Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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S.G. Aiken, M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, C.L. McJannet, R.L. Boles, G.W. Argus, J.M. Gillett, P.J. Scott, R. Elven, M.C. LeBlanc, L.J. Gillespie, A.K. Brysting, H. Solstad, and J.G. Harris

Rhodiola rosea L.

English: Rose-root, Golden-Root, Orpin Rose,

French: Rhodiole rougeâtre.

Crassulaceae, Stonecrop family.

Published in Sp. Pl. 1035. 1753.

Synonymy. Sedum rosea (L.) Scop., Fl. Carniol., ed. 2, 1: 326. 1772.

Rhodiola arctica Boriss., in Kom., Fl. SSSR 9: 471. 1939.

Rhodiola rosea L. subsp. arctica (Boriss.) Á. Löve and D. Löve, Bot. Not. 114: 52. 1961.

Sedum rosea (L.) Scop. subsp. arcticum (Boriss.) Engelskjøn and H.J. Schweitzer, Astarte 3: 16. 1970.

Sedum rosea (L.) Scop. subsp. arcticum (Boriss.) Yu.P. Kozhevn., Bot. Zhurn. 74: 53. 1989.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 5–20 cm high; perennial herbs. Taproot present. Ground level or underground stems horizontal, or vertical; 10–50 mm wide. Caudex present. Aerial stems developed; erect (thick, fleshy, scaly, fragrant when cut, sometimes numerous and leafy). Leaves distributed along the stems; alternate (sometimes pseudo-whorled); dying annually and non-persistent. Petioles absent. Leaf blades simple. Leaves not grass-like. Blades 10–40 mm long, 2–10 mm wide, straight, oblanceolate (somewhat spatulated), flat, with inconspicuous veins. Blade adaxial surface glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous.

Reproductive morphology. Plants dioecious. Flowers in inflorescences. Inflorescences cymose and head-like (dense cymose clusters). Flowers small (individual flowers); radially symmetrical (actinomorphic); unisexual (flowers reddish purple, fruits of the female plant bright yellow). Sepals conventional; (3–)4(–5); free. Petals conventional; free; 5 (usually); yellow (female), or purple (male); lanceolate (broadly); unlobed; 1.5–2.5 mm long; 1–2 mm wide. Stamens 6–10 (or more). Ovary superior; carpels 3–6 (per flower); apocarpous. Ovules per ovary 1 (to a few). Fruit fleshy; an aggregate of achenes; elongate-cylindrical; red (to pale red, plump, erect); 4–6 mm long; 3–5 mm wide; hairy; dehiscent (opening dorsally). Seeds 0.5–1 mm long.

Chromosome information. 2n = 22.

2n = 22. Levan (1933, northern Europe); Sørensen and Westergaard, in Löve and Löve (1948, Greenland); Löve and Löve (1956, Iceland; 1985 Iceland); Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Zhukova (1966, northeastern Asia; 1980, southern Chukotka; 1982, northeastern Asia); Engelskjøn and Schweitzer (1970, Bear Island, as 'arctica'); Engelskjøn and Knaben (1971, northern Norway); Lavrenko and Serditov (1987, northern Russia); Dalgaard (1989, western Greenland). Several more southern counts.

Ploidy levels recorded 2x.

Indigenous knowledge. Porsild (1953) claimed that the succulent young stems and leaves may be eaten raw as a salad or cooked as a potherb.

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: tundra, slopes, ridges, cliffs; imperfectly drained moist areas, seepage slopes; rocks, gravel, till; with low organic content. Rhodiola rosea is found on moist cliffs, ledges, talus ridges, and dry tundra. In the Arctic plants typically occur in crevices or among mats of moss and other vegetation, often near shores, and sometimes in rather rich substrates.

Porsild (1957) indicated that the plants grow in moist places on cliffs and by brooks, often near the sea. They attain lush and profuse growth in manured soil below bird cliffs or near human habitations. He was presumably referring to his experiences in Greenland.

North American distribution. This is an extremely variable circumpolar species of cool temperate and subarctic areas of the northern hemisphere. Nunavut Islands, northern Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago limited. Rare. Low Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin.

Northern hemisphere distribution. Circumpolar (with gap in northwestern North America). Northern Iceland, Northern Fennoscandian, Kanin–Pechora, Svalbard – Franz Joseph Land, Polar Ural – Novaya Zemlya, Yamal–Gydan, Taimyr – Severnaya Zemlya, Kharaulakh, Yana–Kolyma, West Chukotka, Wrangel Island, South Chukotka, East Chukotka, West Alaska (?), Central Canada, Labrador – Hudson Bay, West Greenland, East Greenland.

Economic uses. Small and Catling (1999) is the source of the following information. The succulent young stems and leaves of the rose-root are edible and may be used as salad or potherb. Where present, the rose-root is generally abundant and provides a palatable and readily available vegetable.

