Lewis and Clark Trail.com Re-live the Adventure


Lewis and Clark History

Lewis as Botanist

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) was more than an attempt to find the fabled "Northwest Passage" a navigable route to the Pacific Ocean. The party was also instructed to scientifically observe and collect plant and animal specimens, record, weather data, and observe the native peoples and their culture.

Custom Search

Quick Links


Follow Lewis and Clark Trail on Twitter  Lewis and Clark Trail - Facebook

Lewis Continued ...

All of this information was to be recorded in their journals. President Jefferson also instructed Captain Meriwether Lewis to note when plants were in bloom and to investigate their potential value in commerce.
What remains of the collection taken by Lewis are now housed in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Members of the Expedition employed a number of plants, using them for food and medicine, as well as firewood, shelter, ax handles and dugout canoes. At the conclusion of the journey, Lewis had mentioned 260 plants in his journals, and over half of them were new to science.

Lewis’ Blue Flax "boo ah- nut sue" (Linum lewisii)
Lewis-"Perennial flax. Valleys of the Rocky Mountains, July 09, 1806."
On July 18, 1805, Lewis wrote, "the bark of the stem is thick strong and appears as if it would make excellent flax." Because linen was an important commodity during that time, Lewis thought the blue flax might have great commercial potential in the east. The Native Americans wove the tough stem fibers into fishing nets, ropes, and other cordage. Seeds from a cultivated species are now sold in grocery stores, being valued for their high fiber content and nutritional qualities.

Lewis’ Monkeyflower (Mimulus lewisii)
Lewis- "the head spring of the Missouri, at the foot of Portage hill" August, 1805.
Marked with hairy yellow patches and red dots to attract insects, the monkeyflower also attracts hummingbirds and sphinx moths.

Thin-leaved Owl Clover (Orhocarpus tenuifolius)
Lewis-"Valley of Clark’s R, July, 1806."
No relation to true clover, the owl clover’s bright colors are actually special leaves that somewhat conceal the flowers. This annual root parasite was mentioned by Lewis in the journal on July 2, 1806, writing that he found "two species of native clover here, the one with a very narrow small leaf & a pale red flower."
The Blackfeet used owl clovers to dye horsechair, feathers, and hides.

Pink Elephants "so-you-wund" (Pedicularis groenlandica)
"On the low plains on the heath of Clark’s R. Jul. 6th 1806."
Some Native American children enjoyed the sweet nectar, eating the flowers like candy. The Cheyenne made a tea to relieve coughing.

Lewis Syringa (Philadelphus lewisii)
Lewis-"On the waters of Clarks R. July 4th 1806."
Some Native Americans used the hard wood for making bows, arrows, and many other utilitarian pieces. Additionally, they found value in the plant’s healing properties, making teas, poultices, and salves.

Common Chokecherry "doe-oh numb" (Prunus virginiana)
Lewis- "Prunus A cherry found near the beaver bents on the Missouri-Augst. 10th 1806."
On June 11, 1805, Lewis was very ill. He boiled chokecherry twigs "until a strong black decoction of an astringent bitter taste was produced." Hours after drinking two doses of this, he felt completely well.

Golden Currant "oh-ah bo-gombe" (Ribes aureum)
Lewis- "Yellow currant of the Missouri, July 29, 1805."
On July 17, 1805, Lewis noted that, "there are a great abundance of red yellow purple & black currants,…I find these fruits very pleasant particularly the yellow currant which I think vastly preferable to those of our gardens." The Shoshone ground the second bark, using it as a poultice.

Red False Mallow "see-go kund" (Sphaeralcea coccinea)

Lewis- "Plains of the Missouri, July 20, 1806."
The leaves of this plant are slimy. Native Americans rubbed the chewed plant on their hands and arms to protect the skin from burns while cooking.  The whole plant was employed to relieve a myriad of ailments, as well as to make a sweet tea with which to take medicine with.

Indian Basket Grass "woodah so-nip" (Xerophyllum tenax)
Lewis- "The leaves are made use of by the natives, to make baskets & other ornaments. On high land, Rocky Mountains, June 15th, 1806."
Some Native Americans used the tough evergreen leaves to weave watertight baskets & garments. It is not uncommon for it to bloom only once every seven years.

