Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago


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

Eriophorum angustifolium Honck. s.l.

English: Tall cotton-grass, tall arctic cotton, wild cotton,

French: Linaigrette à feuilles étroites,

Inuktitut: Puallunnguat (Baffin Island), suputaujaq (Nunavik),

Inuvialuktun: Kangoyak.

Cyperaceae, Sedge family.

Published in Verz. Gew. Teutschl. 153. 1782.

Synonymy. Eriophorum polystachion L., nom. rejic., Sp. Pl. 52. 1753.

Eriophorum angustifolium Honck. var. alpinum Gaudin, Fl. Helvet. I. 131. 1828.

Eriophorum angustifolium Honck. var. (beta) triste Th. Fr., Öfvers. Förh. Kongl. Svenska Vetensk.-Akad. 26, 2: 135. 1870.

Eriophorum triste (Th. Fr.) Hadač and Á Löve, Bot. Not. 1950: 34. 1950.

Eriophorum angustifolium Honck. subsp. triste (Th.Fr.) Hultén, Circump. Pl. 1: 58. 1962.

Eriophorum angustifolium Honck. subsp. subarcticum (V.N. Vassil.) Hultén ex Kartesz and S.K. Gandhi, Phytologia 72, 1: 22. 1992.

Vegetative morphology. Plants (7–)8–30(–40) cm high; perennial herbs; not caespitose. Only fibrous roots present. Roots colourless, or pallid-brown. Ground level or underground stems horizontal; rhizomatous; elongate. Ground level or underground stems scales present (on rhizomes). Aerial stems erect. Leaves present; distributed along the stems; alternate; dying annually and non-persistent. Petioles absent. Sheaths present; persisting; not forming a conspicuous build-up at the base of the plant (but basal sheaths persistent, in contrast to those of E. russeolum or E. scheuchzeri); greyish brown, or brown; with the margins fused to the apex; glabrous; sheath collars absent. Ligules present; 0.5–1 mm long; membranous (often turning brown at the apex), or a fringed membrane (seen at 40×); glabrous. Ligule apices obtuse; entire. Leaves grass-like. Blades 40–250(–400) mm long, 0.8–4(–8) mm wide, spreading, straight, linear, flat or channelled, veins parallel, midvein conspicuously larger than the lateral veins. Blade adaxial surface glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous. Blade margins glabrous (usually, sometimes scaberulous towards the tip); apices acuminate.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems circular or oval in cross section, or triangular in cross section (at the apex). Flowering stems conspicuously taller than the leaves; with leaves; uppermost leaf arising above the middle of the stem (sheath cylindrical or sheath funnel-shaped, apex oblique; the leaf blade much longer than the sheath). Leaf or reduced bract subtending the base of the inflorescence present; conspicuous and leaf-like, or reduced, or scale-like; shorter than the apex of the inflorescence; 5–50 mm long; persistent; with sheath shorter than the blade. Inflorescences a raceme of spikes; dense; obovate, or bell-shaped; 1–10(–12) cm long; 20–60 mm wide. Pedicels present (less than 10 cm long, drooping or not drooping); glabrous (occasionally with a few scabrous prickles on the angles), or scabrous (all around the surface). Inflorescence multispicate. Inflorescence (1–)2–5(–10) spikes. Individual spike(s) ascending, or divergent, or pendent. Bisexual spike(s) with empty bracts at the base. Terminal spike with both sexes in each floret. Floral scales black, or orange-brown; with margins and sometimes midvein paler in colour than the adjacent area of the scale, or with margins paler than body of the scale; ovate; 4–7(–10) mm long (may have a prominent midrib fading proximally towards the tip; proximal scales without lateral ribs); 1.5–3 mm wide; glabrous; apex acute. Perianth represented by bristles (the "cotton" of cotton grasses) (10 or more per flower). Perianth bristles dull white. Stamens 3. Anthers (1.8–)2.5–4(–5) mm long. Ovary carpels 3; syncarpous. Styles 3. Stigmas per ovary 3. Placentation basal. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit sessile; surrounded by a perianth persisting as bristles; dry; an achene; ovoid, or obovate, or oblong (oblanceoloid, oblong-elliptical, or widely obovoid); black, or brown; 2–3.5(–5) mm long; 0.9–1.1 mm wide; indehiscent. Achenes trigonous. Seeds 1.

Chromosome information. 2n = 54, 58, and 60.

2n = 54. Stoeva (1985, 1992b, southeastern Europe).

2n = 58. Håkansson (1928, northern Europe); Sørensen and Westergaard, in Löve and Löve (1948, Greenland?); Löve and Löve (1956, Iceland); Löve (1981d, central and northern Canada); Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Sorsa (1963b, Finland, 2n = about 58); Löve and Ritchie (1966, northern Canada); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska); Zhukova (1968, northeastern Asia); Zhukova and Tikhonova (1971, Chukotka); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska); Krogulevich (1976a, northern Siberia); Zhukova et al. (1977, northeastern Asia); Yurtsev and Zhukova (1978, eastern Chukotka); Zhukova (1980, southern Chukotka; 1982, northeastern Asia). Several more southern counts.

