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Alpine Catsfoot

Antennaria alpina

  • Name also: Alpine Pussytoes, Alpine Cat’s-foot
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Asteroideae
    (formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 2–20 cm (0.8–8 in.). Stem unbranched, sparsely–densely haired. With runners, forms mat-like stands.
  • Flower: Plant dioecious (male and female flowers on different plants), male plants very rare. Single flower-like capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitulum lacking ray-florets, disc florets white, tubular. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts overlapping, base greenish, hairy, tip membranous, often with ragged margins, lanceolate and with tapered tip (female shoots) or elliptically tongue-like with roundish tips (male shoots), greenish–dark brown. Capitula 3–7 in a dense, globose or compact corymbose group, capitulum stalks usually short, sometimes long.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette and alternate on stem. Rosette leaf blades quite narrowly obovate, with sharp, tapering tip, glabrous–densely haired. Stem leaves 5–11, blade narrowly lanceolate, upper leaves with quite long bristle.
  • Fruit: Achene, with unbranched hairs at tip.
  • Habitat: Fell tundra moors, meadows, Lappish rock faces, river banks, rocky places, snow-bed sites. Calciphiles.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

In the harsh conditions on the northern fells, many flowering plants resort to exceptional solutions to ensure the survival of the genus. Alpine catsfoot is able to produce fruit without being fertilized: this phenomenon is known as apomixes and occurs among other members of the Daisy family and other flowering-plant families too. A consequence of this kind of reproduction is that descendants are exact copies of the mother plant apart from random mutations, which are themselves then faithfully replicated. The result is a group of different, independent lines: alpine catsfoot is a species group in which the most different mutations, A. canescens which is densely haired throughout and A. porsildii, which is almost glabrous but has glandular hairs, have been separated into their own species. The ‘real’ alpine catsfoot consists of forms whose leaves are to some extent glabrous on top and hairy underneath.

As apomictically-reproducing and dioecious alpine catsfoot descendants are exactly the same as the mother plant, the female plant’s seeds cannot grow into male plants. Redundant male plants have become less and less common over the years, and the population is heavily dominated by females. Male plants, which sexually reproduce, are known to grow in only several places. In Finland they can be found growing casually around Kilpisjärvi in the north-western ‘arm’ of the country, but otherwise female plants are most numerous. Mountain everlasting, which is common all across Finland including the fell region, can be differentiated from alpine catsfoot by examining the tips of the involucral bracts on the outer surface of the capitulum: mountain everlasting’s are pale and alpine catsfoot’s are dark.

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

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