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

Achillea millefolium L. subsp. borealis (Bong.) Breitung

English: Yarrow,

French: Achillée noirâtre.

Asteraceae (Compositae), Daisy family.

Published in Amer. Midl. Naturalist 58: 58. 1957.

Type: Described from Alaska: Sitka.

Synonymy. Achillea borealis Bong., Mém. Acad. Imp. Sci. St.-Pétersbourg, sér. 6, Sci. Math. 2: 149. 1833.

Achillea millefolium L. var. nigrescens E. Meyer, Pl. Labrad. 65. 1830.

Achillea nigrescens (E. Meyer) Rydberg, N. Amer. Fl. 34, 3: 221. 1916.

Vegetative morphology. Plants (10–)20–35 cm high; perennial herbs; never vegetatively proliferating by bulbils on stems or leaves, in inflorescences, from gemmiphores and gemmae, or by fragmentation. Only fibrous roots present. Ground level or underground stems horizontal; rhizomatous; elongate (not always present on herbarium specimens); 1–3 mm wide. Caudex absent. Aerial stems developed; erect. Aerial stem trichomes spreading. Leaves present; distributed along the stems; erect; alternate; dying annually and non-persistent. Petioles present (basal leaves), or absent (cauline leaves); (0–)10–60 mm long; not winged, or winged (slightly); hairy; pubescent. Petiole hairs longer than the diameter of the petiole; spreading; straight, or curved; smooth (multicellular). Leaf blades compound. Blades 20–60(–100) mm long, 5–10(–15) mm wide, spreading, veins pinnate. Blade adaxial surface glabrescent or hairy, hairs pilose or villous, hairs simple, hairs sparse or moderately dense, hairs white, or translucent. Blade abaxial surface glabrescent or hairy, hairs puberulent or pilose, hairs moderately dense or very dense, hairs white, hairs straight or curved, hairs spreading. Blade margins dentate or deeply divided (leaflets), with teeth all around the blade (bipinnate divisions with dentate margins or tripinnately divided); degree of incision 90–95%; apices acute. Leaflets (10–)15–60 (the origin of the name millefolium); 1–7(–10) mm long; 1–6 mm wide; linear, or lanceolate; veins inconspicuous. Apical leaflet base not distinctly stipitate.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems with leaves. Flowering stems hairy. Flowering stems pilose, or villous. Flowering stem hairs simple (floccose); shorter than the diameter of the flowering stem, or longer than the diameter of the flowering stem; white or translucent, or brown and yellow; glandular hairs present. Inflorescences of several flowering heads; globose or sub-globose; 1.5–10(–15) cm long; 15–50 mm wide. Flowering heads 4.5–6 mm deep; 4–8 mm wide; with disc and ray florets. Pedicels subtending flowering heads; with non-glandular hairs (with or without linear bract leaves associated with the involucre). Involucral bracts present. Number of rows 3–4. Outer involucral bracts with a green central portion and wide dark margins (broad, brown, scarious margins); lying adjacent to the flowers; lanceolate, or ovate; 2–4 mm high; (0.8–)1–2 mm wide; sparsely hairy; without glandular hairs. Inner involucral bracts lanceolate, or obovate; 2.5–3.5 mm high; 0.4–0.8 mm wide; margins narrow and scarious, less than one quarter of the bract; apex entire, or lacerate (or erose). Flowers radially symmetrical (actinomorphic) (disc florets), or bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic) (ray florets); unisexual (ray florets), or bisexual (disc florets). Sepals absent. Petals conventional; fused; 5; white, or pink (pale); 1.5–3 mm long. Corolla tubular, or funnel-form (disc florets), or flat, strap-like (ray florets); unlobed to 3-lobed. Ray florets 3–4; limb 4–5 mm long; limb 1.5–2 mm wide. Stamens 5. Anthers 1.3–1.5 mm long. Ovary inferior; carpels 2; syncarpous. Styles 1; 2.5–3 mm long. Stigmas per ovary 2. Placentation basal. Ovules per ovary 1. Fruit sessile; dry; cypselas; golden brown; 1–2 mm long; 0.4–0.6 mm wide; glabrous; surface appearing veinless; indehiscent. Seeds 1.

Chromosome information. 2n = 36 and 54.

2n (4x) = 36. Hedberg (1967, northern Canada, as A. millefolium s.l., listed by Löve and Löve 1975 as A. lanulosa); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska, listed by Löve and Löve 1975, as A. lanulosa);

2n (6x) = 54. Lawrence (1947, Alaska); Mulligan and Bassett (1959, Canada); Löve and Ritchie (1966, central Canada); Taylor and Mulligan (1968, western Canada); Bassett and Crompton (1973, Alaska); Löve and Löve (1982a, Arctic Canada).

Ploidy levels recorded 4x and 6x.

Phenology. Phenology: flowering late July and early August on Banks Island.

Indigenous knowledge. Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that the Gwich'in people used this plant for medicine. The whole plant including the flowers can be used to make a tea that relieves coughs and ulcers. A drink that prevents nosebleeds is made by boiling the white flowers in water for a few minutes. The white flowers can be crushed and placed in the nostrils to stop nosebleeds. The liquid from the boiled flowers can be used to soothe infected skin and sunburns, or dry up skin rashes including eczema. A paste made from crushed flowers can be applied to insect bites. Leaves and flowers can also be crushed into a paste and put on wounds to control bleeding.

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: along streams, river terraces, lakeshores, slopes, flood plains; imperfectly drained moist areas, moderately well-drained areas; gravel, sand, silt; with low organic content, with high organic content. Sand spits, sandy beaches, peat beach terraces.

