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

Oxytropis maydelliana Trautv. subsp. melanocephala (Hooker) A.E. Porsild

English: Inuit carrot, Maydell's oxytrope,

French: Oxytrope de Maydell,

Inuktitut: Airaq.

Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Pea family.

Published in Bull. Natl. Mus. Can. 216: 47. 1966.

Type: Described from Canada: "Bear Lake to the Arctic shores and islands" [possibly Richardson]. Isotype: GH?.

Synonymy. Oxytropis campestris (L.) DC. var. melanocephala Hooker, Fl. Bor.-Amer. 1: 147. 1831.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 10–30 cm high; perennial herbs; caespitose. Taproot present. Ground level or underground stems absent. Caudex present (stout and freely branching). Aerial stems decumbent. Aerial stem trichomes spreading. Leaves mainly basal; alternate; marcescent. Stipules present; persisting for 2 or more years; 15–30 mm long; 3–8 mm wide; not sheathing; brown (usually chestnut brown or purplish black); hairy (with long hairs particularly at margins and the apices); villous; apex acuminate. Petioles (15–)20–40(–45) mm long; hairy; strigose. Petiole hairs longer than the diameter of the petiole; appressed, or spreading; straight, or curved; smooth. Leaf blades compound. Blades 20–40(–55) mm long, 6–16 mm wide, veins pinnate. Blade adaxial surface glabrous or hairy, hairs villous or long-silky (sometimes on the veins), hairs simple, hairs sparse (sometimes appearing glabrous to the naked eye), hairs white, or translucent (if present). Blade abaxial surface without sessile glands or glandular hairs, glabrous or hairy, hairs villous, hairs sparse (sometimes appearing glabrous to the naked eye), hairs white, hairs straight or wavy, hairs appressed or spreading. Blade apices acuminate, or acute. Leaflet arrangement pinnate. Leaflets 5–17; 3–9 mm long; (2.5–)4–8 mm wide; oblong, or lanceolate; veins inconspicuous (midvein sometimes visible).

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems two or more per plant; without leaves. Flowering stems hairy. Flowering stems strigose. Flowering stem hairs simple; shorter than the diameter of the flowering stem; white or translucent and black (sometimes). Inflorescences racemose; dense; 0.5–1.5 cm long; 10–20 mm wide; not elongating as the fruit matures. Pedicels absent. Floral scales hairy mainly at apex (stipule-like with black hairs). Flowers per inflorescence (2–)5–9; medium-sized; bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic). Sepals conventional; 5; fused; 6–8 mm wide; yellow, or brown, or black. Calyx tubular; 5-lobed; without sessile glands; hairy (black and sometimes white hairs). Calyx hairs pilose, or villous; non-glandular; white or translucent and black. Calyx teeth 1.5–2 mm long. Petals conventional; both free and fused; 5; yellow (or cream); with contrasting markings (slight; veins in the banner petal somewhat conspicuous and acting as insect guidelines); unlobed (4 petals), or slightly lobed or undulating (banner petal); (10–)15–20 mm long. Corolla papilionaceous; keel with a pointed tip. Stamens 10; stamen filaments all equal in length. Anther filaments 9 fused into a tube, plus 1 free. Nectaries present. Ovary superior; carpels 1; monomerous. Stigmas per ovary 1. Ovules per ovary 15–25. Fruit sessile, or stalked (with a very short stalk); with calyx persisting; dry; a legume; ovoid (with a prominent beak); yellowish, or green at maturity (drying grey); 12–20 mm long; 4.5–7.5 mm wide; hairy (with dense hairs that can vary from black to white on the same pod); not distinctly flattened; dehiscent; opening at the apex and partially or fully down one side. Legume unilocular; valves straight. Styles persisting but not modified. Seeds 5–12; 1–2 mm long (i.e., the longest dimension); brown; surfaces smooth.

Chromosome information. 2n = 96.

