Andromeda polifolia
bog rosemary

Alaska Wildflowers | White

Andromeda polifolia bog rosemary

Andromeda polifolia
bog rosemary

Common Names

andromède à feuilles de polium
andromède
bog rosemary
dwarf bog rosemary
marsh holy rose
northern bog rosemary

Synonyms

none

Subspecies

Andromeda polifolia var. latifolia
Andromeda polifolia var. polifolia
Andromeda polifolia var. ×jamesiana

Genus: Andromeda
Family: Ericaceae
Order: Ericales
taxonomic heirarchy

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Shrub/subshrub

Identification and Information

Andromeda polifolia, commonly known as bog rosemary, is a small, pink shrub or subshrub growing from creeping rootstocks. It grows 5-80 cm tall with ascending branches. Its linear leaves are evergreen, hairless, sharp-pointed, leathery with deep veins and margins rolled under, and resemble rosemary leaves (but should not be consumed as A. polifolia is toxic–see below). The leaves are dull green above and lighter or white beneath and alternately arranged on brown stems.



The inflorescence comprises 2-6 nodding flowers clustered at the branch tips. The flowers are perfect, pink, lightening with age, bell or urn-shaped, and 5-7 mm long. The sepals initially overlap (valvate) in the bud, becoming wide-spreading as the flowers open, displaying a transition from whitish to reddish hues, particularly along the margins. The sepals measure less than 2 mm long, with a blunt to acute apex. The petals forming the 4-7mm corolla are short, spreading, or slightly recurved. The fruits are 5-valved, round capsules.

Of the two varieties of A. polifolia, only var. polifolia is typically found in Alaska. This variety is distinguished by its shorter leaf blades (1-4 cm), which are often white-glaucous on the abaxial (underside) surface and generally glabrous. The flowers of var. polifolia are smaller, typically 5-7 mm in corolla size, and are presented in corymbs of 2-3 (sometimes 4) flowers. These are usually erect or lax and are borne on erect or ascending branchlets with longer pedicels ranging from 10-20 mm.


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

Andromeda polifolia contains andromedotoxin (also known as grayanotoxin), a compound prevalent in the health family (Ericaceae) and known to cause low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and gastrointestinal distress.

Historically, the leaves of Andromeda polifolia have been used to make sun tea. However, it is important to note that boiling or infusing the leaves in hot water releases toxins. There are also references to its use as a respiratory aid, particularly for loosening phlegm, though specific methods and preparations are not well documented.

Disclaimer: While this information is provided for historical and educational purposes, I strongly advise against using Andromeda polifolia for any medicinal or culinary applications due to the significant health risks associated with its toxins. This information is presented solely to acknowledge traditional uses and not as an endorsement of such practices.


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Andromeda polifolia has a circumboreal distribution found in Alaska, Canada, some northern and eastern states in the US, and across Eurasia.

It’s most commonly found in black spruce muskeg, fens, and bogs.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
ClassMagnoliopsida 
SuperorderAsteranae 
OrderEricales 
FamilyEricaceae (heaths, éricacées)
GenusAndromeda L. (bog rosemary)
SpeciesAndromeda polifolia L. (bog rosemary)
 Direct Children:
VarietyAndromeda polifolia var. latifolia Aiton (bog rosemary)
VarietyAndromeda polifolia var. polifolia L. (bog rosemary)

Etymology

The genus name ‘Andromeda’ was coined by Carl Linnaeus during his 1732 expedition to Lapland, where he was struck by the plant’s beauty amidst the stark bog landscapes. He poetically likened it to the mythological figure Andromeda, famously chained to a rock, referring to the plant’s rooted presence in the inhospitable bog environment. Linnaeus’s reflection on the plant’s struggle amidst the bog’s desolation echoed the sentiment of Andromeda’s plight, captured in his phrase “frozen by the cruel chains of ice” from his publication Flora Lapponica. The species epithet ‘polifolia’ comes from Johann Christian Buxbaum’s pre-Linnaean term derived from Johann Bauhin’s use of ‘polium-like leaves.’ While the exact plant Bauhin referred to as ‘polium’ is uncertain, it might have been Teucrium montanum. The common name ‘bog rosemary’ is due to the plant’s leaves resembling those of the culinary rosemary, despite not being closely related.


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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 19). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 71). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Brandenburg, D. M. 2010. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. Sterling Publishing. (p. 193)

Classification and Taxonomy

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=23465#null

Canadensys. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/taxon/5487?lang=en

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=ANPO

Etymology

Wikipedia contributors. “Andromeda polifolia.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_polifolia.

Delehanty, R. “Adirondack Shrubs: Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia).” Wild Adirondacks. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://wildadirondacks.org/adirondack-shrubs-bog-rosemary-andromeda-polifolia.html.

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/237/

Schoefield. (2020). Alaska’s Wild Plants (p. 181). Alaska’s Northwest Books.

Map and Distribution

“GBIF. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/5333413

NatureServe Explorer. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.148743/Andromeda_polifolia

“Plants of the World Online. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:30021967-2

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Andromeda_polifolia

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Center for Conservation Science. (n.d.). Andromeda polifolia. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=54

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 727). Stanford University Press.

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