The names Gold-root and Golden-root have been said to reflect the perceived value of the rootstocks, not their colour. Rose-root is grown in many countries as an ornamental. The young stems and leaves are also sometimes used as wild food, either raw or cooked. The plant is best known for its medicinal properties. It is claimed that the leaves can be used like Aloe vera leaves to soothe burns, bites, and other irritation. A paste from the root has been used to help wounds heal. However, the raw root stock sometimes causes allergic reactions. The rootstock of R. rosea was often used in European folk love potions. The legendary 13th century Ukrainian prince Danila Galitsky, whose reputation rivalled that of Casanova, was believed to have used Rose-root as an aphrodisiac. In present-day Ukraine, a medicinal alcoholic drink called nastojka is prepared by mixing 40% alcohol (e.g., vodka) and an equal weight of rootstock and allowing the mixture to stand for a few weeks. Only a few teaspoons are consumed daily. Russian scientists have written many articles on the pharmacological effects of Rose-root. Experiments with rats have suggested that the chemically active compounds can improve learning and memory and reduce stress. They may also have anti-cancer properties, a stimulating effect on the central nervous system and the effect of protecting the liver. Methods for determining the authenticity and quality of the rhizome are available, as well as methods for quantitative analysis of some of the biologically active compounds. Rose-root was used by the Vikings to give them extra strength for their long, arduous journeys.

This arctic herb could be cultivated in cold areas of Canada where few other economic plants can be grown without protection.

General notes. Rhodiola rosea is in a relatively advanced group of the Crassulaceae. Most plants are male or female, but occasionally plants have both male and female flowers in the same cyme.

Elven et al. (2003) noted that the common name Rose-root is a reference to the rootstocks possessing the scent of rose petals.

Hultén (1968) excluded the Siberian and northwestern American plants from subsp. rosea, whereas Petrovsky, in Yurtsev [Fl. Arct. URSS 9–1, 1984], accepted it as occurring up to the Bering Strait. The majority of the 2n = 22 chromosome counts seem to come from the North Atlantic and western parts of Russia. Hultén and Fries (1986) mapped what they call 'yellow-flowered taxa' for Siberia, Russian Far East, and Seward Peninsula, but this is not automatically the same as subsp. rosea in the concept here. Some critical evaluation of material is necessary before this entity is fully accepted from Siberia and the amphi-Beringian areas.

The 'arctica' entity was synonymised with R. rosea s.s. by Korobkov in Elven et al. (2003). It occurs in the northern and upper parts of the range of subsp. rosea. High mountain plants of Fennoscandia are inseparable from the arctic plants, and the transition seems to be very even. Elven and Korobkov (in Elven et al. 2003) suggest that there probably is no need for a separate high alpine-arctic entity.

Illustrations. • Habitat. Plants growing on a sunny grassy slope. Greenland, Hertofanes, near Frederiksdal, just south of the Arctic Circle. July, 1996. Photograph by Mollie MacCormac. No voucher. • Habitat: Pangnirtung. Female plant surrounded by plastic flowers at a grave site. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Pangnirtung. 66 06'N 65 49'W. 10 August, 2006. Aiken. No voucher. • Male plants with dying flowers. Male plants on an adjacent grave. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Pangnirtung. 66 06'N 65 49'W. 10 August, 2006. Aiken. No voucher. • Close-up of fruiting inflorescenses. Inflorescences developing fruit. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Pangnirtung. 66 06'N 65 49'W. 10 August, 2006. Aiken. No voucher. • Close-up of plant. Plant growing in river gravel. N.W.T., Blow River Tributary. 9 July, 1987. CAN Photo Library 87LHA22–3. • Close-up of plant. Developing fruits of plants. Greenland, Hertofanes, near Frederiksdal, just south of the Arctic Circle. Photograph by Mollie MacCormac. July, 1996. No voucher. • Close-up of plants. Plants in early fruiting stage, but fruits destroyed by larvae. Norway, Nordland, Soemna, Lyngvaer. 14 July, 1986. Photograph by R. Elven. • Close-up of Radio Island plants. Small plants with male inflorescences. Nunavut, Radio Island landing site, 6118.676'N, 6452.251'W. Elevation 47 m. 28 July, 2006. Photograph by Andrew Dunford, Nunavut Research Institute. • Herbarium specimen. Note the thick, fleshy, scaly root, to which the common names refer: Roseroot (for the scent), Golden Root (for the perceived value), and Arctic Root. Nunavut, Southeast Baffin Island, Beekman Peninsula. August 7, 1964. I.A. McLaren 79. CAN 284034. • Arctic Island Distribution.


This publication is available on the internet (posted May 2011) and on CD-ROM (published in 2007). These versions are identical in content, except that the errata page for CD-ROM is accessible on the main index page of the web version.

Recommended citation for the web-based version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa. http://nature.ca/aaflora/data, accessed on DATE.

Recommended citation for the CD-ROM version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. [CD-ROM] NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa.

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