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Alpine Sweetgrasses

Hieracium sect. Alpina

  • Name also: Alpine sweet grasses
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Cichorioideae (formerly Chicory Family – Cichoriaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Runnerless.
  • Height: 8–20 cm (3.2–8 in.). Stem usually unbranched, densely long and soft-haired, also with glandular hairs.
  • Flower: Flowers 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in.) wide, single flower-like capitula surrounded by involucral bracts (sometimes capitula indehiscent). Capitulum’s ray-florets yellow, tongue-like, tip short-haired and 5-toothed. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts in many rows, overlapping, of different lengths, densely white–grey-haired, brownish green. Capitula usually terminating a single stem.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette and alternate on stem. Rosette leaves abundant, stalked stem leaves 1–2, small. Blade spatulate–narrowly obovate, tapering base, with entire margins–shallowly and sparsely toothed, densely long, light and soft-haired on both sides, underside often also stellate-haired.
  • Fruit: Even thickness–widening towards tip, ca. 10-ridged, finely granular, reddish brown, 3–4.5 mm (0.12–0.18 in.) long achene, crowned by a pappus with a circular border and slightly brownish unbranched hairs.
  • Habitat: Fell tundra gravels, crags, rocky outcrops, moors, rocky outcrops and sandbanks along stream margins in the forest belt.
  • Flowering time: August–September.

This large genus of hawkweeds has spread across the whole of Finland, even to the northern fells. It is extremely diverse due to the fact that it is apomictic, i.e. it produces seeds without being fertilized. The result of this is an enormous group of mutations which differ very slightly from one another. These are called microspecies, and they are grouped together into major species groups. The Alpine sweetgrass group has produced around 20 microspecies through apomixis.

Alpine sweetgrasses can be identified from their single capitula, which is almost always the case. The yellow capitula are however sufficiently large to grab the attention of the botany enthusiast as she makes her way over the barren landscape of the fells with her rucksack on her back – actually the capitula of one particular microspecies no longer opens at all. Alpine sweetgrass actively avoids rich ground, so it is a joyful wanderer in otherwise scantily vegetated areas. It grows here and there in Lappish fell moors, streamside meadows, sandheaps and gravels, but nowhere very profusely. It can also be found below the treeline in light, sparsely wooded areas.

Sweetgrass growing on tundra can be confused with the much more common autumn hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis). A virtually entire-leaved and dark-haired form of this capitulum-flowered plant that is familiar from urban lawns grows in Lapland with a single capitulum. The tundra is also home to unique, small, withered dandelion species (Taraxacum), which cannot be found anywhere else. With regards to the colours of the capitula, if not the size, Alpine sweetgrass even competes with arnica (Arnica angustifolia). This is however a rare member of the daisy family which grows in places with especially rich soil: its disc florets in the middle of the capitulum are tubular.

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

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