Antelope Bitterbrush

Leslie Rego, “Antelope Bitterbrush Along the Harriman Trail,” nib pen and sumi ink, watercolor.


Just like prairie smoke, which I wrote about last week, antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) is a member of the rose family. The flowers are small, but a bright yellow, and they open up much like a rose. They are also delicately scented like the old-fashioned rose of yesteryear before the rose was hybridized for commercial use.

Antelope bitterbrush can range in size from a couple of feet to many feet in height. The bush is a favored food for deer, elk, antelope and domestic livestock. During the difficult winter months, big game relies heavily on the plant for sustenance. On open, wind-swept and snow-free sage meadows, it tends to be quite stunted because the animals have thoroughly browsed the branches. The sagebrush meadows near Cathedral Pines are full of flowering antelope bitterbrush right now, making the meadows a pretty yellow.

As the Latin name infers, the leaves of the bitterbrush have three indentations. Even when not flowering, the bush is easy to recognize through the shape of the leaves. It is also interesting to study the budding pattern of the Bitterbrush. The branches near the ground and rocks can be in full bloom while the rest of the plant has tiny buds. This is because the warmth of the soil and the rocks during sunny days will generate heat and cause the buds to open earlier.

Antelope bitterbrush is so prevalent in this Valley that it is often overlooked for the more showy flowers that bloom during the springtime. But when an entire area is full of the bush and all the gentle yellow flowers are at the height of their bloom, the ground takes on a yellow hue which, in the sunlight, is very becoming.

Leslie Rego is an Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist, artist and Blaine County resident. To view more of Rego’s art, visit