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

Oxyria digyna (L.) Hill

English: Mountain sorrel,

French: Oxyrie de sorrel,

Inukitut: Qungulit, naparutaujaq (Nunavik), seernaq (Greenland).

Polygonaceae, Buckwheat family.

Published in Hortus Kewensis 158. 1768.

Type: Selected by Jonsell and Jarvis, Nord. J. Bot. 14: 154. 1994. Lectotype: LAPP 132.

Synonymy. Rumex digynus L., Sp. Pl. 337. 1753.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 2–20(–30) cm high; perennial herbs. Taproot present (below the caudex). Roots black (or dark brown). Ground level or underground stems horizontal, or vertical; rhizomatous; elongate, or compact; 1–3 mm wide. Caudex present. Aerial stems erect. Leaves mainly basal; alternate; dying annually and non-persistent. Stipules present; 1–8 mm long; 3–6 mm wide; sheathing; brown; glabrous (pale); apex acute. Petioles 2–50 mm long; glabrous (usually). Leaf blade bases cordate (with the reniform lobing). Blades 10–20 mm long, 10–20 mm wide, spreading, reniform, flat, veins palmate. Blade adaxial surface glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous. Blade apices acuminate, or rounded (in herbarium specimens).

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems without leaves (ocreate stipules at the base of inflorescence branches present). Inflorescences paniculate and racemose (a panicle of racemes); dense, or diffuse; 2–7 cm long; 0.5–3 mm wide; elongating as the fruit matures. Pedicels present (but short). Flowers per inflorescence 50–100; small. Sepals conventional (tepals); 4; free; 1.7–2 mm long; 1.5–2.5 mm wide; red, or pink, or white (fading on herbarium specimens to brownish); petaloid; accrescent. Calyx glabrous. Petals absent. Stamens 6; stamen filaments glabrous. Anthers 0.9–1.2 mm long. Ovary superior; carpels 3; syncarpous. Ovaries glabrous. Styles 2; free; 0.2–0.4 mm long. Stigmas per ovary 1. Placentation basal. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit stalked; with calyx persisting; dry; an achene; ovoid; yellowish, or red; 3–4 mm long; 2–2.5 mm wide (centre, to 4 mm wide with wings included); surface appearing veinless (or centre with a single vein, wings with fine lines); distinctly flattened; indehiscent. Achenes lenticular.

Chromosome information. 2n = 14 and 42.

2n (2x) = 14. Edman (1929, northern Europe); Flovik (1940, Svalbard); Löve (1942, northern Europe); Löve and Löve (1948, northern Europe; 1956, Iceland; 1966b); Sørensen and Westergaard in Löve and Löve (1948, Greenland); Knaben (1950, Norway); Böcher and Larsen (1950, Greenland); Holmen (1952, Greenland); Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Sokolovskaya and Strelkova (1960, 1962, northern Russia); Mooney and Billings (1961, North America); Sorsa (1963b, Finland); Packer (1964, western Canada); Zhukova (1965, eastern Chukotka; 1973, northeastern Asia; 1980, southern Chukotka; 1982, northeastern Asia); Mosquin and Hayley (1966, northern Canada); Taylor and Brockman (1966, western Canada); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska); Taylor and Mulligan (1968, western Canada); Mulligan and Porsild (1970, Canada); Mulligan and Cody (1973, Yukon); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska); Dawe and Murray, in Löve (1979, Alaska); Zhukova and Petrovsky (1987b, north and northeastern Asia); Dalgaard (1988, western Greenland); Jonsell (2000, Norway, Finland, Svalbard, secondary reference). Several more southern counts.

2n (6x) = 42. Sokolovskaya and Strelkova (1948a, central Asia Altai); Belaeva and Siplivinsky (1975, southern and northern Siberia); Krogulevich (1976a and b, 1978, southern and northern Siberia); Murin et al. (1980, central Asia). The hexaploids in southern and northern Siberia and central Asia may belong to a different race.

Ploidy levels recorded 2x and 6x.

Indigenous knowledge. Ootoova et al. (2001, p. 275) say that "According to the Iglulingmiut, these plants often grow where birds nest (Dritsas 1986). The plants can ease stomach aches caused by too much fat intake. Because of their sour taste they are called seernaq in Greenland. According to Jaikku and Malaija, as the plants grow, they lose their tangy taste and become sweet. They taste sweet after being boiled in water and can be used to treat people with low energy. This brew was used to make people sweat. When the leaves are chewed for a long time and the itsi, the juice, is gone, they become difficult to swallow."

In Alaska, on St. Lawrence Island, the sour leaves of the qunguliit are used to satisfy thirst when there is not fresh water available (Young and Hall 1969).

When the leaves are consumed after meals, they are an aid to digestion (Blondeau 1996).

The succulent and slightly acidic leaves are edible and eaten raw or cooked. It is an important edible plant of the arctic, owing to its wide distribution and local abundance. The Inuit eat the leaves fresh or preserve them in seal oil. Caribou, muskoxen, and geese eat the leaves. Arctic hares and lemmings prefer the fleshy rhizomes (Porsild and Cody 1980).

