Bear flower (Boykinia richardsonii) is a tall herb in the saxifrage family with waxy leaves and large spike of white or pink-veined flowers that graces meadows, rocky sites, snow beds and tundra across the mountainous areas of Denali. Plants grow 10-50 cm tall from a thick caudex. The plants have both basal leaves and stem leaves, which are kidney-shaped with shallow lobes and irregularly toothed margins. The basal leaves are 5-10 cm across, with long petioles, shiny green with a stiff, waxy feel in the hand. The base of the plant has many persistent dead leaves, brown and waxy at the base of the plant. Stem leaves are similar, but without petioles and becoming reduced upwards. Leaf edges, lower veins and petioles all have glandular hairs. The stout flower stem is also glandular-hairy. Three flowers are produced in leaf axils, the top of the stem a crowded cluster of blossoms. Petals are ovate to elliptic, 8-12 mm long, white or pink-veined, often suffused rose. The five sepals are dark red, glandular, narrowly triangular. The flowers have a scarlet center and the five stamens have yellow anthers. There are two styles. The fruits are dry capsules, 9-12 mm long, which release many smooth brown seeds. No other plant in Denali has similar waxy kidney-shaped leaves and a spike of large white-pink flowers.
Boykinia richardsonii flowers in mid-summer. It is a perennial species, with deciduous leaves.
Boykinia richardsonii is monoecious with bisexual flowers. Species of Boykinia are protandrous to various degrees—the anthers of a given flower maturing before the pistils (Gornall and Bohm 1984). Flowers are insect pollinated. Seeds are flung into the air when the stem is shaken by the wind (Gornall and Bohm 1985). Bearflower can also form large patches by spreading vegetatively.
Bear flower is endemic to Alaska and the Yukon, occurring in the Brooks Range, North Slope, Seward Peninsula, alpine and uplands of central Alaska to the Neacola Mountains. In Denali, bear flower is abundant in the alpine zone of the Alaska Range, particularly north of the crest but the species also occurs on the south side, near Broad Pass and the Yentna River drainage.
This is a common alpine species. Though it is never a dominant part of the vegetation, localized areas can have large clumps of plants. Bear flower is most frequently found above 1100 meters. It grows on steep, north-facing slopes.