The Iñupiaq name for the bumble bee flower has been lost

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No one remembers the Iñupiaq word for the bumble bee flower. People call it that in English because bumble bees like to feed on it’s flower. In modern times,the Iñupiaq have adopted the word Ipchuk to describe this plant, because it means “bumble bee which is growing”, or “bee food.”

This alpine tundra plant grows in drier areas on the open tundra. It’s other English name, Woolly Lousewort, was given because of the characteristically woolly nature of the flower stem. The pink flowers grow on a stout stem that is only about 6 inches high. This is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring time. The small leaves are serrated or compound, and are only about 2-3 inches long. The plant grows from a long yellow taproot.

English Name: Bumble bee flower

Scientific Name: Pedicularis kanei

Iñupiaq Name: Ipchuk -plural is Ipchuit

Phonetic spelling: Ip-chuck

Translation of Iñupiaq Name: bumble bee which is growing, bee food

Pedicularis kanei, species kaneiEveryone called the plant “bumble bee flower” because bumble bees like to visit the plant when it is in bloom.

Some Iñupiaq people eat the flowers raw and it has been said the root is edible raw or boiled.

Pedicularis is a genus within the Scrophulariaceae, the snapdragon family, which also includes the genera Penstemon, Linaria, and Veronica, including many commonly grown rock garden plants. Pedicularis, Castilleja, and some other genera in the family are quite different from the commonly grown genera as they are root parasites, technically “hemiparasites”, plants who have chlorophyll and can produce sugars, but who do not have fully functional root systems. Instead they have specialized organs called haustoria which latch onto the roots of host plants. Some recent DNA evidence indicates that Pedicularis and Castilleja might better be placed in the Orobanchaceae, the broom rape family, whose other members do not produce chlorophyll, i.e. are full parasites.

Pedicularis kanei ssp kanei, sometimes called Pedicularis lanata or Pedicularis lanata ssp kanei, is a boreal alpine plant found from Greenland across arctic North America. Other similar subspecies are native to arctic Asia.

Pedicularis capitata, species kaneiPedicularis kanei is about 4 – 6″ (10 – 15 cm) tall in flower. Its inflorescence is white-wooly. Its leaves are divided into many pinnate segments. The flowers are about 3/4″ (2 cm) long and plentiful, producing quite a show. Pedicularis kanei is one of the major features of the alpine areas of Flattop Mountain near Anchorage, Alaska where the photograph was taken. (Also growing on Flattop Mountain is Pedicularis capitata shown above.)

In becoming successful with most plants one must overcome few difficulties. Plants of the genus Pedicularis are especially difficult, since most require a host plant to attain any size. Pedicularis kanei presents both that problem and one peculiar to those plants which grow near or above the Arctic Circle. Summer day length is essentially 24 hours. Even for the few hours the sun is below the horizon there is more than a little light. Until we can successfully grow those Pedicularis from lower latitudes, enjoy Pedicularis kanei in its native environment.