At one time or another, most species of subgenus Balsamorhiza have been treated as part of Balsamorhiza hookeri. Nevertheless, a number of taxa are justifiably segregated as species by their morphologic differences and geographic restrictions[
One might logically choose either of two taxonomies: either recognizing only two species in the entire genus, one representing subgenus Artorhiza and the other subgenus Balsamorhiza, or recognizing each slightly differing population as a species. Either course results in an unsatisfactory classification. The present classification is a compromise. A knotty problem persists. A central cluster of populations from eastern Washington to southeastern California display a number of minor and locally discrete morphologies. They tend to be less isolated from each other than are the peripheral populations, although some tend to mimic the latter ones in one or more characteristics. Their evolutionary history may be involved with past hybridizations with each other or with species of subgenus Artorhiza, gene drift, and polyploidy. At present, it appears impossible to reach a satisfactory classification[
Balsamorhiza balsamorhiza (Hook.) A.Heller
Balsamorhiza hirsuta Nutt.
Balsamorhiza macrolepis platylepis Ferris
Balsamorhiza platylepis W.M.Sharp
Heliopsis balsamorhiza Hook.
Common Name: Balsam Root
Flowering plants in native habitat
Photograph by: Matt Lavin
Balsamorhiza hookeri is a herbaceous, perennial plant growing from a woody taproot. The leaves are mainly basal, usually 20 - 30cm long with flowering stems 10 - 30cm tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and a medicine. The plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental.
Western N. America - Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.
Dry rock outcrops in foothills and lowlands[
]. Rocky outcrops, dry meadows, sagebrush scrublands, basalt scablands (north), dry, open forests (south); at elevations from 1,000 - 1,500 metres[
Balsamorhiza hookeri is found along the western side of N. America, growing in regions where temperatures can fall as low as -28 °c and there are at least 120 frost-free days a year. Mean annual rainfall can range from 230 - 510mm[
Grows best in a deep fertile well-drained loam in full sun[
]. Plants can tolerate poor soils and a range of soil textures[
]. Established plants are moderately drought tolerant, surviving by becoming dormant in the dry season. They strongly resent winter wet[
]. They are found in soils where the pH can range from 6.6 - 9[1050.
Plants are intolerant of root disturbance and should be planted into their permanent positions whilst still small[
Plants come into growth early in the spring and are often dying down by mid summer[
Root - raw or cooked[
]. A sweet and agreeable taste when cooked[
Seed - raw or cooked[
]. It can be ground into a powder and formed into cakes for eating raw or made into a bread[
A decoction of the root has been used for stomach problems, bladder complaints and female complaints[257. The sub-species B. hookeri hirsuta has been specified for these uses[
Seed - sow early spring in a greenhouse and only just cover the seed. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 6 days at 18°c. Either sow the seed in individual pots or pot up the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer[
Division in spring. Very difficult since the plant strongly resents root disturbance[
]. It is probably best to take quite small divisions, or basal cuttings, without disturbing the main clump. Pot these up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in the greenhouse until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the summer if they have grown sufficiently, otherwise over-winter them in the greenhouse and plant out in late spring.