said, this is a plant well worth the effort on the occasions it can be found in nurseries. 

Photo credits: Peggy Acott, Gary A. Monroe, Trond Steen and Paul Slichter.

Lewisia cotyledon

Lewisia - Bitterroot


Family: Portulacacea

Genus: Lewisia

Common Name: Bitterroot

Origin: High, rocky areas in the western half of the United States and Canada

Culture: mostly sun, but thrives when there is also a little shade; light to regular water but with sharp drainage, dry in winter.

Maintenance: deadhead to encourage new flowering.

Pests/Diseases: root rot due to too much retained moisture; susceptible to hail damage to succulent evergreen leaves; occasional slug damage but virtually pest free.