The Inuit use relatively few plants, and this plant is one of the most important. It is actively collected early summer and most often eaten fresh, though some people preserve the leaves in seal oil. Oxyria leaves are eaten by geese, muskoxen, and caribou. The roots are eaten by lemmings, voles, and arctic hares (Burt, 2000).

This plant was important to the Inuit because it is high in Vitamin C. They were and still are eaten raw or sometimes preserved in seal fat. If you are out on a hike and there is no water, you can use some leaves to quench your thirst. "The sorrel with a greener colour are more sweet than the red-coloured ones. When you rub a bunch together with your palms they get very sour and sweet to chew. We did not have access to sweets, so we'd eat sweet sorrel instead. We also used to boil them and make a sweet drink. Once they were boiled, the water turned green and when you took a sip, it tasted very sweet" (S. Nutarakittuq 1990, interviewed by Eugene Amarualik, translated by Lucy Tapardjuk, quoted in Mallory and Aiken, 2004, p. 69).

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: hummocks, snow patches, slopes; solifluction slopes, moderately well-drained areas.

North American distribution. Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories Islands, continental Northwest Territories, Nunavut Islands, continental Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador. Arctic islands: Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, Parry islands (Bathurst, Eglington, Prince Patrick), Cornwallis, Banks, Victoria, Prince of Wales, Somerset, King William, Southampton, Coats (Amund Ringes, Ellef Ringnes, Loughead, Air Force, Bylot, Digges, Mill, Resolution and Salisbury islands, Boothia and Melville 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. Oxyria digyna is often deeply pigmented with abundant anthocyanic red pigment. The amount of pigment (or its occurrence in the coloured rather than the pale form) is genetically controlled in Oxyria digyna in which colour is rather constant, generally, within a clonal colony, but can vary sharply between clones (Savile 1972).

Russell (1940) performed ecological studies on arctic vegetation and found that O. digyna and Persicaria vivipara showed adequate carbon assimilation for increased growth but that low temperature and low nitrogen supply curbed the growth rate. Savile (1972) suggested that these restrictions halted growth soon enough to ensure adequate seed production in the short summer.

Porsild (1953) claimed that this species prefers somewhat shaded slopes and ravines, where snow accumulates during the winter and provides moisture that lasts throughout the growing season. In such places the fresh green leaves of the mountain sorrel may be found all summer. It responds wonderfully to manure, and in the rich soil under bird cliffs and near Eskimo dwelling may form large, luxurious beds. The succulent, juicy leaves and young stems are somewhat acid when raw, but most refreshing and thirst-quenching. When cooked, their flavour and appearance resembles spinach. In Greenland, a very tasty dish, not unlike stewed rhubarb, is prepared from the sweetened juice thickened with a small amount of rice or potato flour. The Eskimo of Greenland and Alaska eat the fresh leaves of the mountain sorrel mixed with seal blubber.

Illustrations. • Habitat: Baffin Island, Dorset. Plants growing in dense Low Arctic tundra with Poa glauca and fireweed. Note reddish inflorescences going to seed. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 4 August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Close-up of plant. Isolated plant growing with Trisetum spicatum on beach gravel. The species was common and often very lush around Dorset. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 2 August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Habitat: Banks Island. Plants growing in a gully on slumped soil. N.W.T., Banks Island, 6 miles west of Sachs Harbour. 25 July, 1981. J.M. Gillett 18828. • Habitat. Albino plants growing in sand dune beside the Thomsen River. N.W.T., Banks Island, Aulavik National Park. 11 July, 1999. Aiken 99–044. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Close-up of inflorescence. Albino inflorescence in bud. Flowers with anthers exposed. N.W.T., Banks Island, Aulavik National Park. 11 July, 1999. Aiken 99–044. CAN. • Close-up of inflorescence. Close-up of albino inflorescence with several flowers, green tepals, and three anthers per flower. N.W.T., Banks Island, Aulavik National Park. 11 July, 1999. Aiken 99–044. CAN. • Ocreate sheath. Close-up of ocreate sheath surrounding the stem and characteristic of members of this family. Nunavut, Rankin Inlet. 26 July, 1991. D.E. Brunton and K.L. McIntosh 10530. CAN 565171. • Close-up of leaves. Reniform shaped leaves and pink spike-like inflorescence. N.W.T., Banks Island, 6 miles west of Sachs Harbour. 25 July, 1981. J.M. Gillett 18828. • Pressed fruit. Fruit stalked with calyx persisting, each fruit a dry achene, distinctly flattened and with broad wings. Nunavut, Thelon River. 27 July, 1965. G.B. Rossbach 6883. CAN 329864. • Close-up of plant. Drawing by Mrs. S. Bergh and Mrs. L. Barstad based on a collection from Svalbard, Nathorst Land, Midterfjorden (Van Keulen Bay), Ýst for Hesselmanodden. 22 July, 1926. B. Lynge. O 207421. With permission of the Botanical Museum University of Oslo, Norway. • Close-up of fruit. Drawing by Mrs. S. Bergh and Mrs. L. Barstad based on a collection from Svalbard, Oscar ll Land, Kapp Boheman, Dryas-Cassiopetundra. 28 August, 1924. J. Lid. O 207454. With permission of the Botanical Museum University of Oslo, Norway. • 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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