Mountain Death Camas "dah-sego (Zigadenus elegans)
Lewis- "On the Cokalaiskit R., July 7, 1806."
This foul-smelling plant was placed around the perimeter of some Native American encampments in the belief that it would repel evil spirits.
The entire plant, including the nectar, is poisonous even to introduced honeybees, but not to our native bees.

Serviceberry duh-umb (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Lewis-"Serviceberry. A small bush, the narrows of the Columbia R. April 15, 1806."
On August 16, 1805, Whitehouse wrote, "Our interpreters Wife went on Shore & found great numver of fine berries, which is called service berries."

Balsamroot "ah-kun" (Balsamorrhiza sagittata)
Lewis- "The stem is eaten by the natives, without any preparation. On the Columbia. April 14th,1806."

Mariposa Lily "doe-sa sego" (Calochortus sp.)
Lewis-"A small bulb of a pleasant flavour, eat by the natives. On the Kooskooskee. May 17, 1806."

Blue Camas "pah-sego" (Camasia quamash)
Lewis- "Near the foot of the Rocky Mountains on the Quamash flats. June 23, 1806."
Clark wrote on September 23, 1805, that "the woman were busily employed in gathering and drying the Pas-she co root of which they had great quantities dug in piles."
Upon seeing it on June 12, 1806 Lewis wrote, "the quamash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water, so complete in the deseption that on first sight I could have sworn it was water."

Rubber Rabbitbrush "sah-nah ko-ah" (Chyrsothamnus nauseosus)
Lewis- "Big Bend of Missouri, September 21, 1804."
Lewis also noted that "The goat or antelope feed on it in the winter, it is the growth of the high bluffs."
Some Native Americans chewed the latex sap like gum, used the branches to smoke hides, and the yellow flowers to make a dye for their wool, leather, and baskets.

Pink Cleome (Cleome serrulata)
Lewis- "August 25, 1804, growth of the open Prairies."
This plant has a somewhat distinctive smell that disappears after cooking. The nourishing seeds were ground into flour, and the boiled leaves and flowers were eaten.

Mountain Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium montanum)
On June 30, 1806, Lewis wrote, "I also met with the plant in blume which is sometimes called the lady’s slipper or mockerson flower. It is in shape and appearance like ours only that the corolla is white, marked with small veigns of pale red longitudinally on the inner side."
This plant was favored by Native Americans for its medicinal and love potion qualities.

Purple Prairie Clover "so-nee donzuip" (Dalea purpurea)
Lewis- "found September 2ed the Indians use it as an application to fresh wounds. They bruise the leaves adding litter water and apply it."
Some Native Americans also brewed a tea from the leaves and ate the root uncooked, which is said to be sweet.

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia aristata)
Lewis- "Rocky Mountains dry hill. July 7th , 1806."
To many Native American people, the Indian blanket is a gift of liveliness and sunshine from our Mother, the Earth. It also represented the health, earthiness, and wholesomeness of the common people.
The seeds of this wildflower were either eaten raw or dried over a fire. Dried seeds were ground into meal or flour for small cakes. These light-weight, high-energy cakes were carried on the Indian’s travels. Many medicines were made from this plant as well. Today, herbalists use this plant as an anesthetic and diuretic.

Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
On May 08,1805, Clark wrote, "In walking on Shore with the Interpreter & his wife, Geathered on the Sides of the Hills wild Lickerish & the white apple…"
The Native Americans who lived along the Missouri and Columbia Rivers knew this plant well. Fifty times sweeter than sugar, the Indians used the root for food, medicine, and ceremonial purposes. Lewis and Clark purchased a great deal of licorice from the Indians during the Expedition.


"Flowering Plants Lewis & Clark Collected Along the Snake and Columbia River" by William H. Rickard, Ph.D. Botanist   Download PDF 290 kb

'Fish We Have Met With' Pacific Coast Fishes of the Lewis & Clark Expedition by Dennis Dauble, Ph.D. Fisheries biologist    Download PDF 393 kb

Resources & Reads



Lewis and Clark Trail maps on this web site were provided courtesy of the National Park Service
GPO 1991-557-779

Copyright 2011, LewisAndClarkTrail.com - all rights reserved. LewisAndClarkTrail.com and "Re-live the Adventure" are trademarks.
Reproduction of any part of this web site, for any use, is prohibited without prior approval of LewisAndClarkTrail.com.

Main Page  | Lewis and Clark History  | Travel the Lewis and Clark Trail  | Communities along the Trail  |  Maps  | Lodging | Lewis and Clark Bookstore | National Parks