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

Phippsia algida (Sol.) R. Br.

English: Ice grass,

French: Phippsie arctique,

Inuktitut: Iviit, ivisuka, ivitsuskaka.

Poaceae, Grass family.

Published in Chlor. Melvill. 27. 1823.

Type: Described from Svalbard, Spitzbergen. Holotype: BM.

Synonymy. Agrostis algida Sol. in Phipps, Voy. North Pole 200. 1774.

Catabrosa algida (Sol.) Fr., Nov. Fl. Suec. Mant. 3: 174. 1843.

Phippsia algida f. vestita Holmb., Bot. Not. 130. 1924.

Catabrosa algida f. vestita (Holmb.) Polunin, Bull. Natl. Mus. Canada 92 (Biol. Ser. 24): 62. 1940.

Vegetative morphology. Plants (2–)3.5–15 cm high; perennial herbs; caespitose. Only fibrous roots present. Ground level or underground stems absent. Aerial stems prostrate (vegetatively), or erect (at anthesis). Leaves distributed along the stems, or mainly basal (appearing basal in plants less than 5 cm high, cauline in plants 12–20 cm); alternate; marcescent. Prophylls 4–10 mm long; with smooth veins; lacking pronounced keels (veins prominent, but not keeled). Petioles absent. Sheaths present; with the margins fused only in the lower part; glabrous; sheath collars present. Ligules present; (0.3–)0.5–1(–1.6) mm long; membranous; glabrous; triangular. Ligule apices acute; entire. Leaves grass-like. Blades 6–28 mm long, 1.2–3 mm wide (when flat), appressed to the stem or spreading, folded in bud, linear, flat or folded, veins parallel, midvein conspicuously larger than the lateral veins or midvein similar in size to other veins in the leaf, bulliform cells in distinct rows on either side of the midvein. Blade adaxial surface glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems two or more per plant. Flowering stems circular or oval in cross section. Flowering stems with leaves; not rooting at the lower nodes (culms often forming a flat mat against the tundra early in the season, becoming erect at anthesis); culm nodes not exposed. Flag leaf sheaths not inflated (uppermost culm leaf sheath somewhat inflated). Inflorescences paniculate; dense; linear, or ovate (branches appressed usually, or spreading, particularly at anthesis); (0.5–)1–2(–3) cm long; 3–7 mm wide. Inflorescences main axis glabrous. Number of inflorescence branches at lowest node 3–8. Inflorescence primary branches (0.9–)3–8(–9.5) mm long; glabrous; with appressed secondary branches. Spikelets disarticulating above the glumes; lanceolate to ovate (less than 2 timjes longer than wide); (1.5–)3–7(–10) mm long; 0.5–0.8 mm wide. Florets per spikelet 1. Two glumes present (glumes caducous (falling early)). First glume 0.6–0.7 × the length of the second glume; 0.2–0.3 × spikelet length; (0.05–)0.3–0.5 mm long; ovate; glabrous; margins glabrous; veins 0; apex obtuse. Second glume 0.4 × as long as the spikelet or less; shorter than the lowest floret; 0.5–0.7 mm long. Second glume ovate. Second glume glabrous; veins 0. Lemma ovate (broadly so); 1.3–1.9 mm long; rounded on the back (floret laterally compressed, but not strongly keeled); surface dull; surface glabrous, or hairy (on the lower third, soft, fine hairs if present are on the veins); surface with trichomes on veins only; veins 1–3; apex acute, or rounded; apex entire, or lacerate; apex glabrous, or ciliate (sparsely); awnless. Palea well developed; (1.1–)1.2–1.9 mm long; veins glabrous. Flowers bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic). Perianth represented by lodicules. Stamens 3. Anthers splitting longitudinally. Anthers 0.5–0.6 mm long (only 1–2 anthers). Ovary superior; carpels 3; syncarpous. Ovaries glabrous. Styles 2. Placentation basal. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit sessile; dry; a caryopsis; ovoid (caryopsis uniformly broadly ovate); 1–1.4 mm long; 0.4–0.5 mm wide (broadly ovate-obovate); indehiscent. Seeds 1.