2n = 60. Flovik (1943, Svalbard); Sørensen and Westergaard, in Löve and Löve (1948, Greenland?); Löve (1950, Iceland?); Holmen (1952, Greenland); Löve and Löve (1956, Iceland!); Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Mosquin and Hayley (1966, northern Canada); Zhukova (1968, northeastern Asia); Zhukova and Tikhonova (1971, Chukotka); Zhukova (1980, southern Chukotka; 1982, northeastern Asia).

Whether there is a difference in chromosome number between subsp. triste and subsp. angustifolium is not certain. 2n = 60 is the only count known from plants determined unambiguously as 'triste' (Flovik 1943, from Svalbard, and Holmen 1952, from Peary Land), but Löve and Löve (1975) also listed this number from areas where 'triste' is unknown, i.e., Iceland (Löve 1950, Löve and Löve 1956), or uncertain, i.e., mainland Chukotka (Zhukova and Tikhonova 1971).

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 infant’s 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).

The flower-heads were used as stuffing for mattresses and as tinder. The "cotton" was, and is, gathered for use as wicks for the kudlik or oil lamp. For hunting trips, it was mixed with fat and taken along in a container. Cotton grass had to be prepared carefully or it would burn too high and fast (Mallory and Aiken 2004). Another name in Inuktitut is pualunnguat, and it means "imitation mitten" (Ootoova et al. 2001). Cotton grass mixed with peat moss was used to relieve heart burn (Eva Aariak, personal communication, 2006).

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: wet meadows, around the margins of ponds, marshes, along streams, river terraces, tundra, slopes (wet, sometimes mossy); aquatic (emergent), imperfectly drained moist areas, seepage slopes, solifluction slopes; rocks (occasionally, bouldry rubble), gravel, sand, silt (often in fluvial materials), moss; with low organic content, with high organic content, peat; calcareous, or circum-neutral. Eriophorum angustifolium often forms pure stands in Carex/Salix wet meadows in areas grazed by muskoxen. A common associate is C. aquatilis. Most often reported along streams. It can be found in wet meadows with Carex fuliginosa subsp. misandra and Arctagrostis. It is also reported in moist ridged fens with Dryas and Cassiope. In mineral soils, it is often in open clay spots on the tundra and by the edge of ponds.

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. Common. Arctic, High Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, and Parry islands (Melville), Banks, Victoria, Prince of Wales, Somerset, King William, Southampton, and Coats (Prince Charles, Digges and Resolution).

Northern hemisphere distribution. Circumboreal, or amphi-Atlantic (slightly), or amphi-Beringian (slightly), or North American. Northern Iceland, Northern Fennoscandian, Kanin–Pechora, Svalbard – Franz Joseph Land, Polar Ural – Novaya Zemlya, Yamal–Gydan, Taimyr – Severnaya Zemlya, Anabar–Olenyok, Kharaulakh, Yana–Kolyma, West Chukotka, Wrangel Island, South Chukotka, East Chukotka, West Alaska, North Alaska – Yukon, Central Canada, Labrador – Hudson Bay, Ellesmere Land – Peary Land, West Greenland, East Greenland.

General notes. The earliest name for this taxon is E. polystachion. Polunin (1940) gave three reasons for rejecting this name. This rejection was proposed by Turland (1997) and formally accepted by McNeill et al. (2006).

The status of 'triste' as a species or subspecies was discussed by Novoselova in Elven et al. (2003). Elven et al. (2003) also note that a somewhat "quixotic argument" for treating E. triste as a species is its 'hybridisation pattern'. The hybrid entity E. ×sorenseni (E. scheuchzeri × E. triste) seems to occur in most areas where E. triste occurs. No hybrid has been documented between E. angustifolium s.s. and E. scheuchzeri in spite of their very frequent co-occurrence.

Novoselova reports that E. angustifolium subsp. triste differs from E. angustifolium subsp. angustifolium in the following: "uppermost leaf sheath funnel-shaped (not cylindrical); peduncle scabrous, up to 2 cm long (not drooping, smooth, up to 5–10 cm long); flowering spikes ovoid to almost spherical (not oblong-ovoid or oblong-elliptical); fruiting heads obovoid (not bell-shaped or narrowly bell-shaped); scales blackish and without whitish margins (not brownish grey, greyish, reddish or ferrugineous with white margins); anthers (1.8-)2.5–2.8(-3) mm long (not (2.5-)3–4(-5) mm long); achenes widely obovoid, 2–2.5 mm long (not oblong-obovoid or oblong-elliptical (2.5-)2.8–3(-3.5) mm long); and chromosome number 2n = 60 (not 58)."

