Frank Tweedy

Frank Tweedy is probably best known among alpine plant enthusiasts for the species that bears his name Lewisia tweedyii (now residing in its own genus Lewisiopsis).

Tweedys Bitterroot

Tweedy’s Bitteroot

Frank was working for the U.S Government as a railway surveyor on Mt Stuart in the Cascade Mountains near Wenatchee, WA when in 1882 he “discovered” this beauty. Bloom color ranges from stunning deep and pastel pinks with yellowish orange highlights to specimens that have “earned” the epithet rosea, presumably for the deeper red highlights.

Lewisia tweedyii 'rosea'

Lewisia tweedyii ‘rosea’

Two other northwest native species are named for Frank, Calamagrostis tweedyi (Cascade Reedgrass) and Salix tweedyi (Tweedy’s Willow).

In 1886 Frank self published (in conjunction with the Library of the New York Botanical Garden) his “Flora of the Yellowstone National Park,” which I was able to download to my Nook (free of charge) courtesy of Barnes & Noble. You can also view a digitized addition right now courtesy of BHL (Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Frank was apparently quite a modest guy, beginning his preface in a rather self-deprecating tone:

“In the following general notes on the flora of the Yellowstone National Park but little has been attempted beyond an enumeration of the Flowering Plants (Phsenogamia) and Vascular Cryptogams (Pteridophyta).”

Hardly “but little,” since Frank goes on to write that his book is “a collection of 605 species made by the author in the Yellowstone National Park during August and September, 1884; and June, July, August and September, 1885.”

I’ve only just begun delving into the book, but it’s clear Frank was a serious plantsman, naturalist and a keen observer of habitat. He begins his treatise with a description of the various parts of the park.  Here’s a sample:

In the northwest rises the Gallatin Range, culminating in
Electric Peak, 11,000 feet above sea level. On the estern border lie the rigged volcanic peaks of the Absaroka or Yellowstone Range, reaching elevations of 10,800 feet on the north east, and over 11,00 feet on the southeast.

Absaroka is the Indian name of the Crow Nation, whose reservation is on the eastern slope of this range of mountains….

…Yellowstone Lake (7,740 feet), the largest lake at great elevation in North America, has a length and breadth of respectively twenty and fifteen miles, a depth of 300 feet, and an area of 150 square miles.  The shore line, indented by several large bays, is over 100 miles.

The beautiful curves of the sandy beaches and crystal purity of its waters, make it an object of unusual interest. With the exception of the Yellowstone Range, rising from its easter shore, it is surrounded by a generally low, heavily timbered country.

While searching for more information on Frank, I serendipitously stumbled on this lovely post by Julie Ardery, creator of the fabulous blog The Human Flower Project.  Julie, a descendent of Frank,  discovered her botanist  ancestor shortly before a family reunion in 2010. Check it out:  The Botanist Gene.

For more on the plant, see this post: Tweedy’s Bitteroot

Tweedy’s Bitterroot

It doesn’t take much to get me to sit down and write a blog post about my favorite Lewisia.  For weeks now I’ve been anticipating the first blooms from plants I started three years ago from seed.


L. tweedyi blooms from seed sown in Feb. 2010

For years, Tweedy’s Bitteroot  was considered part of the small western North American  genus Lewisia.  These days the researchers and scientists have been shifting it around the taxonomic landscape, first moving to a different Family (out of Portulacaceae and into Montiaceae), grouping it  with Claytonia and the Montia genuses.

Though some of these scholars first assigned it to the genus Cistanthe, as far as I can tell, they’re making the case for a new genus called Lewisiopsis (probably a sop to those of us who see it rightly belonging with the other bitterroots rather than plants with the common name of “pussypaws!”).  The resulting genus of Lewisiopsis  now apparently contains only the former Lewisia ‘tweedyi’.

Lewisias -on-bench

3-year old Lewisia ‘tweedyi’ in clay pots at home on the sand plunge bench

L tweedyi roots

Out of the sand with roots showing

So should any of this be of the slightest concern to rock gardeners and plant lovers?  Probably not, but rest assured I will never refer to this plant as Tweedy’s pussypaws (ugh). One thing is certain, Frank Tweedy — a topographic engineer and plant collector for the USGS — is credited for putting this northwest native on the horticultural map in 1882, when climbed Mt. Stuart near Wenatchee, Washington. For more on Frank Tweedy’s horticultural achievements, read this post.

So if you’ve read this far, check out this picture of tweddyi’s long root system, which ensures this plant its longevity and adaptability to the rocky scree-like soils of its home in the mountains.

Imagine coming across this little beauty while hiking around Icicle Creek Ridge near Leavenworth.  Although I have yet to see it in the wild, this is the first time I can claim to have watched it go from seedling to flower.

My seed came from Alan Bradshaw, proprietor of Alplains (Alpine Plants on the Plains), in Kiowa Colorado.  Alan collected the seed in 2009, while on one of his many far ranging trips around the west. In the 2010 Alplains catalog he remarked on taxonomy, “Some botanists regard this species worthy of its own genus given seed differences and its refusal to cross with other Lewisia species.”

For more on the history of Tweedy’s Bitterroot, see my previous post.

Lewisia tweedyi: Queen of the Genus

Frank Tweedy, the eponymous discoverer of Lewisia tweedyi, collected plants while working for the US Geological Survey in Montana, Idaho and Washington. He’s reputed to have collected the Lewisia that bears his name while working on a railroad survey near Mt. Stuart in the Wenatchee mountains.

The tweedyi bloom — far more subdued than the rich (some might even say gaudy) colors of the various Lewisia cotyledon hybrids found in the nursery trade — ranges from pastel shades of peachy pink peach to a deep rich pink contrasting with shades of orange yellowish apricot.

While nothing compares to stumbling on this beauty in its natural habitat while hiking in the mountains around Leavenworth, Washington; a close second may be enjoying the bloom daily on a specimen in a clay pot.

Seattle plantsman, alpine authority and author, Roy Davidson, writing in the 1970’s described the color range eloquently, especially the variations found in the wild:

“this is almost invariably a lovely pastel peach color, the result of a pink wash of pigmentation over a basic background of soft lemon-yellow; often variable in the same flower over its life span of a few days, usually deepening appreciably.  Sometimes the blush is evident only concentrated on the margins, thus leaving a lemon or quite greenish star or eye effect in the center of the blossom with a fluff of yellow stamens in its center, but on occasion, in wild plants the pink fails to develop, and the result is, of course, a fragile beauty in crisp lemony-citron, with yellow boss to match. Now, in cultivation, has emerged the other extreme, those with none of the minimum of the yellow basic color, so that the total effect is a pastel pink of great beauty.”

(noted in the Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia, February 1973)


Whether it’s reputation for being difficult to manage in cultivation is deserved or not, it’s toughness, like most mountain dwelling plants, is a startling fact. Years ago, I had one in a clay pot under an eave and lost track of it for at least 18 months.

Discovering it in a shriveled state under some brush in early in spring I revived it with a deep watering.  It recovered and made a single weak looking bloom that year.  With some minimal care, it continues to bloom nicely every spring.  A critical key to pot cultivation is letting it dry out after blooming subsides, keeping it dry all summer and relatively dry all winter.