Figwort Family — Scrophulariaceae
|Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja spp., get their name from the appearance of their leaves – they resemble brushes dipped in paint!|
Some of the world's most decorative flowers belong to this family – foxgloves, snapdragons, veronicas, and eyebrights are classed as figworts. About fifteen species of figworts grow within the Arctic. They belong to four genera: the Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja, louseworts, Pedicularis, eyebrights, Euphrasia, and weaselsnouts, Lagotis. Flower colours within the family range from cream and yellow to orange, red, and purple.
General Information and Anatomy
In the summer, the plants develop oblong fruits which release numerous, small seeds. Some members of the family are poisonous to insects and other invertebrates, and are a source of natural pharmaceuticals for humans. Species associated with freshwater ecosystems in the Arctic belong to three genera: Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja, speedwell, Veronica, and louseworts, Pedicularis. Pedicularis spp. are the only members of the family whose range extends into the High Arctic.
The Indian paintbrushes have vividly coloured flowers, ranging from purple to yellow and white, that "paint" the tundra landscape when in bloom. Yukon Indian paintbrush, Castilleja yukonis, brightens stony riverbanks and hillsides with its dark purple flowers and yellowish-green leaves.
Polar eyebright, Euphrasia arctica, is a tall, slender plant with its flowers arranged in a dense, leafy spike. Its white petals are eye-catching with their contrasting lavender or pale blue veins. Its upper petal, similar in shape to those of the louseworts, is tinged with blue.
Sudetan lousewort, Pedicularis sudetica, is the sole species of its genus associated with arctic freshwater bodies. It grows in wetlands and along the banks of rivers, lakes, and streams, often on the water's edge. Named for Sudetanland, Germany, this is one of the most attractive of all the louseworts, with flowers that look like pinwheels of deep purple with pink or white edges from above. These flowers stand on stems 7–50 cm high, well above the basal leaves of the plant. Sudetan lousewort and most other members of the lousewort family are semi-parasitic, growing on the roots of other plants.
Within the Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja, four species are classified as freshwater macrophytes: Port Clarence Indian paintbrush, Castilleja caudate, elegant Indian paintbrush, C. elegans, northern Indian paintbrush, C. hypaborea, and Raup's Indian paintbrush, C. raupii. These intricate, complex flowers have bright colours ranging from purple to yellow to white that "paint" the tundra landscape when in bloom. Indian paintbrushes thrive in sodden grounds, such as on shorelines where they accompany grasses, in tundra depressions, and in peat-rich areas. C. elegans is only found in the western Arctic.
The little weaselsnout, Lagotis stelleri, arises from a rhizome and has basal leaves which tend to blacken when the plant dries out. It is restricted to the Western Arctic.
Lastly, the alpine speedwell, Veronica wormskjoldii, is associated with arctic freshwater ecosystems. This flower occurs throughout the Arctic on stream banks, in ravines, and on moist, grassy or mossy slopes. When in bloom, its dark blue flowers beautify any environment.