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Bistorta bistortoides
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Western Bistort
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Bistorta bistortoides

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About Western Bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) Polygonum bistortoides (American bistort, western bistort or smokeweed), syn. Bistorta bistortoides, is a perennial herb in the genus Polygonum. It is distributed throughout the Mountain West in North America from Alaska and British Columbia south into California and east into the Rocky Mountains. The plant grows from montane foothills to above the timberline, although plants growing above 7,500 feet are smaller and seldom reach more than 12 inches in height. Plants in other areas may reach over half a meter tall. The leaves are leathery and up to 40 centimeters long, and are mostly basal on the stem. The dense cylindrical to oblong flower cluster is packed with small white to pinkish flowers, each a few millimeters wide and with protruding stamens. American bistort was an important food plant used by American Indians living in the Mountain West, and the roots are edible either raw or fire-roasted with a flavor resembling chestnuts. The seeds can be dried and ground into flour and used to make bread. They were also roasted and eaten as a cracked grain.
Plant Description
Plant Type
Perennial herb

Max. Height
0.33 - 1 ft (0.1 - 0.3 m)

Flower Color
Pink, White

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Wet meadows


Elevation ?
7' - 10570'

Annual Precip. ?
11.9" - 151.3"

Summer Precip. ?
0.30" - 5.78"

Coldest Month ?
20.9° F - 48.4° F

Hottest Month ?
45.6° F - 74.1° F

Humidity ?
0.46 vpd - 21.92 vpd

Sunset Zones ?
1*, 2*, 3*, 4*, 5*, 6*, 7, 15, 16, 17, 18

Landscaping Information
Common uses
Bogs and Ponds

Nursery Availability
Never or Almost Never Available

Other Names
Botanical Names
Polygonum bistortoides

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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