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  Arrowleaf balsamroot

Home>Plant Species>Native Species>Arrowleaf balsamroot

drawing of arrowleaf balsamrootArrowleaf balsamroot
Balsamorhiza sagittata

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Arrowleaf balsamroot is eaten by nearly all types of wildlife!


What is arrowleaf balsamroot?
The bright yellow flowers of arrowleaf balsamroot are one of the first signs of spring throughout the Great Basin. Its name comes from a combination of leaf shape and a fragrant resin, or “balsam”, found in its roots. flower of arrowleaf balsamroot This long-lived native perennial forb found many uses with Native Americans. They ate nearly every part of it at various times of the year. It was used in an assortment of ways as a pain reliever, and to treat colds, burns, wounds, insect bites and swelling.

What are its characteristics? arrowleaf balsamroot leaves
Arrowleaf balsamroot grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Large, silver-green leaves arise directly from a thick, woody root. These arrow-shaped leaves are covered with small white hairs. Yellow sunflower-like flowerheads, 3-5 inches across, appear in April and May. Each flowerhead is borne singly on one to several stalks per plant. Arrowleaf balsamroot has a taproot that sometimes reaches a depth of 8 feet. close-up of leaf showing small white hairsLarge quantities of seed can be produced that are dispersed by wind and animals. Seeds are not long-lived in the seedbank.

Arrowleaf balsamroot occurs on open, well-drained slopes and ridges throughout the Great Basin. It requires at least 9 inches of annual precipitation, and is seen between 1,000-9,000 feet elevation. In the summer plants become dry and brittle, making stands noisy to walk through. It re-grows from its hardy root each year and dispersion of plants must be from seed.

What’s its value to the Great Basin?
Rated as fair forage for all classes of wildlife, this common forb grows quickly in the spring and provides food for animals stressed by winter conditions. Flowerheads are especially palatable. Elk and antelope consume leaves and flowers before plants turn dry in the summer, then again when fall moisture softens the crispy leaves. It is listed as one of the most frequent forbs in mule deer diets. Small mammals and sage grouse eat young shoots and flower buds. arrowleaf balsamroot plant Various small animals benefit from the abundance of nutritious seeds it produces. Domestic sheep utilize arrowleaf balsamroot, and heavy spring grazing can damage stands and reduce productivity.

What is its restoration potential?
While arrowleaf balsamroot does not persist in the seedbank, seeds can be stored for 3-5 years and still grow. It is a valuable species for wildlife and livestock, and has good drought tolerance. Arrowleaf balsamroot has been used in restoration, but seedlings grow slowly and need 3-8 years to become established. Planting should be done in the fall.

-Drawing: Karl Urban. Celebrating Wildflowers Northwest Coloring Book.
-Flower: National Plants Database © Gary A. Monroe.
-Leaf Photos: Public domain.
-Plant: National Plants Database © Gary A. Monroe.

Text references:
-McWilliams, Jack 2002. Balsamorhiza sagittata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: (, 26 September 2006).
-USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (, 26 September 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
-Utah State University, Extension. 2006. Range Plants of Utah website (, 26 September 2006).