White Arctic Mountain Heather – Cassiope tetragona

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Alaska Wildflowers | White

White Arctic Mountain Heather

White arctic mountain heather

Cassiope tetragona

Common Names

4-angled Cassiope
arctic bell-heather
arctic white heather
fire moss
white arctic mountain heather

Synonyms

none

Subspecies

Cassiope tetragona var. saximontana
Cassiope tetragona var. tetragona

Genus: Cassiope
Family: Ericaceae
Order: Ericales
Full Classification

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Shrub/subshrub

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Identification and Information

White arctic mountain heather is a mat-forming perennial sub-shrub. It is hermaphroditic (containing both male and female reproductive parts). The stems are decumbent (on the ground) to erect, forming a mat, and are covered in overlapping evergreen leaves that form a scaly pattern around the stem (imbricate). The leaves are simple, 2-6 mm long, narrowly triangular, and arranged in rows of 4 around the stem.

The flowers arise from pedicels emerging from between the leaves. The pedicels are about twice the length of the leaves and have one flower per pedicel. There may be multiple flowers per stem. The flower has 5 yellow or green sepals, about 2 mm long. The white petals are connate with spreading tips. The petals are united, forming a bell-shaped corolla. The corolla contains 5 ovaries and 10 stamens.

There are two subspecies found in North America. Cassiope tetragona ssp. tetragona with pedicels that extend beyond the branch tips and with larger flowers and Cassiope tetragona ssp. saximontana with pedicels not extending beyond the branch tips and smaller corollas (4-6 mm).

Uses

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

White arctic mountain heather is used primarily as a fuel source for fire building as it can be used as a tinder even when it is green, frozen, or wet due to high resin content. It’s known by Inuit as itsutit (fuel for the fire) or plantiksutit (wood fetched).

There are no known food or medicinal uses. Flora of North America describes the flowers as “tasting awful”.

Distribution and Habitat

Cassiope tetragona has a widespread circumboreal distribution. It’s a very common plant in Alaska, northern Canada, Scandinavia, and northern Russia.

White arctic mountain heather frequently grows in alpine tundra and on ridges.

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)
                              GenusCassiope D. Don (mountain heather, moss heather)
                                 SpeciesCassiope tetragona (white arctic mountain heather)
 Direct Children:
                                    VarietyCassiope tetragona var. saximontana (white arctic mountain heather)
                                    VarietyCassiope tetragona var. tetragona (white arctic mountain heather)

References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 66 (mentioned under moss heather)

Classification and Taxonomy

C. tetragona (L.) D. Don Taxonomic Serial No.: 23535, ITIS Database

C. tetragona (L.) D. Don, white arctic mountain heather, USDA Database

Uses

C. tetragona (L.) D. Don, Native American Ethnobotany Database

Map and Distribution

C. tetragona (L.) D.Don Published in: Edinburgh New Philos. J. 17: 158 (1834), GBIF Database

Description and Information

C. tetragona : Arctic White Heather, Central Yukon Species Inventory Project

1. C. tetragona (Linnaeus) D. Don, Edinburgh New Philos. J. 17: 158. 1834., Flora of North America

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