Bistorta vivipara is a small perennial herb in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) that grows in peaty sites and tundra across Denali (most frequently in the mountains). This plant has basal leaves and bulblets at the base of the spike of white flowers. Sometimes there are more bulblets than flowers on the spike. Plants grow 5-15 tall from a thick, twisted rhizome. Leaves are dark green above, shiny, grayish beneath, and narrowly oblong-lanceolate in shape. Leaves are basal and alternate. The stem leaves have long brown sheaths around the stem. The inflorescence is a terminal spike of small white flowers, 2-10 cm long. Flowers are perfect, with 5 white tepals. At the base of the spike, flowers are replaced by bulblets, living clones of the plant aiding in the vegetative spread of the plant. Sometimes the bulblets sprout while still attached to the mother plant. The presence of bulblets below a spike of white flowers is diagnostic for this species, whose leaves sometimes resemble those of its relative Bistorta plumosa, but are usually much narrower.
Bistorta vivipara is perennial and deciduous. It flowers mid-summer.
Polygonum viviparum is monoecious with bisexual flowers, but also produces asexual bulblets. The flowers are insect pollinated, but reportedly rarely produce seeds. Bulblets produce roots and then fall off, forming new plants asexually.
Bistorta viviparum is the host plant for two species of butterflies in Alaska, the Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) and the Mountain Fritillary (Boloria alaskensis)(Scott 1986). There are 4 identified fungal pathogens of Bistorta viviparum, a smut (Bauhinus bistortarum ), a rust Puccinia bistortae, and 2 spots (Ramularia bistortaeandSeptoria polygonorum) (Peat et. al 2015).
All parts of P. viviparum are edible, either raw or cooked.
Bistorta vivipara is a circumpolar species with an arctic-alpine distribution. In North America, Bistorta vivipara occurs from Alaska and all the Canadian provinces, then south throughout the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest states, and also in the northern New England states to the east. This species is common and widespread in suitable habitat in Alaska. In Denali, occurs across the mountainous region on both sides of the Alaska Range crest.
Polygonum viviparum is a subalpine to alpine plant that grows from 223 m to 1590 m with an average plot elevation of 1058 m. It is slightly more common on north facing aspects. This species prefers moderately angled sites with and average plot slope of 14 degrees.