|Salix polaris - the tallest shrub of the High Arctic|
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.
|A Reindeer grazing in an area rich in arctic plants, |
but too early on this occasion
A species that seems to flower just a little bit later than the rest is Cassiope tetragona, a wiry member of the heather family. When in flower, its white bell flowers rival all the other botanical gems in the flora. As a shrub, it even rivals Salix polaris for the title of tallest arctic shrub. It has much larger flowers than Cassiope hypnorum which was present in the flora I studied close to the Vatnajökull ice-cap in Iceland.
|Ny Ålesund – Tundra vegetation dominated by |
|Polar Pack Ice at 80 degrees 22 minutes North|