These characters should be enough for specific recognition, but the characters are not always clear-cut on herbarium specimens. In Svalbard (from where 'triste' was described) it is very distinct, as it is in Northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but there are problems with recognising it elsewhere in Arctic Canada and Alaska. Peter Ball (personal communication, 2005) has stated it is not possible to distinguish the subspecies on the basis of a single character. In the arctic most plants are small, with dense scabridity on all sides of the peduncles, but even there, there are a few populations with essentially glabrous peduncles and others with much reduced scabridity. Southwards the scabridity is reduced and the plants are larger. ‘I cannot recall seeing any collections from the mainland which match the High Arctic triste in all characters. Usually the scabridity is restricted to one side of the peduncle and is less dense. Plants like this show up erratically as far south as the north shore of the St. Lawrence, but these plants in all other characters are indistinguishable from subsp. angustifolium. I took a very conservative view of subsp. triste in FNA (Flora of North America; Ball and Wujek 2002)) excluding most of the intermediate types’ (Peter Ball, personal communication, 2005).

Given the uncertainty about reliable characters in the Canadian Arctic and the number of intermediate specimens that have been found to date, further study of this species is required. Therefore, here we include all specimens under E. angustifolium s.l.

A study of the effects of variable soil oxygen and nutrient availability on E. angustifolium and E. vaginatum was done by Gebauer et al. (1995) near Toolik Lake, Alaska. It was shown that growth in E. angustifolium was improved by soil anoxia, and that biomass allocation among plant parts was not significantly affected, indicating that the species is well adapted to flooded, wet habitat.

In a study of scale-dependent correlations of arctic vegetation and snow cover in southeastern Victoria Island, Schaefer and Messier (1995) found that E. angustifolium exhibited positive associations with various measures of snow cover. It is thought that snow cover may reduce the rate of desiccation, protect plants from abrasion, and insulate from low temperatures during the winter season.

Lutz (1996) showed that photo-inhibition occurs in plants when cold temperatures and high light levels cause free-radical formation and subsequent destruction of the photosynthetic membranes. In his study of this phenomenon in high alpine populations of E. angustifolium in Tirol, Austria, he showed that the species avoids this hazard by delaying the development of the photosynthetic apparatus until temperature conditions are favourable. Only etiolated leaves are formed early in the season. When photosynthetic membranes do appear they are protected by a set of carotenoids and antioxidants.

Ferland and Rochefort (1997) reported that E. angustifolium has a positive effect on the survival of peat mosses during the restoration of ombrotrophic peat-lands at Maisonnette, New Brunswick. It is easily transplanted and propagated, and is the companion species that leads to the best recolonisation of Sphagnum diaspores.

Eriophorum angustifolium was found to be an early coloniser of oil spills in Alaska (Kershaw and Kershaw 1986).

Illustrations. • Close-up of plants. Cotton grass with several heads per flowering stem growing with purple pre-anthesis inflorescences of Arctagrostis latifolia. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 2 August, 2005. No voucher. • Habitat. Plants growing in a river flood plain on calcareous silt and gravel. Nunavut, Ellesmere Island, Scoresby Bay, 7953'N, 7133'W. Aiken 98–006. Photograph by Mollie MacCormac. Scale bar in cm. • Long fibrous root. Young plant pulled out of wet moss shows root many times longer than the leaves are high. Nunavut, Ellesmere Island, Scoresby Bay, 7953'N, 7133'W. Aiken 98–006. CAN. Photograph by Mollie MacCormac. • Close-up of plants. Multispicate inflorescences. N.W.T., Tuktoyaktuk. 20 July, 1981. J.M. Gillett 18694. CAN. • Close-up of inflorescence. Note dark grey scales with reddish tinge and translucent white margin. N.W.T., Victoria Island, Minto Inlet. CAN 499617. • Close-up of young inflorescence. Young inflorescence with three spikes and stigmas appearing before the anthers. N.W.T., Banks Island, Aulavik National Park. 8 July, 1999. Aiken 99–027. • Close-up of young inflorescence. Young inflorescence with three or more spikes. Yellow anthers just beginning to appear after white stigmas are already exserted. N.W.T., Banks Island, Aulavik National Park. 8 July, 1999. Aiken 99–027. CAN. • Close-up of leaf sheath. Close-up of front view of leaf sheath showing slightly inflated junction between the blade and the sheath. Nunavut, Ellesmere Island, Svedrdrup Pass. 17 July, 1979. J.M. Gillett 18189. CAN 453905. • Close-up of leaf sheath. Close-up of side view of leaf sheath showing an oblique opening at the junction between the blade and the sheath. Nunavut, Southampton Island, Bear's Cove Point. 20 July, 1951. D.K. Brown 815. CAN 258630. • Close-up of inflorescence. Mature spikes with fine orange spent anthers and white silky perianth bristles. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Ogac Lake, 11 July, 2004. Aiken and LeBlanc 04–068. CAN. • Close-up of inflorescence. Inflorescence with conspicuously black floral scales, yellow stigmas and the beginnings of white perianth bristles. CAN 566171. • 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.