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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

The Parsley or Carrot Family: Apiaceae (Page 2 of 3)

Indian Potato (Great Basin Orogenia, Turkey-peas), Orogenia linearifolia S. Wats. (right) The Indian potato grows in the foothills and lower mountains of the Great Basin and elsewhere in the Northwest. Orogenia is derived from two Greek words; oros means “mountain” and genea means “race.” The species name, linearifolia, refers to its narrow leaves. It is a small plant, the umbels are only about a quarter of an inch across. Blooms develop when thousands of plants emerge and flower simultaneously, always in soggy places, as soon as the snow has melted in early spring. Common names, “Indian potato” and “turkey peas” refer to peas-size edible roots that may be eaten cooked or raw. Plant-hunter Sereno Watson (1826-1892) discovered the umbellifers shown on this page while a member of the King Expedition.

The Cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum Bartr. (formerly Heracleum lanatum) is identified by three-parted, coarsely toothed leaves that may grow to be a foot wide, and by an inflorescence made up of numerous umbels that may be as large as the leaves. Heracleum refers to Hercules who made use of related plants’ supposed medicinal properties. Not only are this plant’s leaves unusual for their size (the largest of any American umbellifer), but the flowers also are different from those of other Apiaceae, in that those on the margin of the flowerhead are larger than the others, and their petals are sometimes bilobed. The cow parsnip grows along stream lines, usually in the company of alders, as high as the sub-alpine zone. The plants are said to be edible if the furry stalks are skinned first.

Biscuit roots: Lomatium spp.

Plants in several genera of Apiaceae are known as biscuit-roots including species of Cymopterus and Lomatium (although the latter are known more properly as "desert parsleys"). Although there are dozens of species, we have chosen three lomatiums that are common in Idaho's mountains The roots of all biscuit roots are more or less edible, and were so-used by Native Americans. Exact species identification may require a guide book, but identifying the plants generically as lomatiums should not be difficult, for they bloom in early spring and have a characteristic appearance. Lomatium , from the Greek, means “fringed,” referring to the appearance of the fruit of some of the species.

The Bare-stemmed biscuit root, Lomatium nudicaule (Pursh) Coult. & Rose (left).The bare-stemmed lomatium (also “pestle parsnip”) grows on gravelly slopes as high as tree-line. Lewis and Clark collected this plant on April 15, 1806, in the vicinity of The Dalles in today’s Oregon. Its species name, nudicaule, means, appropriately, “bare-stemmed.” Native Americans reputedly used this plant to treat consumption, and “Indian consumption root,” has been suggested as a standardized common name.

The Nine-leaf lomatium, Lomatium triternatum (Pursh) Coult. & Rose (right).The nine-leaf lomatium is so-named because each leaf divides into three narrow leaflets that, in turn, divide into three more (triternatum, from the Latin, means “three times three”). It blooms early in the spring on gravelly slopes and meadows. Lewis and Clark collected all three of the lomatiums shown on these pages and several others as well, during the expedition’s return journey in the spring of 1806. None had previously been described, not surprising for lomatiums are found only west of the Mississippi River. Lewis and Clark, collected this plant along the banks of Idaho’s Clearwater River on May 6, 1806.

The Fern-leaf Lomatium, Lomatium dissectum (Nutt.) Mathias & Constance: The fern-leaf desert-parsley, biscuit root, or lomatium--all are in common use--is common. There are several varieties that differ in appearance, but their identical, striped, pumpkin-seed-shaped fruit allows them  all to be placed in one species. Their divided leaves, (dissectum means “divided into many lobes”) and their unusually large size—they may be two feet or more tall—will  help to identify the plants as Lomatium dissectum; two varieties are shown here. The yellow-flowered plant  (right) is Lomatium dissectum var. multifidum (Nutt.) Mathias & Constance. The varietal name means “much divided.” The plant on the left is Lomatium dissectum var. dissectum. Lewis and Clark collected Lomatium dissectum on June 10, 1806, near today’s Kamiah, Idaho. It can be seen there every spring, lining the walls of the Clearwater Canyon .

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