Draba nivalis snow whitlowgrass

Alaska Wildflowers | White

Draba nivalis yellow arctic draba

Draba nivalis snow whitlowgrass

Common Names

drabe des neiges
snow draba
snow whitlowgrass
yellow arctic draba
yellow arctic whitlow-grass

Synonyms

Draba caesia
Draba nivalis var. nivalis
Draba nivalis var. canadica

Subspecies

none

Genus: Draba
Family: Brassicaceae
Order: Brassicales
taxonomic heirarchy

Etymology

Scientific Name: Draba nivalis

The genus name Draba is derived from the Greek word “drabe,” meaning “sharp” or “acrid.” This refers to the taste (and/or shape) of the leaves of some species in this genus. The specific epithet nivalis comes from the Latin word “nivalis,” meaning “of or relating to snow.” This refers to the plant’s typical habitat in snowy, alpine, and arctic regions.



Common Names: Yellow Arctic Draba and Snow Whitlowgrass

Draba nivalis is commonly known by two different names: “Yellow Arctic Draba” and “Snow Whitlowgrass.”

  • Yellow Arctic Draba: This name highlights the plant’s arctic habitat and its common yellow flower color. However, this can be misleading since Draba nivalis itself typically has white flowers, and there are many other Draba species in Alaska with yellow flowers.
  • Snow Whitlowgrass (or snow draba): This name is preferred in this guide to avoid confusion. “Whitlowgrass” is a general term for plants in the Draba genus known for their small, often sharp-pointed leaves. The addition of “snow” effectively differentiates Draba nivalis from other species within the genus, emphasizing its typical snowy and alpine habitat. This common name is also used by iNaturalist.

There are many species of Draba in Alaska, most of which have yellow or white flowers. Given that Draba nivalis has white flowers, the name “Snow Whitlowgrass” is more descriptive and avoids the confusion that could arise from calling a white-flowered plant “yellow.”

It is worth noting that both ITIS and VASCAN list “Snow Draba” as the accepted vernacular name, while many other sources and floras refer to it as “Yellow Arctic Draba.”

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

There are many Drabas in Alaska. Hultén lists 34 species of Draba, not including subspecies. Some are very difficult to tell apart and separate into individual species. In some cases, descriptions of species vary in different technical floras.

Draba nivalis, commonly known as snow whitlowgrass, snow draba, or yellow arctic draba, is a small, tufted perennial herb in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It grows from a taproot and a branched caudex. The horizontal stems at ground level are branched, forming a mat. Most of the leaves are basal, alternate, and die annually. The leaf blades are 3-12 mm long, oblong-obovate, with greyish stellate (star-like) hairs, inconspicuous veins or single veins, and entire margins. The aerial flowering stems are unbranched, erect, 3-12 cm tall (up to 20 cm), and either do not have leaves or have a single small leaf blade.

The inflorescence is a terminal raceme of 3-12 flowers (3-9 according to FNA). The raceme is 1-6 mm long (up to 11 mm, elongating with age). It has four 1.5-2 mm long ovate, pubescent sepals and four white, spatulate to oblanceolate petals 2-4 mm long. It has six stamens with ovate anthers. The fruit is a 4-8mm (variable in size) long silique (long narrow fruit), elliptic to narrowly oblong-elliptic, or lance-linear in shape, and mostly hairless.


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Uses

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

No traditional, medicinal, or culinary uses were found for Draba nivalis.

However, other species within the Draba genus do have documented traditional uses. For example, Draba reptans has been used by Native American tribes for treating ailments such as colds and sore throats. Additionally, Draba verna was traditionally used as a food source by some indigenous communities.

For more detailed information on the traditional uses of various Draba species, you can visit the Native American Ethnobotany Database here.


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Distribution and Habitat

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

Draba nivalis has a circumpolar distribution across Canada and Alaska (but none of the lower 48 states), Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Scandinavia, and Russia.

Snow whitlowgrass is a mountainous species, often found on rocky slopes, scree, dry meadows, and river terraces in alpine and subalpine zones.

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 
SuperorderRosanae 
OrderBrassicales 
FamilyBrassicaceae (mustards, moutardes, crucifers)
GenusDraba L. (draves, whitlowgrass)
SpeciesDraba nivalis Lilj. (snow draba, snow whitlowgrass, yellow arctic draba)

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

none (See Hultén below)

Classification and Taxonomy

Canadensys. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/taxon/4016?lang=en

ITIS. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=22895#null

USDA NRCS. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=DRNI

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database. (2024). Draba search results. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=draba

Map and Distribution

GBIF. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/3049612

NatureServe Explorer. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.134489/Draba_nivalis

Plants of the World Online. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:282868-1

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Draba_nivalis

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 523). Stanford University Press.

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Center for Conservation Science. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=750

E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Draba%20nivalis&redblue=Both&lifeform=7

Canadian Museum of Nature. (2024). Draba nivalis. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://nature.ca/aaflora/data/www/badrni.htm

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