Alpine bistort

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Alpine bistort

Bistorta vivipara

Plants are very hardy organisms that grow in the harshest of environments.  They can range in size, colour, shape, smell, taste and texture.

Image: An Alpine bistort plant.

3D View: Alpine bistort
Alpine bistort.

Why this species is important

Alpine bistort (scientifically named Bistorta vivipara) is a flowering plant that grows on dry rocks, in well-drained gravel and in sand.  It flourishes along shorelines and on tundra, slopes and cliffs.  It has a long stalk that extends upward toward its red bulbils (small bulbs) and small white or pink flowers.


Cloning and reproduction

Alpine bistort plants have a unique way of reproducing. Although they sometimes produce seeds, the Alpine Bistort has a series of bulbils that flower at the top of the plant.

See how a bulbil from an Alpine bistort plant falling to the ground allows a new plant to grow.  These new plants are called ‘clones’ while the original plant is referred to as the ‘parent.’

A bulbil falling from a plant, on to the ground, and growing into another plant.

Imitation beads


The Inuit name for Alpine bistort is Sapangaralannguat, meaning ‘imitation small beads’ after the small, bead-shaped bulbils that fall easily from the plant’s stalk.  Unlike seeds, bulbils grow into clones of their parent plants.


An edible plant


Alpine bistort is an edible plant traditionally eaten by both animals and humans. Alpine bistort’s underground roots have a nutty flavour. The starchy parts of Alpine bistort are a favourite food for some Arctic mammals such as lemmings and reindeer.


An Arctic alpine plant


Alpine bistort is a common arctic-alpine plant that grows in meadows and rocky areas.  These places with little vegetation are found throughout the Arctic and in arctic-like areas, such as those at high elevations in the mountains, further south.