Alaska Cotton – Eriophorum

Alaska cotton

15 Species native to Alaska
Full list below

Genus: Eriophorum
Family: Cyperaceae/Sedge
Order: Poales

Type: Perennial
Edible: Yes – stem and root

Identification

Flower: Seed heads cotton-like fibers or bristles, white to reddish-brown in color
Leaves: grass-like, slender, v-shaped

Most species are between 30-60 cm (12-24 in) tall with a drooping head of cotton that is whitish in color. The cotton fibers release in the wind to disperse seeds. Alaska cotton typically grows in the tundra on tussocks or in boggy areas or near water where there is wet soil. The stem and root are both edible and the Yupik traditionally used an extract from the leaves for medicinal purposes to treat gastrointestinal problems.

There are 18 species of cottongrass in the world and 15 of these are native to Alaska. Out of the 15 species of Alaska cotton, the most common is Tall Cotton Grass (Eriophorum angustifolium), which is also the most common cottongrass found throughout the world. Hikers are very familiar with the Tall Cotton Grass that grows on deep round tussocks and make it all too easy to roll an ankle.

Species

Eriophorum angustifolium (tall cottongrass, narrowleaf cottonsedge)
Eriophorum beringianum (Bering cottongrass)
Eriophorum brachyantherum (northland cottonsedge)
Eriophorum callitrix (arctic cottongrass, arctic cottonsedge)
Eriophorum chamissonis (Chamisso’s cottongrass)
Eriophorum churchillianum (Churchill cottongrass)
Eriophorum gracile (slender cottonsedge)
Eriophorum medium (medium cottongrass)*
Eriophorum porsildii (Porsild’s cottongrass)
Eriophorum pylaieanum (cottongrass)
Eriophorum rousseauianum (Rousseau’s cottongrass)
Eriophorum russeolum (red cottongrass)
Eriophorum scheuchzeri (white cottongrass, dense cottongrass)
Eriophorum vaginatum (tussock cottongrass)
Eriophorum viridicarinatum (thinleaf cottonsedge, tassel cottongrass)

*Listed by the Integrated Taxonomic Information Center, but not the USDA as native to Alaska

References
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 63
Grasses, National Park Service: Bering Land Bridge
Eriophorum L., ITIS Report
Eriophorum angustifolium, Wikipedia
State Search Eriophorum, USDA

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