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

Vaccinium uliginosum L. subsp. microphyllum (Lange) Tolm.

English: Bilberry, or whortleberry,

French: Airelle des marcécages,

Inuktitut: Kigutangirnait, naqutit, kigutangirnaqutit, nanuq; kigutanginaquitik, kigutangirnaq (Nunavik).

Ericaceae, Bilberry family.

Published in Ark. Bot. ser. 2, 7, 1: 100. 1968.

Type: Described from Greenland.

Synonymy. Vaccinium uliginosum L. taxon microphyllum Lange, Meddel. Grønl. 3: 91. 1880.

Vaccinium gaultherioides Bigelow, New Engl. J. Medic. Surg. 5: 335. 1816.

Vaccinium uliginosum var. alpinium Bigel., Fl. Bost. ed. 2. 153. 1824.

Vaccinium uliginosum var. alpinium f. langeanum (Malte) Polunin, Bull. Natl. Mus. Canada 94 (Biol. Ser. 24): 315. 1940.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 5–15(–20) cm high (stems much longer but prostrate); shrubs; dwarf shrubs. Rooting along the stems. Horizontal stems at ground level, branching extensively to shape plant habit as mats. Aerial stems prostrate. Aerial stem trichomes spreading. Leaves present; distributed along the stems (towards the ends of the branches); alternate; dying annually and non-persistent, or marcescent (sometimes). Stipules absent (prominent leaf bud scales present). Petioles present; 0.2–1 mm long; glabrous. Leaf blade bases attenuate. Blades 4–10 mm long, 3–8 mm wide, spreading, obovate, flat, veins reticulate. Blade adaxial surface without sessile glands, glabrous. Blade abaxial surface without sessile glands or glandular hairs (a contrast with Vaccinium vitis-idaea), glabrous. Blade margins slightly revolute (forming a narrow rim around the blade). Blade margins entire, glabrous; apices acute, or rounded, or retuse.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems two or more per plant. Flowers solitary, or in inflorescences. Inflorescences spicate, or fasciculate (or 2–3 flowers on pedicels 1–3 mm long); lateral. Pedicels present. Floral bracts light rose, or brown; 1.5–2.5 mm long; 0.5–1 mm wide; glabrous; apices lacerate. Flowers per inflorescence 1–4; small. Sepals conventional; 5 (valvate); fused (at the base); 1–1.5 mm wide; red (or deep pink). Calyx without sessile glands; glabrous. Petals conventional; fused; 5; pink; 4–5 mm long. Corolla campanulate; 5-lobed. Stamens 10. Anthers yellow. Anthers opening with a terminal pore. Anthers 1.4–1.6 mm long (with stout cylinders that open by apical pores; the axis between the cylinders separates in the upper half of the anther and peels back into two prominent filaments, or horns that help to hold the anthers away from the petals). Nectaries present. Ovary inferior; carpels 5; syncarpous. Ovaries sub-globose; glabrous. Styles 1. Placentation axile. Ovules per ovary numerous. Fruit sessile; with calyx persisting; fleshy; a berry; spherical; blue (at maturity); 5–10 mm long; 5–10 mm wide; glabrous; surface appearing veinless; not distinctly flattened; indehiscent. Seeds numerous; 1.4–1.6 mm long; black (reddish).

Chromosome information. 2n = 48.

2n = 48. Hagerup (1933, Greenland); Flovik (1940, Svalbard); Löve (1950, 1954); Hara (1956); Löve and Löve (1956, Iceland; 1965a, 1966b, northeastern USA; 1982a, central Canada); Löve and Solbrig (1964b, Arctic Canada);

Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Löve and Boscaiu (1966, southeastern Europe); Zhukova (1966, northeastern Asia); Hedberg (1967, northern Canada); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska ); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska); Uhrikova et al., in Löve (1980b, central Europe); Majovsky and Uhrikova (1982, central Europe); Zhukova et al. (1977, northeastern Asia); Perhaps also: Krogulevich (1976a, northern Siberia Putorana); Chinnappa and Chmielewski (1987, western North America); and Zhukova and Petrovsky (1987b, northeastern Asia).

Löve and Löve (1975) reported the northern Alaskan Packer and McPherson (1974, as V. gaultherioides) count as 2n = 24, whereas the IOPB list reported it as 2n = 48. Zhukova (1980, southern Chukotka) reported 2n = 48 for V. uliginosum subsp. microphyllum.

Ploidy levels recorded 4x.

Indigenous knowledge. An Inuit name is kigutangirnait, which is often shortened to naqutit (blueberries). Kigutangirnaqutit is the word for a blueberry bush. An unripened blueberry is called a nanuq, which means "a polar bear". The unripened berries are white. Kigutangirnait means "that which causes the teeth to be removed" because they leave black spots on the teeth. The berries were recommended for a person who had diarrhoea. If you eat a lot of berries, the stool hardens. August is the best month to pick berries. The leaves were used to make tea. They were added to bearberries when there were not enough of them for tea . The branches were used to remove puja, gummy blubber, and other stains that ordinary soap could not remove (Ootoova et al. 2001).

Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people enjoy eating the berries with sugar in jams, pies, muffins and it'suh (a desert made from pounded dry fish. For the recipe, see Empetrum). The stems can be boiled to make a tea for cold symptoms.

Porsild (1953) noted that although Europeans prefer this fruit to that of the crowberry, the bilberry is not much esteemed by Eskimo who believe it is liable to cause dental decay.

We used to use berries for a pudding in the summer especially when we were staying in a location where they grew. A mix would be prepared with berries and then we could also use kigutangirnat, but each type of berries would not be mixed at the same time. One type of berry did not mix well with another type (Z. Innuksuck, personal communication, 1999, reported in Mallory and Aiken, 2004).

Ecology and habitat. Well-drained slope (CAN 312093), Dryas and Salix arctica wet slope (CAN 295914); common in turfy tundra, local on gabbro outcrop in rolling calcareous till plain (CAN 485190); moderately well-drained till (CAN 485296); base of seepage slope on mossy hummock (CAN 484960); scree slope with Cassiope (CAN 267747); dry mesic slope on sandy ground and thin tuft with Empetrum (CAN 549948); steep, moist non-calcareous south-facing slope (CAN 3668158); sandstone scree (CAN 556103); trap rock cliffs and steep talus slope (CAN 128057); exposed hillocky-lichen tundra (CAN 258816).

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. Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, Victoria, Southampton (Bylot, Digges, Salisbury islands, Boothia and Simpson peninsulas).

Northern hemisphere distribution. Circumpolar, or circumboreal (arctic-alpine). 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. Vaccinium uliginosum is a circumpolar and circumboreal complex of tetra-, hexa-, octo-, and dodecaploids. Recent genetic investigations (Brochmann et al. 2004) document that there are 3–4 major groups of genotypes. These groups correspond to ploidy levels and named taxa and are also morphologically different in a few characters. The arctic plants and the majority of those of temperate high mountains constitute one major tetraploid group to which the name 'microphyllum' belongs, and probably also the name 'gaultherioides'. Another major group is octoploid and broadly amphi-Atlantic boreal (eastern North America, southern Greenland, Europe, perhaps western and northern Siberia) and to this group belongs the name 'uliginosum' s.s. 'pubescens', and probably also 'alpinum'.

Two groups of genotypes seem to occur in the Pacific areas. One genotype occurs in a broadly Pacific area and has hexa- and decaploid plants. Several names may have been applied to it, especially 'occidentalis' and 'pedris'. This seems to be the dominant entity in non-arctic Western Canada and Alaska. Another entity is more narrowly amphi-Beringian and goes by the name 'vulcanorum'. Its ploidy level is not known.

Subspecies microphyllum has repeatedly been counted as tetraploid (2n = 24), and this number has been found in plants from the Arctic as well as much more southern mountains (e.g., in southeastern Europe). Octoploid counts probably originate from the inclusion of subsp. alpinum into subsp. microphyllum.

A thorough study of the phylogeography of V. uliginosum s.l. was presented in Alsos et al. (2001, 2002, 2005) and Alsos (2003), partly based on the ploidal and morphological study of Young (1970).

For the present, we assume that all the plants in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago belong to subsp. microphyllum. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that subsp. uliginosum (including 'pubescens' and 'alpinum') may also occur in the southeastern parts, as it is widespread on the mainland and also occurs in southern Greenland.

Alsos (2003) considered Vaccinium uliginosum in a study of the conservation biology of the most thermophilous plant species in the arctic. In her thesis she discussed the circumpolar phylogeography of this species as a key component of northern ecosystems. Alsos et al. (2002) reported on the conservation genetics and population genetics of Betula nana, Vaccinium uliginosum and Campanula rotundifolia. Alsos et al. (2003) discussed seed bank sizes as well and conservation genetics.

Illustrations. • Bilberry dominated tundra: Dorset. Blue-green plants near the marker and dominating the nearby dry tundra. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 4 August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Habitat: Iqaluit in the fall. Patch of bilberry plants whose leaves have turned red in the fall. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. Aiken 97–048. CAN. • Close-up of fruiting plants. Note small, bluish green leaves of bilberry and the pale grey-blue young and mature blue berries near the marker. The much larger leaves are those of Salix reticulata. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. Aiken 97–047. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Close-up of flowers. Clusters of 2–3 flowers that have scale leaves on the base of the pedicels, small free sepals and small fused petals. Aiken and Mallory 02–004a. CAN. • Looking into the flower. Flower with five fused petals, and anthers with filaments that are attached to the petals. Note the long and tube-like anthers that open by pores at the top and the brown horns at the base of the anthers. Aiken and Mallory 02–004d. CAN. • Plant habit. Prostrate plants with grey, much-branching stems and small blue-green deciduous leaves that are not marcescent. The pinkish buds occur at the growing tips of the stems. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 22 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett 18994. CAN. • Close-up of leaves. Current season's leaf blades are 4–10 mm long, 3–8 mm wide, and blue-green with reticulate venation. The greyish and pale brown leaves are from a previous season and are to a limited extent marcescent. They are mainly associated with stems that have red tips from diseased leaves. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 22 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett 18994. CAN. • Close-up of fruit. Vivid blue berry, round, 10–15 mm in diameter, formed from an inferior ovary with 5 carpels, the tops of which appear as teeth on the top of the berry. The style is still attached and shows the small capitate stigma. Note the glabrous leaves with reticulate venation. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. Aiken 97–047. CAN. • 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.