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

Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.

English: Goldthread, goldenroot, yellow snake-root,

French: Savoyane, coptide trifoliolée.

Ranunculaceae, Buttercup family.

Published in Trans. Linn. Soc. London 8: 305. 1807.

Type: Described from "Canada, Sibiria.

Synonymy. Helleborus trifolius L., Sp. Pl. 558. 1753.

Coptis groenlandica (Oeder) Fernald, Rhodora 31: 142. 1929.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 3–6 cm high; perennial herbs; not caespitose. Only fibrous roots present. Ground level or underground stems horizontal; rhizomatous; elongate (bright yellow to orange). Caudex present (thin). Aerial stems erect. Leaves present; arising singly from creeping rhizomes; alternate; persistent. Stipules absent. Petioles 25–35 mm long. Leaf blades compound (ternate). Blades 8–14 mm long, 15–20 mm wide. Blade adaxial surface without sessile glands, glabrous. Blade abaxial surface glabrous. Blades lobed (slightly, towards the apex). Blade margins serrulate or serrate. Leaflet arrangement palmate. Leaflets 3; obovate.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems solitary; without leaves. Flowers solitary (usually equal to or taller than the leaves at anthesis). Flowers medium-sized. Sepals conventional; 5–7; free; 1–4 mm long (spreading, oblanceolate, to obovate or elliptic); 4–7 mm wide; yellow (yellowish), or white; petaloid. Calyx glabrous. Petals conventional; free; 5; yellow (inconspicuous and yellowish green); oblanceolate (clavate); unlobed; 5–10 mm long; 1.5–3 mm wide. Stamens 30–60; stamen filaments glabrous. Anthers 0.18–0.22 mm long. Nectaries present (on apex of the petals). Ovary carpels 4 (-7); apocarpous. Stipes 0.1–0.3 mm long. Stigmas per ovary 1. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit stalked (stipe equal to or longer than the elliptic body); dry; an aggregate of follicles; ellipsoid; yellowish; 4–7 mm long; 1–2 mm wide; dehiscent. Styles remaining straight (or curved; beak 2–4 mm long). Seeds 3–5 (per carpel); 1–1.5 mm long; brown; surfaces smooth.

Chromosome information. 2n = 18.

2n (2x) = 18. Kurita (1956a); Sokolovskaya (1963, Russia); Löve and Löve (1966b, northestern USA; 1982, central Canada); Taylor and Mulligan (1968, western Canada); Pojar (1973, western Canada); Nishikawa (1980, Japan); Plante (1996, eastern Canada, as C. groenlandica).

Ploidy levels recorded 2x.

Indigenous knowledge. Native Americans used various preparations made from the roots medicinally for stomach aches, jaundice, sore mouths and throats, gum problems, worms, vomiting, sore eyes, teething, and as an astringent (Moerman 1986).

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: imperfectly drained moist areas; peat. In sheltered turfy places or in leaf mould under willows.

North American distribution. Alaska, Nunavut Islands, northern Quebec, Labrador. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago limited. Rare. Arctic, boreal. Arctic islands: Baffin.

Northern hemisphere distribution. North American, or Pacific. West Alaska, Labrador – Hudson Bay, West Greenland, East Greenland.

General notes. Ford (1997, p. 245) noted that ‘Fernald (1929) treated plants from Greenland and eastern North America as C. groenlandica and those from Alaska and eastern Asia as C. trifolia. He did concede that intermediates occur. Hultén (1937a) treated the two taxa as subspecies but concluded that C. trifolia subsp. trifolia was restricted to the Aleutian Islands in North America… Hultén (1944) later revised this decision, concluding that the differences between the two subspecies were too slight to warrant their continued recognition. Finally, R.L. Taylor and G.A. Mulligan (1968), in their study of North American Coptis, found that the two subspecies could be distinguished on the basis of sepals and seed shape; subsp. trifolia, having clawed petals and quadrate seeds; subsp. groenlandica, possessing sepals that gradually narrow towards the base and round seeds. Petiolule length, sepal width, and the length-to-width ratio of the nectary, follicle body and beak length, and sepal and seed shape have been used most commonly to distingush these two taxa.’ Ford (1997) compared herbarium specimens from the Aleutian Islands and the rest of North America and eastern Asia and concluded that no distinction could be made.

Illustrations. • Herbarium specimen. Plants with horizontal creeping stems. N.W.T., Baralzon Lake, 60N, 9810'W. 2 August, 1950. H.J. Scoggan 8360 and W.K.W. Baldwin. CAN 202524. • Close-up of Southhampton plant. Flowering plant: Nunavut, Southampton Island, Salmon Pond. 10 July, 1970. CAN 368131. • 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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