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Northern Milkvetch

Oxytropis lapponica

  • Written also: Northern Milk-vetch
  • Family: Pea Family – Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Taproot erect–oblique.
  • Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in.). Stem limp–ascending, branched from base, smoothly haired.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, blue–bluish violet or occasionally white, 8–12 mm (0.32–0.48 in.) long. Petals 5; the upstanding the ‘standard’, the lateral two the ‘wings’, the lower two united to form the ‘keel’, overall shape of corolla being butterfly-like. Keel tapered, sharp-pointed. Calyx 5-lobed, black-hairy. Stamens 10, filaments with fused bases. A single carpel. Inflorescence in axils, a long-stalked, dense, 7–9-flowered raceme.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade pinnate, 7–10 pairs, with terminal leaflet. Leaflets lanceolate–narrowly elliptic, tapered, with entire margins, grey-haired. Stipules partly fused.
  • Fruit: 18–25 mm (0.72–1.0 in.) long, sharp-tipped, black-haired, unilocular, usually an 8-seeded pod (legume).
  • Habitat: Fell moors, scree slopes.
  • Flowering time: June.
  • Endangerment: Critically endangered, protected in all of Finland.

Northern milkvetch is so rare in Finland that it has sometimes been in doubt if it still grows here or not. The reason that it is so rare is probably that it is so demanding: northern milkvetch needs a highly calciferous soil, of which there isn’t much in Finnish Lapland, except on the north-western corner. The species usually grows in the fell tundra belt in the whipping wind, in places where a little snow lies through the winter and conditions are extremely harsh, but on the other hand the thin snow covering melts early in the spring. In summer they stand out in the landscape, often in scantly vegetated gravel patches. The only known stand in Finland is 660 metres up Saana Fell, but the species has also been found in e.g. Mall National Park, where those who are interested would be well advised to keep their eyes peeled.

Northern milkvetch looks a lot like alpine milkvetch (Astragalus alpinus). There are not many differences, and they are usually impractical to investigate on site. Alpine milkvetch’s corolla’s keel is however always tipless, while northern milkvetch’s is sharp-pointed. There are also differences in the shape and hairiness of the leaflets.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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