Bistorta vivipara (Alpine Bistort)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Polygonaceae (Buckwheat)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:part shade, shade; coniferous swamp, wooded shorelines, alpine meadows
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:3 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: none NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers and bulblets] A loose, narrow spike-like raceme, 1¼ to 2½ inches long, of a few to several stalked flowers at tip of a slender stem. Flowers are ¼ to 1/3 inch long including the stalk, have 4 to 6 (usually 5) white to pinkish tepals (petals), and are erect or spreading out from the stem. 8 purple-tipped stamens and a three-parted, dark purple tipped style may extend out from the center but are often not well developed. Flowers are sterile; below the flowers along the stem are numerous brown to purplish, teardrop shaped bulblets.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of basal leaves] Leaves are mostly basal, with 2 to 4 alternate stem leaves. Leaves have smooth surfaces and edges that are toothless but with a distinct texture and often rolled downward. Basal leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and ¼ to 2/3 inch wide, oblong to broadly lance shaped on a stalk up to 6 inches long. The stalk is attached to a sheath that is open at top but clasping at base. Upper leaves become progressively smaller, more lance like to linear and stalkless, Stems are slender but rigid, unbranched, mostly hairless with a waxy surface in part, 1 or 2 stems rising from the base.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is rarely produced, this species propagating primarily from the bulblets, a product of asexual reproduction and creating a clone of the parent. The bulblets may fall off the parent and sprout elsewhere, or may sprout while still attached to the parent.


Bistorta vivipara, sometimes known as Persicaria vivipara or Polygonum viviparum, is a species of the arctic and higher elevations throughout the northern hemisphere, more common in the mountains of the western US and in Canada. Global populations are variable in color, ranging from white to hot pink and can have densely clustered stems and compact, densely flowered spikes. In Minnesota it typically is white with just one or sometimes two stems in a cluster, and relatively few flowers in loose spikes. It is restricted to the cold, rocky shores of Lake Superior's north shore, mostly in Cook County, and was listed as a Special Concern species in 1984. According to the DNR, it is at risk mostly from recreational activities and development along the North Shore, and was subsequently elevated to Threatened status in 2013.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken at Horseshoe Bay in Cook County.


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