|Arctic Willow foliage and male catkins|
Salix arctica (arctic willow) is a tiny creeping willow (family Salicaceae). It is adapted to survive in harsh Arctic and subarctic environments, and has a circumpolar distribution round the Arctic Ocean.
The arctic willow grows in tundra and rocky moorland, and is the northernmost woody plant in the world, occurring far above the tree line to the northern limit of land on the north coast of Greenland.
It also occurs further south in North America on high-altitude alpine tundra, south to the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico, and in Asia to Xinjiang in China.
S. arctica is typically a low shrub growing to only 1–15 cm (0.39–5.9 in) in height (rarely to 25 cm (9.8 in) high), but in the Pacific Northwest, it may reach 50 cm (20 in) in height, and has round, shiny green leaves 1–4 cm (0.39–1.6 in) long and broad, rarely up to 8 centimetres (3.1 in) long and 6 cm (2.4 in) broad; they are pubescent, with long silky, silvery hairs. Like the rest of the willows, arctic willow is dioecious, with male and female catkins on separate plants. As a result, the plant's appearance varies; the female catkins are red-coloured, while the male catkins are yellow-coloured.
Both the Inuit and the Gwich’in make use of this willow. Twigs would be used as fuel, while the decayed flowers (suputiit) could be mixed with moss and used as wicking in the kudlik. The plant was used for several medicinal purposes, such as relieving toothache, helping to stop bleeding, curing diarrhoea and indigestion and used as poultice on wounds. Both the Gwich’in and Inuit in the Bathurst Inlet area were known to eat parts of the arctic willow, which is high in vitamin C and tastes sweet.
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Salix arctica
- Salicaceae of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Salix arctica
- Flora Europaea: Salix arctica
- Jepson Flora: Salix arctica
- Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, S.G. Aiken, M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, C.L. McJannet, L.J. Gillespie, R.L. Boles, G.W. Argus, J.M. Gillett, P.J. Scott, R. Elven, M.C. LeBlanc, A.K. Brysting and H. Solstad. 1999 onwards. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version: 29th April 2003. http://www.mun.ca/biology/delta/arcticf/.