Chromosome information. 2n = 28 (4x). Nannfeldt (1937); Flovik (1938, 1940, Svalbard); Sørensen and Westergaard in Löve and Löve (1948, Greenland?); Knaben (1950, southern Norway); Holmen (1952, Greenland); Sokolovskaya (1955); Löve and Löve (1956, Iceland); Jørgensen et al. (1958, Greenland); Bowden (1960a, northern Canada); Sokolovskaya and Strelkova (1960); Hedberg (1962a, northern Canada); Zhukova (1966, 1969 northeastern Asia; 1980 southern Chukotka); Mosquin and Hayley (1966 northern Canada); Knaben and Engelskjøn (1967, northern Norway); Johnson and Packer (1968, northwestern Alaska); Knaben (1968, Alaska); Zhukova and Petrovsky (1972, northeastern Asia); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska); Vestre in Engelskjøn (1979, southern Norway); Dalgaard (1988, western Greenland).

Taxon as an environmental indicator. This species is an early coloniser of disturbed soil. It occurs on otherwise bare ground around the town of Iqaluit, Baffin Island, particularly close to human habitation by the shoreline. In this town, when Phippsia was found away from the shoreline, the area had been built up with material brought in from near the beach. Phippsia was observed 350 m above sea level on Melville Island as the only vascular plant present in a rocky area where even lichens were sparse. On Axel Heiberg Island, the Sawtooth Range of Ellesmere Island, and on Lower Savage Island (off southeastern Baffin Island), this species was found in 1999 in moist meadows and in snow patch areas up to 550–800 m above sea level. These areas are not recently disturbed and are also populated with Festuca, Braya, Saxifraga cernua, S. hirculus, Poa abbreviata, and an abundance of mosses.

This species is usually perennial, but may be annual in some extreme environments having sufficient growing season for seed production in a single year. Weber (personal communication, 1999) has found annual plants in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado


Ecology and habitat. Substrates: hummocks, snow patches, river terraces, tundra (and disturbed habitats), ridges, seashores; imperfectly drained moist areas, seepage slopes (and seepage areas), dry (CAN 30699); rocks (sandstone and its rubble), gravel, sand, silt, clay, till; peat (collected in bogs around lakes, CAN 503755); acidic, or calcareous (alkaline till), or nitrophilous. Above high tide line. This is one of the first grasses to flower and set seed, which may contribute to it being an early coloniser of disturbed zones, both those made by human activities and those associated with permanent or late-lying snowbeds. Phippsia algida is highly nitrophilous, can tolerate highly alkaline soils, peat, imperfectly drained silts, and clays, such as mudflats in ephemeral river channels. It is found along lake shores at the base of colluvial slopes, in sandy and marshy places, generally on neutral to weakly alkaline terrain.

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. High Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, Parry islands (Bathurst, Eglington, Emerald, Loughead, Melville, Prince Patrick), Cornwallis, Banks, Victoria, Prince of Wales, Somerset, Southampton, Coats (Ellef Ringnes, Meighen, Resolution, Winter Islands and Melville Peninsula).

Northern hemisphere distribution. Circumpolar. 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. Canadian specimens of Phippsia that have lemmas with a few conspicuous hairs towards the base, but do not otherwise conform to P. concinna, may be assigned to f. vestita Holmb.

Grulke and Bliss (1988), in a study of comparative life history characteristics of two High Arctic grasses, noted that Phippsia algida is a ruderal species that colonises bare soil in mesic sites, but also occurs across a broad range of habitats. Phippsia was observed to experience more frequent and severe drought stress at less extreme physical conditions than Puccinellia vaginata, the species it was being compared with. Drought stress and low temperatures reduced whole plant biomass of Phippsia of all ages in the study. Grulke and Bliss (1988) found that Phippsia was relatively short-lived (living on average 23 years and a maximum of 34 years). They noted that the mean age of initial reproduction was relatively late when compared to temperate species, that is, 17 ± 6 years. Under all the field conditions monitored Phippsia had high, constant seed set. In short growing seasons, Phippsia continued high carbon allocation to reproduction, but also had high rates of plant mortality. The authors concluded that Phippsia algida has many characteristics of a ruderal and fills this role in a High Arctic ecosystem.

