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Iceland Purslane

Koenigia islandica

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Polygonaceae (Dock)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Mountains, rocky places, wetland.

White, 3 petals
Minute, greenish-white flowers, often without petals.
The fruit is a 3-angled nut.
A prostrate annual flower with oval, stalkless leaves and reddish stems. Some leaves also turn red. Can be found on the Isle of Skye and Mull.
Other Names:
Arctic Knotweed.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Koenigia islandica, commonly known as Arctic knotweed, is a species of flowering plant in the family Polygonaceae. It is native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia. The plant is a small, herbaceous perennial that forms dense mats and can reach up to 20 cm in height. Its leaves are dark green, glossy, and linear to lance-shaped. The small, greenish-white flowers are arranged in clusters at the tips of the stem. This plant is considered as a hardy and versatile plant, it can tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions, and it is tolerant of cold, dry and windy conditions. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and it is often found growing in rocky or gravelly soils and on rocky outcrops. It is also used as an ornamental plant, it is also used in traditional medicine, and it is also used as a food source for wild animals.


Iceland Purslane, also known as Koenigia islandica, is a small, delicate plant that is native to Iceland and other parts of the Arctic. It is a member of the family Polygonaceae, which includes other well-known plants like rhubarb and buckwheat.

Despite its small size, Iceland Purslane has a rich history of medicinal and culinary uses. In traditional Icelandic medicine, it was used as a treatment for respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis. The plant was also used to soothe skin irritations and was thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Iceland Purslane has a place in Icelandic cuisine. The plant has a slightly sour, tangy taste that is similar to sorrel or lemon. It is often used in salads, soups, and as a garnish for fish dishes. The plant is also used to make a traditional Icelandic drink called Kaldslóð, which is made by steeping the plant in hot water.

One of the unique features of Iceland Purslane is its ability to survive in harsh, cold environments. The plant has adapted to extreme temperatures and can survive in areas where other plants cannot. This resilience has made it an important part of the Arctic ecosystem, providing food and habitat for a variety of animals, including birds and reindeer.

Despite its usefulness, Iceland Purslane is not commonly cultivated outside of its native range. However, it is becoming increasingly popular among foragers and chefs who are interested in incorporating locally-sourced, wild ingredients into their cooking.

In terms of its physical appearance, Iceland Purslane is a low-growing plant that typically reaches a height of only a few centimeters. It has small, round leaves that are arranged in a rosette pattern around the stem. The leaves are typically green, although they can take on a reddish hue in colder temperatures. The plant produces small, inconspicuous flowers that are typically white or pink in color.

Iceland Purslane is a hardy plant that can thrive in a variety of soil types, although it prefers moist, well-drained soil. It is typically found growing in rocky or gravelly areas, as well as in areas that are subject to frequent disturbance, such as along roadsides or in areas that have been recently cleared of vegetation.

The plant is highly adaptable and can survive in a variety of climatic conditions, ranging from the Arctic tundra to more temperate areas. In Iceland, it is found throughout the country, from the coastlines to the highlands.

In addition to its traditional uses, Iceland Purslane has been the subject of scientific research in recent years. Studies have found that the plant contains a number of bioactive compounds, including antioxidants, flavonoids, and tannins. These compounds have been shown to have a range of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.

One of the interesting things about Iceland Purslane is its cultural significance in Iceland. The plant is known as "krækiber" in Icelandic, and is considered to be an important part of the country's culinary and medicinal traditions. It has been used for centuries by the Icelandic people, and continues to be an important ingredient in traditional dishes like "kjötsúpa" (Icelandic meat soup) and "hangikjöt" (smoked lamb).

In addition to its cultural significance, Iceland Purslane is also an important ecological indicator. Because the plant is so well adapted to cold, harsh environments, its presence or absence can provide valuable information about the health and stability of Arctic ecosystems.

Despite its resilience, Iceland Purslane is threatened by climate change and other environmental factors. As temperatures warm and ecosystems shift, the plant may be forced to migrate to new areas or face extinction. This underscores the importance of protecting Arctic habitats and conserving the biodiversity of this unique region.

Another interesting aspect of Iceland Purslane is its potential for use in agriculture. Because the plant is so hardy and resilient, it may be able to grow in areas that are unsuitable for other crops. This could be particularly valuable in regions that are experiencing the effects of climate change, such as increased drought or flooding.

Researchers are also investigating the potential of Iceland Purslane as a source of natural compounds that could be used in the development of new drugs. Because the plant has a long history of traditional use in Icelandic medicine, it is believed that it may contain compounds with important medicinal properties.

Finally, Iceland Purslane is also a valuable source of food for wildlife in the Arctic. The plant's leaves and stems provide an important source of nutrition for birds, insects, and mammals, including caribou and reindeer. In this way, Iceland Purslane plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of Arctic ecosystems.

Overall, Iceland Purslane is a fascinating plant with a wide range of potential applications. From its traditional uses in medicine and cuisine to its potential as a source of new drugs and a crop that can withstand extreme conditions, Iceland Purslane is a valuable resource with much to offer. As we continue to study and learn from this remarkable plant, we may discover even more ways to harness its potential for the benefit of humanity and the natural world.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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