Canadian burnet is a medium-sized herb with pinnately compound leaves and narrow spikes of white flowers that is common in subalpine to alpine meadows and shrub thickets, particularly in lush sites. Plants reach 20-80 cm tall from a thick caudex. The basal leaves are long petioled, the whole leaf 10-50 cm long, with 9-15 pinnate leaflets. The leaflets are oblong-ovate, with rounded tips and notched bases. The margins are toothed. Stem leaves are much reduced, with few leaflets and no petioles. The inflorescence is a terminal spike, held far above the basal leaves. These narrow spikes are elongate cylinders 3-10 cm long, which flower from the base up. The flowers have four greenish-white round sepals, no petals, 1 carpel, and many long stamens. The stamens are what give the flowering head its bottle-brush appearance—the white filaments are flattened, broader than the tan anthers, and quite noticeable. Fruits are achenes. This is the only species in the flora with pinnately compound, toothed leaves and a bottle-brush spike of white flowers.
Sitka burnet is a perennial, deciduous species. It typically flowers in mid-summer. The leaves turn purple red in the fall before being shed.
Naruhashi et al. (2001), comparing Japanese species of this genus, claim that Sanguisorba species with long anthers and small floral discs (such as S. stipulata) are likely wind-pollinated.
Sanguisorba stipulata is an amphi-Beringian species, occurring in coastal eastern Russia southward to Japan. In North America, this species occurs from Alaska to Yukon and B.C., southeastward to Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Sanguisorba stipulata has recently been synonymized with S. canadensis, a closely related species of the North American east coast. In Alaska, S. stipulata (sens. strict.) occurs in the southern half of the state, from the Aleutians through Southeast Alaska, reaching as far north as the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta in Southwest and the northern side of the Alaska Range in Denali. In Denali, this species is abundant on the south side (particularly in subalpine meadows), and occurs less frequently north of the Alaska Range.
Sitka burnet's grows on a wide range of elevational gradients (122 m- 1437 m) but is more common in mid elevations (850 m). This species is more common on south-facing slopes. It occurs on all levels of incline, and is particularly frequent on slopes between 20-28 degrees.