North American distribution. Recorded from Banks Island, Masik River; sunny slopes on good soil; dry alluvials; M. Kuc, 1968 (CAN 385469). Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories Islands, continental Northwest Territories, continental Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago limited. Rare. Low Arctic, boreal (from Alaska to Newfoundland). Arctic islands: Banks.

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

General notes. The generic name Achillea is usually interpreted as a reference to Achilles, the legendary Greek hero of the Trojan War (about 1200 B.C.). He is said to have used the foliage of yarrow to stanch the flow of blood from wounded fellow soldiers. A less romantic interpretation of the genus name is that it commemorates a Greek doctor named Achilles who recorded the medicinal uses of the plant (Warwick and Black 1982).

Burt (2000) noted that the flowers of the yarrow are white to pinkish and tend to become pinker with age. The ray and disc petals are the same colour.

There are two records from Banks Island, mapped in Porsild and Cody (1980). The specimens were not recorded in Porsild (1957), and have not been found at CAN.

Elven in Elven et al. (2003) noted that "there are different opinions concerning this species or species group. Hultén (1968) and Hultén and Fries (1986) accepted three main northern entities:

Achillea millefolium s.s. in all of Eurasia and as introduced in Greenland and (non-arctic) North America,

Achillea lanulosa Nutt. as the main North American entity but mapped only north to southern Hudson Bay, and

Achillea borealis Bong. in all of northern (arctic and boreal) North America.

Hultén (1968b) described and mapped them as species but indicated that subspecies might be a better rank. This was the solution of Cody (1996) for American representatives in the Yukon. Russian sources (Tzvelev, in Yurtsev 1984) accept three species but with a different interpretation. Achillea millefolium s.s. is treated as a southern and northern Eurasiatic species barely penetrating the Arctic (and possibly not as a native). The northern Eurasiatic material is divided on (1) the northern European A. apiculata Orlova (that is included in Hultén's concept of A. millefolium) and (2) a strongly disjunct A. nigrescens (E. Meyer) Rydberg occurring in northeastern Russia to Chukotka (which according to Hultén is synonymous with his purely American A. borealis). These opinions have not yet been reconciled by an analysis of material."

Small and Catling (1999) reported that yarrow has long been used medicinally in both North America and Europe. Its reputation for healing wounds led to such common names as stanchweed, bloodwort, soldier’s bloodwort, nose bleed, and carpenter’s grass. Principal traditional uses besides stopping the flow of blood from wounds, included the treatment of fevers, the common cold, diarrhoea, dysentery, and hypertension. Yarrow has also been used in folk medicine as a cure for toothache, earache, and diseases of the lungs, bladder and kidney. Today, it is employed internally (as a tea, tincture, or pill) to treat gastrointestinal complaints (inflammation, diarrhoea, flatulence, cramps), and as a bitter aromatic (to stimulate appetite); and externally in poultices, lotions, and bath preparations. Young yarrow leaves are sometimes consumed (cooked or fresh) in salads (large amounts are said to turn urine brown). The leaves and flowers are used to flavour liqueurs, and were once substituted for hops to flavour beer. Yarrow also has insecticidal constituents (Chandler et al. 1982; Tunon et al. 1994).

Small and Catling (1999) noted that "well over 100 chemicals have been characterised in yarrow. Of greatest interest are the lactones, present in a volatile oil. A metabolic derivative of these, azulene, was once thought to be the constituent primarily responsible for the anti-inflammatory and antipruritic properties of yarrow. However, the medicinal value could be due to chamazulene, the sesquiterpene lactones, or other constituents such as tannins, menthol, camphor, sterols, and triterpenes. The antispasmodic activity of yarrow could be due to its flavonoids. The alkaloid achillenine is an active hemostatic agent, and may explain the traditional uses of checking bleeding of wounds and sores. It has been hypothesised that the salicylic acid derivatives eugenol, menthol, or similar compounds may produce local algesia and reduction of fever. The presence of thujone, a known abortifacient, might explain some of the traditional uses of yarrow associated with the female reproductive system (however, thujone is usually present only in limited amounts)." Small and Catling (1999, p. 9). The important constituent chamazule appears to be present in tetraploid plants only (Bélanger and Dextraze 1992). The volatile constituents in Achillea vary in relation to the infraspecific variation within the species (Kokkalou et al. 1992).

"Yarrow was once used in Ireland for love divination: young girls would cultivate a yarrow plant and subsequently place it beneath their pillow so that they would dream of their sweetheart. It was brought by bridesmaids to weddings to ensure 7 years of love. The closest that research has come to supporting such uses is the finding that the volatile oil of yarrow causes a sexual response in male cockroaches" (Small and Catling 1999, p. 10).

Illustrations. • Plant in environment. Plant with white flowers, growing between the markers. Manitoba, Churchill. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Close-up of plant. Plant with white flowers in the same habitat as the plant with pink flowers (see next image). Manitoba, Churchill. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Close-up of plant with pink flowers. Plant with pink flowering heads. Manitoba, Churchill. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Closer-up of inflorescence. Flowering head, capitulescence of flowering heads, capitula, each with prominent pink ray florets and tiny cream-coloured disc florets. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. • Close-up of capitulum. Close-up of capitulum with prominent pink ray petals and small paler petals on the disc florets that have yellow anthers. Manitoba, Churchill. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. • Close-up of white inflorescence. Inflorescence with white petals. The plants were growing adjacent to ones with pink flowers. Manitoba, Churchill. Aiken and Brysting 01–002. CAN. • 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.