Balsamorhiza sagittata

arrowleaf balsamroot


The Basics

USFS Plant Database

Arrowleaf balsamroot is a cool-season, large, long-lived, native, perennial forb 0.3-0.6 m in height. Basal leaves are cordate to sagittate in outline with entire margins and wooly pubescence. They arise from a branched, underground caudex to form dense rosettes...Arrowleaf balsamroot has a taproot that sometimes reaches a diameter of 10 cm and an extreme depth of 2.7 m.

Arrowleaf balsamroot is listed as part of the vegetation in a climax interior ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) community on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains, Blue Mountains and Northern Rocky Mountains. An edaphic climax type in Colorado of Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass includes arrowleaf balsamroot... In a study of grasslands of lower British Columbia, Tisdale describes arrowleaf balsamroot as "found more commonly" in the mid-seral stage of needlegrass (Stipa spp.)-bluegrass as grasslands previously heavily grazed progressed to the climax stage of bluebunch wheatgrass-rough fescue (F. altaica)... Weaver, in an early study of plant succession in eastern Washington and adjacent Idaho, lists arrowleaf balsamroot as an "invader" in the transition from the bunchgrass-rimrock vegetation type to "prairie" vegetation at the top of canyons.

Arrowleaf balsamroot has been traditionally been used by First Nation peoples for many uses including food and medicine. Native Americans in Washington State used the "sprouts" of arrowleaf balsamroot in their diet. These shoots are high in ascorbic acid (13.75 mg/g). Native Canadians of British Columbia also ate the sprouts along with the starchy roots. In addition, the plant was used to treat stomachache, headache, colds, fever, sore throat, toothache, wounds, insect bites, and swellings... Houston and others state Native Americans in Wyoming ate the young stalks, roots and seeds of arrowleaf balsamroot. Members of the Salish, Kootenai, and Nez Perce tribes peeled arrowleaf balsamroot's young, immature flower stems and ate the tender inner portion raw, like celery. The Nez Perce ate the seeds. Salish used the large, coarse leaves as a poultice for burns and drank tea brewed from the roots for tuberculosis, whooping cough, increased urine, and as a cathartic. Members of the Kootenai tribe boiled the roots and applied the infusion as a poultice for wounds, cuts, and bruises.

The currently accepted scientific name of arrowleaf balsamroot is Balsamorhiza sagittata Pursh (Nutt.) (Asteraceae). Arrowleaf balsamroot hybridizes with Carey's balsamroot (B. carreyana), Hooker balsamroot (B. hookeri), hoary balsamroot (B. incana), and toothed balsamroot (B. serata).

Arrowleaf balsamroot is commonly associated with various sagebrush taxa including basin big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana), mountain silver sagebrush (A. cana ssp. viscidual), and threetip sagebrush (A. tripartita). Its occurrence in the big sagebrush habitats is dependent on annual precipitation. Strong and others list arrowleaf balsamroot as occurring in Wyoming big sagebrush (A.t. ssp wyomingensis)/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type in Colorado.

In native stands of the northern Intermountain Region and the Pacific Northwest arrowleaf balsamroot is commonly associated with Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, western (J. occidentalis) and Utah (J. osteosperma) junipers, ponderosa pine and the mountain shrub complex. (Plant Database)


Plants (15–)20–40(–65) cm. Basal leaves: blades ± silvery to white or gray-green, rounded-deltate or deltate to triangular-deltate, 5–25 Χ 3–15 cm, bases ± cordate, margins entire, apices acute to attenuate, faces sericeous, tomentose, tomentulose, or velutinous (at least abaxially, usually gland-dotted as well), sometimes glabrescent. Heads usually borne singly, sometimes 2–3+. Involucres hemispheric to turbinate, 12–25 mm diam. Outer phyllaries lanceolate to oblance-olate or linear, (15–)20–25(–30+) mm, equaling or surpassing inner, apices acute to acuminate. Ray laminae 20–40 mm. 2n = 38. (Plant Database)


Arrowleaf balsamroot is a common component in sagebrush communities. Wright and others state where arrowleaf balsamroot and lupine (Lupinus spp.) make up a large component of herbaceous yield in threetip sagebrush communities, fall burning would help maintain the forb component. They classify arrowleaf balsamroot as a cold desert forb and list it as "undamaged" by fall burning... Arrowleaf balsamroot regenerates from its caudex following fire. Volland and Dell describe the fire regeneration "mode" of arrowleaf balsamroot as windborne seed and rapid regrowth from a caudex.

In a study of grasslands of lower British Columbia, Tisdale describes arrowleaf balsamroot as "found more commonly" in the mid-seral stage of needlegrass (Stipa spp.)-bluegrass as grasslands previously heavily grazed progressed to the climax stage of bluebunch wheatgrass-rough fescue (F. altaica).

Steele and Geier-Hayes list arrowleaf balsamroot as an "important" species in the herb layer of Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) habitat types in Idaho. (Plant Database)


Flowering and Fruiting - Flowerheads are sunflower-like with strap-shaped ray flowers 2.5-5 cm long and tubular disc flowers. Flowers are mostly solitary on long peduncles and the cauline leaves are mostly lanceolate, alternate, and much smaller than the basal leaves...Its fruit is a 4-angled, thickened, smooth, hairless achene.

Seed Production and Dissemination - Arrowleaf balsamroot seeds are dispersed by wind and animals... Several studies have examined germination of arrowleaf balsamroot. Young and Evans found germination without stratification was very low and erratic. A 12-week period of stratification was required for maximum germination... Generally, new plants are slow to mature, requiring 3 to 4 years to flower on the best sites, and 7 to 8 years on lower precipitation sites. (Plant Database)

Species Distribution

Arrowleaf balsamroot is found from the Sierra Nevada of California northward along the east side of the Cascade Range into British Columbia and eastward to Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Colorado. (Plant Database)


USDA Plant Database USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Silvics of North America Burns, R.M., and B.H. Honkala. 1990. Silvics of North America (Volume 1: Conifers, Volume 2: Hardwoods). USDA Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 654.

Intermountain Herbarium Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http// Accessed on February 04.

Burke Museum Plant Image Collection The plant image collection at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.

Jepson Manual The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA., hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97. Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.

Photos ©Al Schneider,