Thursday, July 9, 2015

Botanizing in Alaska: Mountain Avens

The Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) is a circum-arctic subshrub, growing up to a meter across while reaching only a few centimeters tall. The flowers typically have eight petals (hence the name octopetala) and track the arctic sun as it rolls around the summer sky. This heliotropism is thought to help the flower warm up so it can mature its seeds more quickly. There are several subspecies, including the Alaskan form (D. octopetala ssp. alaskensis), but little information is available about the differences between the forms.

Since I found them after the flowers were long gone, identification was a bit trickier. The seed-heads reminded me of those from the Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla), so I started my searches there. The leaves are distinctly different, however, so I meandered into looking at images of arctic wildflowers from Alaska until I found an image that had the right leaves. I was lucky in that the site included an ID of the plant, which I rapidly confirmed elsewhere.

Supposedly the plant takes well to garden culture, though its short-stature would make it sensitive to being overgrown by aggressive weeds when in a warmer climate. I did collect a few seeds, so I hope to see how it does here.