2n (12x) = 96. Löve and Löve (1975) listed six counts, five as arctic, all for subsp. maydelliana, e.g., Holmen (1962, Alaska); Zhukova (1966, northeastern Asia; 1983, Chukotka, six counts); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska); Knaben (1968, central Alaska); Sokolovskaya (1968, northeastern Asia, Koryak); Zhukova and Petrovsky (1971, Wrangel Island; 1975, western Chukotka); Gurzenkov and Pavlova (1984, northeastern Asia); Pavlova et al. (1989, northeastern Asia).

Ploidy levels recorded 12x.

Indigenous knowledge. The part of the root between the bottom of the stem and the root (caudex) is called tuqtaw. The roots can be quite large. They can be eaten raw and have a sweet taste. The roots are yellowish or greenish when they are young. When they are older, they are brownish and more fibrous. They are good for stomach aches and were used to control diarrhoea (Ootoova et al. 2001). The roots are excellent fried in seal oil or store bought oils (Eva Aariak, personal communication, 2006). Airait were sucked by babies being carried in amautiit. Because the babies like the itsii (juice), it would help them fall asleep.

The yellow flowers are eaten by geese.

When there is blubber available, the roots of this plant were used as food. You would cook the blubber and fry the roots which made them soft. Eating them straight might not be good, but when mixed with blubber they make good eating (Z. Innuksuk, personal communication, reported in Mallory and Aiken 2004). We ate the roots fried in seal fat as soon as the snow melted (Tuqassie Killiktee, personal communication, reported in Mallory and Aiken 2004).

Taxon as an environmental indicator. Polunin (1940) recorded the northernmost record as Nunavut Northern Baffin, Strathcona Sound, 73°15'N (CAN 76758). Since that time, it has been collected further north, Banks Island, Shoran Lake, 73°51'N (1971, CAN 535586).

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: tundra (heath), slopes (sometimes in the influence of sea spray), ridges; imperfectly drained moist areas, dry, moderately well-drained areas; gravel, sand; acidic, or calcareous. Common to abundant where it occurs, but conspicuously missing from central Baffin Island. Towards its northern limit it is found on open plains and gravel ridges, where it may flourish and become the most conspicuous species.

North American distribution. Alaska, Yukon, continental Northwest Territories. Low Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Parry islands (Melville), Banks, Victoria, King William, Southampton, Coats (Bylot Island, Boothia and Melville peninsulas).

Northern hemisphere distribution. Amphi-Beringian. West Chukotka, Wrangel Island, South Chukotka, East Chukotka, West Alaska, North Alaska – Yukon, Central Canada (?).

General notes. The taxon in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is treated as subsp. melanocephala following Elven et al. (2005). These authors considered that subsp. maydelliana is the amphi-Beringian subspecies that occurs east to Mackenzie River, while subsp. melanocephala is North American and occurs from Mackenzie eastwards. Intermediates occur in the Mackenzie River area, but that is to be expected among subspecies. The main diagnostic character used to distinguish the subspecies, inflorescence indumentum, seems to hold.

Illustrations. • Habitat. Plants growing on dry lichen covered tundra. Nunavut, Rankin Inlet. 25 July, 1973. J.M. Gillett 16316. CAN. • Close-up of plant. Plant on west-facing rocky slope with sandy gravel. Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 19 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett 18962. CAN. • Close-up of plant. Plants growing on west-facing rocky slope with sandy gravel. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 19 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett 18962. CAN. • Close-up of flowers. Compact flowering heads, petals without contrasting markings. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 19 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett 18962. CAN. • Close-up of roots. Substantial roots that are dug up and eaten as Inuit carrot. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 2004. No voucher. • Inflorescence in bud. Inflorescence in bud showing dark hairs on the calyx. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Soper River Valley. Aiken 2002. No voucher. • Close-up of bud. Expanding inflorescence with dark hairs on the calyx. August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Surface view of calyx. Calyx with relatively few hairs and short teeth, face onto keel petals. August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Inflorescence setting fruit. Inflorescence setting fruit in which each flower has produced a legume. Note black and white hairs on the legumes. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. July, 2005. LeBlanc. No voucher. • Hairs of legume. Hairs on the surface of the legume are a mixture of short black hairs and longer white hairs. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 2004. LeBlanc. No voucher. • Diseased plants: Dorset. Plants with yellow zones of rust fungus on the backs of the leaves. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 2 August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • 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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