The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Gems of the arctic

You may recall that my first impression of the arctic landscape was less than favourable…it seemed so dark and barren and devoid of life.  I’ve been out on the land every day since my arrival, though, and that idea has been completely erased from my mind.  Granted, the tundra is no temperate forest; the tallest tree I’ve seen here is about chest height, and one does not have the same sense of lush verdant life that one finds in the south. 

But the flowers here…oh my, the flowers. 

Three species seem to dominate the drier areas, especially those on sun-kissed slopes.  The first was immediately recognizable as akin to something I’ve planted in my own garden:

Arctic Lupins (Lupinus arcticus)

I actually exclaimed, “Hey, they’re LUPINS!” when I realized I knew what they were…much to the amusement of my field assistant who simply smiled and said, “Uh-huh”.    These are the probably the tallest non-woody flowering plant growing right now.  The flowers stand about 12 inches high or so, though I’ve read they can grow taller.  The lovely indigo colour is striking.

The two others that seem to enjoy the same habitats as the lupins are White Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) and Arctic Rhododendron (Rhododendron lapponicum).  Both stand about 6 inches tall and grow in small clusters.  Those Avens look like they’re just begging to be pollinated, but I’ve yet to spot any takers.

White Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Arctic Rhododendron (Rhododendron lapponicum)

I’ve found the dainty Arctic Poppy (Papaver radicatum) on very dry, rocky outcrops near the mouth of the Coppermine River.   These lovely gems are heliotropic: the flower heads move to face the sun throughout the day.  In the photo below, the poppy’s head is nodding downhill, so as to face the midnight sun lying low over the Arctic Ocean.

Artic Poppy (Papaver radicatum)

A neighbour to the poppy was this small patch of Moss Campion (Silene acaulis); it was nestled cosily in a shady crevace in the rocky hilltop.   This flower forms dense cushions of moss-like leaves which retain heat when the sun is shining.  They’re also considered a “compass” plant…the south-facing side of the mound will flower first, followed by the north-facing side.

Moss Campion (Silene acaulis)

If you want to enjoy the flora in the arctic, you really need to stop and LOOK.  Never assume that you’re simply looking at a patch of moss or grass…there is almost always a tiny gem hiding within.   The best way to LOOK (and to photograph) is lying on your belly…everything here grows very low to the ground in order to avoid the strong and cold arctic winds.  The flowers I’ve shared here are the showier, more obvious ones I’ve seen (but still required belly-style photography!).  I’m going to work on capturing the even smaller, more secretive ones for next time.

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5 responses to “Gems of the arctic

  1. Ruth Fitzpatrick June 27, 2010 at 1:33 PM

    I’ve seen Lupin that was nearly two feet tall, as well as only 3 inches tall.

    The tall stuff was out near Seward; the miniature stuff was on Mt. St. Helens.

    • TGIQ June 27, 2010 at 1:56 PM

      It’s a beautiful plant…something I covet in my own garden, and have never seen growing wild in such abundance…
      Living where you do, I guess it’s probably commonplace for you! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Ruth 🙂

  2. mthew June 28, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    I’m heading for treeless Iceland this week, and expect to see many wildflowers amidst the ash falls.

  3. Pingback: Life in the fast lane (subarctic beetles, part 1) « The Bug Geek

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