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   The genus name, "Pedicularis", given by Linnaeus in 1753, is derived from the Latin "pediculus", "louse".  A bygone belief had it that the plant gave lice to people and cattle.  Or, according to some sources, the plant was thought to cure people or cattle of lice! 

    "Wort" is from the Old English, "wyrt", meaning "plant" (Figwort, Spiderwort, Spleenwort). 

   Members of the Pedicularis genus are varyingly called "Lousewort" or "Wood Betony".

To yellow Pedicularis   To Pedicularis racemosa    To Pedicularis centranthera

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica (Elephant Heads)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, streamsides. Summer.
Above: U.S. Basin, July 28, 2016 and August 4, 2015 and Bridal Veil Falls Trail, Telluride, August 10, 2015.
Left: Upper Calico Trail, June 12, 2004.

No one forgets pink elephants.  They are common along streams and boggy mountain meadows, sometimes numbering in the thousands.  Red fern-like leaves appear first and dark stems follow.  The green of chlorophyll eventually masks most of the red.  Plants bloom for many weeks, making this one of the most widely known  --  and gasped at  --  wildflowers.  Even the dried seed heads continue to show the elephant’s trunk.

Pedicularis groenlandica is found throughout the western mountains of the United States, across all of Canada, and in its type locale in the southern tip of Greenland.

Anders Jahan Retzius (1742-1821), Swedish Professor of Natural History, named and described Pedicularis groenlandica in 1795 from a specimen collected in Greenland by an unnamed collector at an unknown date. The type specimen is in the Natural History Museum of London. 

Almost all authoritative botanical sources indicate that Pedicularis groenlandica is not found in Greenland and that is the information I had on this web site until April 3, 2013 when I received an email from Christian Bay, Greenland flora and ecology expert:

"Just to let you know that Pedicularis groenlandica does occur in Greenland. It is found in one locality which is the type locality by Præstefjord close to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland". (Nuuk (meaning "the tip"), population 15,500, is the largest city in Greenland and is located near the southwest tip of Greenland with Præstefjord (the Priest Fjord) about 18 miles southeast.)

In a second email to me, Christian indicated that after P. groenlandica was collected in Greenland in the late 1700s it was not collected there again until 1941 when Alf E. Porsild, highly respected Danish/Canadian botanist, found it.

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica
Photo ©Caroline Ernberg Simonsen

Pedicularis groenlandica (Elephant Heads)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, streamsides. Summer.
Upper Calico Trail, June 12, 2004; Lake Hope Trail, August 11, 2014; and Greenland, ca. 2010.

The bottom photograph at left (taken by Caroline Ernberg Simonsen) shows P. groenlandica in its type locale in southern Greenland. Notice how many more flowers there are in the spike in the top photographs, taken in the western San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica (Elephant Heads)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, streamsides. Summer.
Near Upper Calico Trail, August 22, 2015.

One dried Elephant Head hangs on at top left while seeds mature in capsules.

Pedicularis groenlandica

Pedicularis groenlandica

In the top photograph Pedicularis groenlandica mixes with Castilleja linariifolia (Wyoming Paintbrush) on a wet slope at the foot of the Cross Mountain Trail.

The wetland meadow of Pedicularis groenlandica in the second photograph was level and quite boggy and I came out wet and muddy with quite a few mosquito bites and one huge welt from a fly bite.  Perhaps the fly that landed on my lens is the very fly that bit me. You can see the stinker at the top center of the picture.

Albino Pedicularis groenlandica are unusual and unforgettable.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Pedicularis groenlandica