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

Hedysarum americanum (Michx.) Britton

English: Liquorice-root, alpine sweet-vetch,

French: Sainfoin alpin.

Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Pea family.

Published in Mem. Torrey Bot. Club 5: 201. 1894.

Type: "Habitat in northern Siberia", cited by Welsh as a possible lectotype: LINN 921.54.

Synonymy. Hedysarum alpinum L. taxon americanum Michx., Fl. Bor.-Amer. 2: 74. 1803.

Hedysarum alpinum L. subsp. americanum (Michx.) B.Fedtsch., Trudy Imp. S.-Peterburgsk. Bot. Sada 19: 257. 1902.

Hedysarum alpinum auct., non L., Sp. Pl. 750. 1753.

?H. auriculatum Eastw., Bot. Gaz. (Crawfordsville) 33: 205. 1902.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 10–15(–25) cm high (to 60 cm high further south, in the Mackenzie Delta); perennial herbs; not caespitose. Taproot present (large and fleshy). Roots are thick and fibrous. Ground level or underground stems vertical. Caudex present (scaly and fleshy). Aerial stems ascending (or arching). Leaves distributed along the stems; alternate (sometimes almost opposite near the inflorescences); dying annually and non-persistent (leaf blades; midveins may persist). Stipules present; persisting for 2 or more years; 7–12 mm long; 4–6 mm wide; sheathing; brown (conspicuous); glabrous (over most of the surface), or hairy (at the base); pubescent, or pilose; apex acuminate, or acute. Petioles 10–25 mm long; glabrous. Leaf blades compound. Leaves not grass-like. Blades 35–80(–100) mm long, 20–40(–60) mm wide, spreading, veins pinnate. Blade adaxial surface fresh green, glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous or hairy (a few fine hairs on the midrib that are seen at 10×), hairs pubescent, hairs sparse, hairs white, hairs straight or curved, hairs appressed. Blade apices acute, or rounded. Leaflet arrangement pinnate. Leaflets (7–)9–13; 10–20(–40) mm long; 4–9 mm wide; oblong, or ovate, or lanceolate; veins inconspicuous.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems two or more per plant; about as high as the leaves, or conspicuously taller than the leaves; without leaves. Flowering stems hairy. Flowering stems strigose (sparse). Flowering stem hairs simple; white or translucent. Inflorescences racemose; 3–6 cm long. Pedicels present, or absent (very short). Bisexual spike(s) with empty bracts at the base (stipule-like). Flowers per inflorescence 10–15; medium-sized; bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic). Sepals conventional; 5; fused; 3–4 mm wide; brown (darker on the triangular shaped tips of the sepals). Calyx deltoid; tubular; 5-lobed; hairy. Calyx hairs strigose; white or translucent. Calyx teeth equal or nearly so; 1–1.5 mm long (triangular). Petals conventional; both free and fused; 5; pink, or purple (pale); with contrasting markings (colour gradation darkest on the tips of the petals, pale towards the base); unlobed (four petals), or slightly lobed or undulating (banner petal); 10–20 mm long. Corolla papilionaceous; keel blunt; helmet without 2 small teeth at the apex. Wing auricles united, linear, nearly equal to the claw. Stamens 10; stamen filaments all equal in length (almost equal). Anther filaments 9 fused into a tube, plus 1 free. Anthers yellow; 0.5–0.6 mm long. Nectaries present. Ovary superior; carpels 1; monomerous. Stigmas per ovary 1. Ovules per ovary 2–3. Fruit stalked; with calyx persisting; dry; a loment; elongate-cylindrical; yellowish; 20–30 mm long; 4–6 mm wide; glabrous (with conspicuous net-like veins); distinctly flattened; indehiscent (but splitting between the articles of the loment). Loment margins winged with auricles. Styles persisting but not modified. Seeds 1–3; 1.5–2(–2.5) mm long (i.e., the longest dimension); brown; surfaces smooth.

Chromosome information. 2n = 14, or 16, or 28.

2n (2x) = 14. Anderson (1940, central Canada); Ledingham (1957, central Canada); Holmen (1962, Alaska); Mulligan, in Löve (1967c, northwestern Canada); Taylor (1967, Canada); Packer (1968, northwestern Canada); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska, as H. alpinum s.l.); Mulligan et al. (1972, northwestern Canada); Mulligan and Cody (1973, Yukon); Dawe and Murray, in Löve (1979, Alaska, two counts); Zhukova (1982, northeastern Asia); Löve and Löve (1982a, central Canada);

2n = 16. Hedberg (1967, Alaska, a deviating count 'omitted' by the Löves);

2n (4x) = 28. Johnson and Packer (1968, Alaska, as H. alpinum s.l.).

Ploidy levels recorded 2x and 4x.

Indigenous knowledge. The fleshy roots, which in mature plants may be half an inch thick, are edible and when cooked taste somewhat like young carrots (Porsild 1957). They mature in August but may be gathered until the ground freezes. In spring, before the new growth starts, they taste even better than in the autumn, but soon become tough and woody. The root tubers during spring and early summer form the principal food of brown and black bears, and several kinds of meadow mice in autumn harvest store the tubers for winter use. In order to obtain a supply of this much favoured vegetable, the Eskimo of Alaska rob the mice "caches" which they locate by means of a dog specially trained for this purpose. Bogoras (1904) reports that this method is also practiced by the Chukchi.

Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people use this plant for food and medicine. Although the roots can be dug up at any time when the ground is thawed, the roots are usually collected in June after the river ice breaks up, or from mid-August to September, before freeze-up. They are not suitable for eating between these times because they harden and are too dry to eat. The roots can be stored for the winter with the skin on, as they keep well frozen. The roots are "just like carrots". If the root is hard, it is normally boiled. The juice can make a drink that will increase a sick person's appetite. If eaten raw, the root can relieve diarrhoea.

Taxon as an environmental indicator. The northernmost record is from Banks Island, 2 miles west of Sachs Harbour, 71° 59'N.

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: river terraces, lakeshores (beaches), tundra, cliffs; imperfectly drained moist areas, moderately well-drained areas; sand, silt, till; calcareous. This species is most commonly found in sands and gravel on riverbanks and by sheltered lake shores.

North American distribution. Alaska, Yukon, continental Northwest Territories, continental Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago limited. Low Arctic. Arctic islands: Parry islands (Eglinton), Banks, Victoria.

Northern hemisphere distribution. North American, or Pacific. East Chukotka, West Alaska, North Alaska – Yukon, Central Canada, Labrador – Hudson Bay.

General notes. A relatively well-defined single entity in the Arctic Archipelago. Yurtsev (Sept 2001) considered that Hedysarum alpinum and H. americanum are species-level distinct. "They cannot be considered as vicarious taxa due to an enormous gap between their ranges (several thousand km!) (this gap is just within the Russian Far-East). There are constant distinctions between H. alpinum and H. americanum, e.g., in shape of leaflets and their termination, length of mucrone - brevissime versus elongate, form of bracts and their length in relation to that of pedicels (shorter versus somewhat longer in H. americanum), the characters of pubescence of inflorescence, form of calyx teeth (triangular versus triangular-lanceolate). Despite similarity of morphotype, they are different in characters for nearly all organs and thus should not be considered as conspecific" (Yurtsev, Sept. 2001).

The current North American opinion (Gillett et al. 1999 onwards) has been to accept a widely defined H. alpinum and even to include the more arctic parts of the North American range in a var. alpinum described from Siberia (Linnaeus 1753), with an unnamed variety (beta) in the Alps.

Elven et al. (2003) suggested that the solution may be "to accept a widely defined H. alpinum with 2–3 subspecies: subsp. alpinum (perhaps not arctic, perhaps including 'vicioides' and then arctic), subsp. vicioides, and subsp. americanum (including all the North American plants)." Hultén (1968) was of the opinion that the Asiatic plants were subsp. alpinum, the North American ones subsp. americanum. His opinion was that all the Siberian plants belonged in subsp. alpinum s.s., that is, also the 'vicioides' entity. (Yurtsev (personal communication Sept. 2001) considered that H. vicioides is a very good species slightly reaching the Arctic in the lower reaches of the Lena River, with very small yellowish white flowers, bracts and calyx glabrous, ciliate, pubescent in lower half. Rhizomes are lacking, roots tuberose. It can hardly be included into any aggregate).

Porsild and Cody (1980) commented that in North America, ‘the transitional differences between the arctic and more temperate plants appear to be quite gradual and to be merely an expression of climatic differences’, therefore also agreeing on a single North American taxon.

We treat the taxon H. americanum at species level, following the current treatment in the Panarctic Flora Project, recognising that the authors of the PAF project agree that it is still unresolved whether the taxa are sufficiently different to warrant species status.

We have found no Arctic Island specimens with the fruiting stages collected. The data on fruits are based on material collected in continental North America.

Illustrations. • Habitat. Plants growing on slumping silt banks. Nunavut, between Esquimo Point and Rankin Inlet, at Pedung Creek, Kaminak Lake. 22 July, 1973. J.M. Gillett 16149. CAN. • Close-up of stipules. Conspicuous brown persistent stipules. The lower stipule in the glue shows the subconnate base of the stipule. The uppermost stipule shows the pointed free ends. N.W.T. Banks Island, Masik River Valley. CAN 331290. • Close-up of stipule. Stipules have characteristic fine pubescence at the base of the prominent stipules. N.W.T. Banks Island, Masik River Valley. CAN 331290. • Close-up of inflorescence. Inflorescence with purple flowers. Nunavut, between Esquimo Point and Rankin Inlet, at Pedung Creek, Kaminak Lake. 22 July, 1973. J.M. Gillett 16149. CAN. • Plant with developing loments. Plant developing loments. Nunavut, between Esquimo Point and Rankin Inlet, at Pedung Creek, Kaminak Lake. 22 July, 1973. J.M. Gillett 16149. CAN. • Close-up of a fruit. Close-up of loments with conspicuous transverse markings on the surface and notches that indicate where the loments split between the seeds when ripe. Note the remains of the calyx. Nunavut, Victoria Island. CAN 273706. • 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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