Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Found mostly in central and western North Dakota, arnica also occurs from Saskatchewan to British Columbia south to Colorado and northeastern California. The plant has been collected at elevations to 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.
Arnica is a fibrous-rooted perennial that sometimes propagates vegetatively from rhizomes. Our plants are usually about 12-18 inches tall. Stems are slightly roughened with stiff short hairs. Narrow, 4-6 inch long leaves form a basal cluster. Two to three pairs of opposite leaves become progressively reduced in length toward the top of the plant. Each stem bears 1-3 flower heads about two inches wide. Flower heads have 10-20 bright yellow ray flowers around the disc flowers. Achenes ("seeds") have a tuft of grayish white hairs.
Look for arnica in native prairie pastures where grazing is light or moderate. There are indications that arnica is becoming increasingly scarce in central North Dakota. Arnica contains a bitter compound, arnicin, and an essential oil. The dried flower heads, rhizomes, and roots, and tinctures thereof, are used in home remedies for healing bruises and as a tonic or irritant. Large quantities were marketed during World War II.
Arnica is a member of the economically important sunflower family (Asteraceae), the largest plant family in North America and North Dakota. The genus Arnica contains about 30-35 species, circumboreal in distribution, but best developed in western North America. The origin of the generic name is unknown, but possibly is a corruption of Ptarmica, Greek for "causing to sneeze." The specific name fulgens means "shining" or "bright-colored" in botanical Latin, likely in reference to the flowers. The species was described in 1814 by the eminent German botanist Frederick Pursh (1774-1820) in his monumental Flora Americae Septentrionalis. Pursh was the first to publish upon the many new plants collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806.