With their vivid displays of spring to summer blooms, Lewisia succulents are eye-catching plants that can bring life and color to your garden. Native to the alpine regions of North America, they make great candidates as border or wall ornamentals in cooler hardiness zones. They are also able to tolerate more moisture than the usual succulents, though the crown should be kept dry through winter.
Lewisia rosettes are generally low-growing, low-maintenance, and resistant to a wide variety of pests and diseases. Given optimal conditions, they can have extended bloom periods. Flower stalks can even be deadheaded to induce the repeated production of blooms. The best part about these perennials is they come back year after year, given minimal care.
There are more than a dozen Lewisia species that are regularly cultivated in greenhouses. Many of these are hybridized or artificially selected to produce even more attractive and hardy strains. Key differences lie in their overall rosette shape and size, leaf features, bloom colors, and propensity to flower. Below are some of the most popular species and cultivars.
Known for producing some of the most vivid flowers in this group of succulents, L. cotyledon is a must-have for any passionate gardener. It is an evergreen lewisia that grows to about 6-12 inches tall, including bloom stalk height, at maturity. Without blooms, the petite rosettes are usually just 3 inches tall.
This species is commonly known as Sisykyou Lewisia or cliff maids. It is endemic to the subalpine habitats of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The species epithet, ‘cotyledon’, refers to the cup-shaped form of the dark-green leaves. These arise from a caudex that grows above a thick taproot.
Though relatively small, this species is incredibly hard to miss due to its array of floral colors. Several subspecies and popular ornamental cultivars make it a true stand-out in the world of succulents. The blooms are distinguished by their delicate petals, marked with subtle gradients of pastel colors.
L. cotyledon ‘Mountain Dreams’
The funnel-shaped flowers of this lewisia cultivar are marked by an array of colors. Each flower has around 9-10 pink, apricot, and orange colored petals. Slightly darker-shaded veins extend in a parallel fashion from the center to the tip of each petal. Bright yellow anthers attract a few pollinating insects.
The leaves of ‘mountain dreams’ are layered on top of each other in a symmetrical orientation. When inflorescences are particularly dense, these can be completely shaded. Optimal conditions can cause a mature plant to produce 50 flowers at a single time! They don’t all open at once, however.
L. cotyledon ‘Rainbow’
The rainbow lewisia is a strain that produces a wide range of bloom colors. A single petal can include the entire first half of a rainbow’s color spectrum. It can look remarkably like a painting, with red, white, pink, orange, and yellow blended perfectly with one another. The edges of each petal may have a thin white border that enhances the adjacent colors.
L. cotyledon ‘Sunset Strain’
If your favorite time of day is just before dusk, as the sky is swathed in color, you’ll adore this Lewisia cultivar. Its cultivar name is a nod to its stunning shades of yellow, orange, and red. These have an intensity and depth that are actually subtle. As the hues blend into each other along the surface of each petal, the overall finish is quite soft.
L. cotyledon ‘Elise’
For more vibrant shades of pink, fuschia, and purple, try to get your hands on the ‘Elise’ cultivar. Unlike other cultivars, this one can bloom earlier in the year, especially in the absence of a cold period. The flowers open successively, revealing distinct venation and a more washed-out spread of color.
A recipient of the Fleuroselect Gold Medal, this cultivar is perfectly suitable for outdoor growth in rocky substrates. You can also opt to arrange the rosettes in containers as they do not require deep soil.
This lewisia species, commonly known as bitterroot, was one of the first among its near-relatives to be discovered. As it is edible, Native Americans would exploit its roots for their antidiuretic components. The scientific epithet, ‘rediviva’, alludes to its capacity to seemingly regenerate from a dried out root system.
A small herb, L. rediviva is distinguished by its thick taproot and crown. Its rosette is formed by narrow, fleshy leaves. The flower stalks of this species are much shorter than those of L. cotyledon. Relatively large white to pink blooms are situated close to the substrate’s surface, often completely blocking out the underlying rosettle.
Lewisia tweedyi ‘Rosea’
Undeniably beautiful, this lewisia cultivar is known for its consistent floral coloration. At the tip and sides of each petal are a gradient of deep to light pink shades. Approaching the funneled centers is a brushstroke-like streak of lemon yellow. The veins are not distinctly marked with color, giving the flowers a neat and uniform appearance.
Rosea would look great when grown out of the crevices of a rocky or brick wall. In its native range (Northern Washington State to British Columbia), it favors alpine rock faces. When grown outdoors or outside of this range, it may be susceptible to a handful of common pests. Regularly monitor the foliage and avoid exposing the crown to wet substrates.
Lewisia columbiana var. wallowensis
This variation of L. columbiana has the most adorable flowers. They are distinguished by their petals, each of which has three distinct pink streaks above a white base. 5-6 stamens with fuschia-colored anthers arise from the funneled center of each flower.
This attractive lewisia would favor the drier areas of your garden. Its rosettes should be protected from rainfall and should not be exposed to substrates that tend to collect lots of water.
L. leeana is commonly known as quill-leaf lewisia. This beautiful species is native to the rocky mountains of Oregon and California. Its inflorescences are distinguished by delicate, pink to purple petals.
Blooms occur at the tips of floral stalks that are several times taller than the basal rosette. This species’ fleshy leaves are markedly flat and extend to a maximum length of just 4 cm.
Endemic to California, this lewisia species stands out as its fleshy leaves are quite different from those listed above. The greyish green leaf blades are more rounded, making them somewhat spoon-shaped. This species’ blooms are typically white, with light pink anthers perched on several fine stamens.
Its common names include Kellogg’s Lewisia and Kellog’s bitter-root. It favors gravelly substrates with a volcanic rock or granite component.
This charming species is commonly referred to as pygmy bitterroot or alpine lewisia. It is generally widespread in the western regions of the US. As it is very tiny, with leaves that can be as short as 2 cm, many mountain-goers often fail to notice its rosettes. Even the pink to red flowers are remarkably small as their petals have a maximum length of 1 cm.
The white blooms of L. brachycalyx arise in clusters and are distinguished by their short calyxes. For this reason, this species is commonly referred to as shortsepal lewisia or short-sepal bitter-root. Right after flowering, the rosette’s fleshy leaves may often look withered.
This deciduous perennial is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It favors environmental conditions in alpine gardens that resemble the meadows of Southwestern US.