Cottongrass - Eriophorum sp.
|The soft, elongated bristles of "cotton" are actually modified petals and sepals of this Eriophorum sp.|
Cotton grasses, of the genus Eriophorum, are a familiar and instantly recognizable plant across the Arctic, even growing at the far northern reaches of Ellesmere Island. Their fluffy, white heads of "cotton" dot the landscape, adding beauty to an otherwise barren landscape.
General Information and Anatomy
The soft, elongated bristles of "cotton" are actually modified petals and sepals. Most species, such as E. scheuchzeri, produce a single head of cotton at the top of each stalk, but one, E. angustifolium, has a cluster of several heads. Northland cotton grass, E. brachyantherum, red cotton grass, E. russeolum, arctic cotton grass, E. callitrix, and tussock cotton grass, E. vaginatum, are all common arctic species. One way to differentiate between the two latter plants is by their growth pattern – they form large tufted mounds called tussocks.
The flowerheads of cotton grasses were very important to the Inuit, who used them for a variety of purposes, including mattress stuffing, tinder, and wicks in seal or caribou oil lamps.
Cottongrass is found all across the North from the Spring until the Fall.