Bell and Bliss (1978) estimated that the roots of P. algida live 1.5 years. On three separate occasions Aiken has found plants of Phippsia to be one of the most difficult grasses to transplant to a greenhouse in the south. Although several plants were brought south, they did not survive more than 2–3 weeks after being removed from an arctic environment. The late Dr. Eilif Dahl and students investigated this plant and found it to be very susceptible to high temperatures. Its lethal temperature limit was lower than for most other arctic-alpine plants. It is therefore not surprising that it did not survive transplantation in the south (Elven, personal communication, 2005).

This species is possibly the first arctic grass to flower and set seed and appears to do so before mid-August in most habitats. On Herschel Island in July 1988, Phippsia had flowered and was setting seed before other grasses in the area were at anthesis.

In the former Soviet Union this species is considered to produce good pasture plants when fertilised (Tzvelev 1976). In Canada, the usually small plants, 5–10 cm high, are larger when they receive additional nutrients; see, for example, plants growing near the sewage lagoon in Iqaluit.

Aares et al. (2000) studied phylogeographic and taxonomic relations among 54 North Atlantic populations of Phippsia using isozyme techniques and genetically based morphological variation and found that their results supported the recognition of two distinct species, P. algida and P. concinna, the latter with at least two subspecies. They stated that both of these self-fertilising arctic pioneer species were genetic allotetraploids almost without intra-populational variation. Also, the two species showed strikingly different phylogeographies in the North Atlantic region in spite of their similarity in morphology, habitat ecology, mating system, and dispersal ecology, and in spite of their present co-occurrence in many geographic areas, sometimes even in the same snowbeds. The same electrophoretic multilocus phenotype was observed in all populations of P. algida, and although this species showed considerable morphological variation, the variation was unstructured geographically. They concluded that P. algida showed a pattern similar to other arctic species investigated in the North Atlantic region and that it has probably dispersed postglacially across the sea barriers between Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, and Scandinavia. In contrast, P. concinna was virtually fixed for different multilocus phenotypes in the three main geographic areas analysed (southern and northern Norway, Svalbard, Greenland), corresponding to fairly distinct divergence in morphology. The pattern suggested (i) absence of postglacial, between area dispersal in this species, and (ii) that it may have immigrated to the North Atlantic region from different source areas and/or survived the last glaciation in situ.

Steen et al. (2004) reported on evidence from Svalbard plants for the hybrid origin of the arctic × Pucciphippsia vacillans (Poaceae).

Illustrations. • Habitat: Cape Dorset. Isolated plants with prostrate inflorescences on the beach gravel. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 2 August, 2005. Aiken. No voucher. • Habitat. This grass is an early coloniser of disturbed, often moist, habitats. Quebec, Mine Raglan. 10 August, 1994. J. Cayouette. DAO. • Plant habit. Plants growing on wet, calcareous silt in the flood plain of a stream. Inflorescences becoming erect as they approach anthesis. Ellesmere Island, Scoresby Bay. Aiken 98–023. Photograph by Mollie MacCormac. • Close-up of plant. Plant growing in a wet hummocky meadow at base of glacier. Inflorescences lying flat on the ground where it is warmer and out of the wind. Nunavut, Axel Heiberg Island, Bukken River, 8031.57'N, 9221.83'W. 4 August, 1999. L.J. Gillespie 6611, L.L. Consaul and R.J. Soreng. CAN. Photograph by L. Consaul. • Close-up of inflorescence. Inflorescence approaching anthesis, with fluffy white stigmas exposed and solid pale yellow anthers beginning to show in the uppermost florets. The lemmas are red and the caducous glumes have already fallen. Nunavut, Axel Heiberg Island. L.J. Gillespie 6611, L.L. Consaul and R.J. Soreng. CAN. Photograph by L. Consaul. • Close-up of inflorescence. Post-anthesis inflorescence, with fruits forming. Note the caryopsis are yellow and the lemmas are red. Nunavut, Axel Heiberg Island, 8031.57'N, 9221.83'W. 4 August, 1999. L.J. Gillespie 6611, L.L. Consaul and R.J. Soreng. CAN. Photograph by L. Consaul. • 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.