Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
English: Cotton-grass, cotton grass, arctic cotton
Inuktitut: Uputik, suputauyak (northern Quebec).
Cyperaceae, Sedge family.
Published in Sp. Pl. 52. 1753.
Vegetative morphology. Plants 7–30(–60) cm high; perennial herbs; caespitose, or not caespitose (with single unbranched culms). Only fibrous roots present. Roots colourless, or pallid-brown, or black. Ground level or underground stems horizontal, or absent; rhizomatous, or stoloniferous; elongate. Ground level or underground stems scales present, or absent. Aerial stems erect. Leaves present; mainly basal, or distributed along the stems; alternate; dying annually and non-persistent and marcescent. Petioles absent. Sheaths present; persisting; forming a conspicuous build-up at the base of the plant, or not forming a conspicuous build-up at the base of the plant; greyish brown, or brown, or reddish orange; with the margins fused to the apex; glabrous; sheath collars absent. Ligules present; 0.3–1 mm long; membranous, or a fringed membrane (occasionally, seen at 40×); glabrous. Ligule apices acute, or obtuse; entire. Leaves grass-like. Blades 30–400 mm long, 0.5–5(–8) mm wide, appressed to the stem or spreading, straight, linear, flat or channelled, veins parallel, midvein conspicuously larger than the lateral veins or midvein similar in size to other veins in the leaf. Blade adaxial surface glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous. Blade margins entire, glabrous; apices acuminate (trigonous).
Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems triangular in cross section, or circular or oval in cross section. Flowering stems conspicuously taller than the leaves; with leaves, or without leaves (in the upper half); uppermost leaf arising below the middle of the stem, or uppermost leaf arising above the middle of the stem. Leaf or reduced bract subtending the base of the inflorescence present, or absent; conspicuous and leaf-like, or reduced, or scale-like; shorter than the apex of the inflorescence; 5–50 mm long; persistent; sheathless. Inflorescences spicate (a single spike), or a raceme of spikes (each indivudual spike unit refered to as "spikelets" in the Flora of North America treatment); dense, or diffuse; oblong, or ovate, or globose or sub-globose, or obovate, or bell-shaped; 1–12 cm long; 10–60 mm wide. Pedicels present, or absent; glabrous, or scabrous. Inflorescence unispicate, or multispicate. Inflorescence 1–5(–10) spikes. Individual spike(s) erect, or ascending, or divergent, or pendent. Bisexual spike(s) with empty bracts at the base. Terminal spike with both sexes in each floret. Floral scales brown, or black, or orange-brown; with margins the same colour as the body of the scale, or with margins and sometimes midvein paler in colour than the adjacent area of the scale, or with margins paler than body of the scale; reflexed, or not reflexed (usually); ovate, or lanceolate; 4–15 mm long; 1–5 mm wide; glabrous; apex acute. Perianth represented by bristles (the "cotton" of cotton grasses) ((8-)10–25, greatly elongated and obscuring most scales in the spikelet). Perianth bristles silky white, or translucent, or dull white. Stamens (1–)3. Anthers 0.5–5 mm long. Ovary carpels 3; syncarpous. Styles present (deciduous); 3. Stigmas per ovary 3. Placentation basal. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit not surrounded by a perigynium. Fruit sessile; surrounded by a perianth persisting as bristles; dry; an achene; ellipsoid, or ovoid, or elongate-cylindrical, or obovate, or oblong; black, or brown, or golden brown; 1.1–3.5(–5) mm long; glabrous; indehiscent. Achenes trigonous. Seeds 1.
Chromosome information. 2n = 58, or 60.
54, 57, 58, 60.
Indigenous knowledge. The Inuvialuk gathered wild cotton when it was dry and used it to start fires. They used two different kinds of stones. One was a white, hard crystal-like quartz shaped partly square and partly round. The other stone called ingnak, by the Inupiat, is what prospectors call fool's gold. Inuit would strike the two stones together to make some sparks. These would land on the dry cotton and would ignite it to start a fire. Oil from the stem of arctic cotton grass collected in the spring may be effective against warts (Anon 1984).
The cotton-like head of the plant is placed on a newborn infants navel, sometimes mixed with a little ground charcoal first. This part of the plant is collected in the fall (Anon 1984).
School children in Iqaluit claim that Arctic cotton can be used to sooth sore throats (Carolyn Mallory, personal communication, 2006).
Ecology and habitat. Substrates: wet meadows, tundra (bogs, fens, muskeg); aquatic, imperfectly drained moist areas, seepage slopes, solifluction slopes.
North American distribution. Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories Islands, continental Northwest Territories, Nunavut Islands, continental Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago widespread, or limited. Common, rare. Arctic, High Arctic, Low Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, Parry islands, Cornwallis, Banks, Victoria, Prince of Wales, Somerset, King William, Southampton, Coats.
General notes. Ball and Wujek (2002) noted that in some species the North American populations are considered to be conspecific with Eurasian populations; differences in achene micromorphology and isozyme data suggest that these relationships should be investigated more thoroughly.
Illustrations. • Habitat. Cotton-grass meadow near pingo. N.W.T, Tuktoyaktuk. 20 July, 1981. J.M. Gillett 18694. CAN. • Habitat: Baffin Island. Cotton-grass meadow. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Apex. • Position of uppermost leaf sheath. Left, E. scheuchzeri with the uppermost leaf sheath in the lower half of the flowering stem, right, E. angustifolium, with the uppermost leaf sheath about half way up the flowering stem. Aiken and LeBlanc. No voucher.
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..