Today’s featured plant is Pedicularis capitata, known commonly as capitate lousewort. It is a member of the broomrape family, or Orobanchaceae. This species is characterized by pale yellow flowers compactly clustered at the end of the flowering stem, i.e., a capitate inflorescence.
Pedicularis capitata is a species of northern Asia and northern North America–or, as noted in this account of the species, circumpolar with large gaps (including all of northern Europe). It fits the definition of an arctic-alpine species, occurring at higher elevations as latitudes decrease. Accordingly, it is found in tundra and barrens habitats, tolerating a range of soil composition and moisture.
Plants typically bloom in mid-summer (early July for arctic-alpine species), setting seed soon after. This species is named by the Inuit as kukiujait, a reference to the resemblance of the flowers to fingernails. The Inuit also call the flowers “bananas”, though yellow is not the only corolla (flower) colour. The corollas are indeed edible, tasting sweet and sugary.
Estimates of the number of species of Pedicularis reaches as high as 600, with the centre of diversity in eastern Asia–China alone has over 350 different species.