Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The brief and glorious flowering of the Arctic summer

Salix polaris - the tallest shrub of the High Arctic
One of the major factors in enjoying the sudden blossoming of the Arctic is that it takes place over a very short period which can be unpredictable. Depending on the developing of the spring, it can occur at any time during mid summer from the beginning of June to about mid July. It is quite possible to visit an area that has a rich flora and find everything in full flower one year, to find that nothing has happened yet in another, or that everything is finished. An enormous advantage with the Arctic flora is, that if you hit it right, everything will be at its best. Although not technically in the Arctic, I am including some of the flora of Iceland in this account.

My first experience of the flora of the Arctic was close to the tongue of a glacier close to the ice cap of Vatnajökull in Iceland. I was accompanying a group as a botanist, and spotted a floristically rich area close to the road, and asked the coach driver to stop. For the next half hour or so, we studied an area of stable scree that supported a most interesting flora. I had actually spotted the Glacier Buttercup, Ranunculus glacialis from the moving coach and this was a species I particularly wanted to see. As well as this, we found specimens of the Arctic Poppy Papaver radicatum and a fine saxifrage Saxifraga cotyledon. On another occasion in the north of Iceland near Akureyri, an Icelandic lecturer friend of mine lent me his car, and I drove off some distance to a river valley to see the Arctic River Beauty Chamerion latifolium. What a superb plant, especially when growing in quantity. This is a most interesting element of the Icelandic flora in that it is Nearctic, occurring nowhere further east.

Ranunculus glacialis

Papaver radicatum