Tag Archives: Persicaria vivipara

Large forms of Alpine Bistort

Alpine bistort or harerug in Norwegian (Bistorta vivipara syn Persicaria vivipara or Polygonum viviparum) is a common plant here in Norway and the only wild plant apart from berries that I forage every year. There are large quantities of this plant in particular in the mountains. It’s also one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants where you can read more. I enjoy it’s nutty taste on bread and other baked dishes like quiches (see  https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=alpine+bistort)
However, the local alpine bistort here is a rather small plant, typically up to 20cm tall, and is difficult to cultivated as it competes badly with weeds and requires a lot of weeding. I’ve collected forms that seem to be more vigorous, but nothing as large as I’ve seen elsewhere in botanical gardens. In 2002, I found a plant closely resembling alpine bistort cultivated in the Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire UK. However, it was significantly bigger than our plants. I planted a bulbil in a garden bed, but it spread quite aggressively, a bit like bistort (Bistorta officinalis) and I removed it again. It spread however into the adjacent grass and is still there (I haven’t noticed our native alpine bistort doing this in my garden). I had wondered if it was a different species at the time. Here’s a picture of it (a larger plant with large and many bulbils):

Returning to Hilliers in 2010, I saw another vigorous plant in 2010 (below), more closely resembling our Norwegian plants:

Then in 2017, I saw another viviparous plant, labelled Polygonum spp., in the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens and was given a few bulbils. I’ve grown that one on in a large pot and here are a few pictures taken today:

According to a paper in 2013: “Viviparous bistorts are represented by 3 species in the world, P. suffultoides An Jen Li (1995: 415), B. vivipara (Linnaeus 1753: 360) Gray (1821: 268) and B. tenuifolia”. 
has very narrow leaves and the description of suffultoides doesn’t fit my plant. Among other things it has pubescent leaves (hairs – on both sides).
I don’t have the accession data for my plant (I will try to find out from Gothenburg), but it does almost fit the description in Flora of China of one of the larger forms of Bistorta vivipara. My plant reaches 50cm (15-60cm in FOC); leaf blade 13cm long (3-10cm). The bulbils are large, but there are a larer proportion of sterile flowers, so the yield may not actually be much larger. The pink flowers are within the normal range and I have one variety from Norway with pink flowers. It could also be from North America where large forms exist (usually known as Bistorta vivipara subsp. macounii), reaching 45cm according to the Flora of North America; see http://floranorthamerica.org/Bistorta_vivipara)
I have today dug up a couple of tubers from the grass so that I can grow it out and complete the comparison. Watch this space.



Harerug bread

Harerug? Literally meaning “Hare rye” is a plant found in Norway from the outermost coast to the high mountains and is also one of the few edible plants of Svalbard in the high arctic! It’s Polygonum viviparum (Persicaria vivipara) or alpine bistort in English, in the Knotweed family or Polygonaceae along with many other edible plants such as giant rhubarb and Japanese knotweed and the sorrels and docks. Despite its small size, it has been an important survival food for arctic peoples including in some Norwegian mountain villages in the past as plants have comparatively large nutritious and tasty tubers! I’ve been using the bulbils (hence the latin viviparum meaning living birth as these fall off and form roots giving plants that are genetically identical to the mother plant). They have a delicious nutty taste, something my kids loved as a trail snack in the mountains. Indeed this is a plant one should learn if one is in the mountains as in the event of getting lost, one will still be able to find food. It is a particularly common plant above the tree line here!
It’s also circumpolar as the map in the album shows, even found in the alps and Himalayas.  I have a number of different forms in my garden and there are also closely related species which are larger that I believe could have an even bigger potential as a cultivated mountain / arctic crop. There’s a robust subspecies in North America I’d love to get hold of…(Flora of North America: “… with large leaves, compact spikes, and persistent bulblets…. named subsp. macounii”).  It’s also one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants!