Tundra Plants

Despite being known as a harsh and difficult environment for life to flourish, the world's tundra regions are home to a number of hardy plant species. Pretty much all plants in the tundra comprise of low lying vegetarian with the environment almost completely devoid of trees. Tall trees require deep root systems and the tundra's frozen under-layer, known as permafrost, prevents tree roots taking hold there. Summers are typically very short in the tundra which also means trees cannot get enough warmth and energy to survive there.

tundra plants and grasses
 
Surprisingly, there are close to 1700 types of plants that can be found in the Arctic tundra regions. The plants that do survive there are made up of low shrubs, sedges, grasses, mosses, liverworts, lichens and low lying flowers such as poppies. As for the alpine tundra regions ( mountainous areas of tundra above 1000 ) the soil has better drainage which allows for a variety of different plants to thrive. Like the arctic, the alpine tundra is also dominated by mosses and lichens however we can also find an abundance of dwarf shrubs and flowers. Because of the low levels of warmth and C02, alpine tundra plants have evolved a number of key features to help them survive. One such adaptation includes the growing of small, fine hairs that can be used to trap warmth against the plant and protect it from the cold. Another good example is the use of anthocyanins, a group of chemicals which are used to convert low levels of sunlight to heat and act as a kind of sunscreen against the harsh sunlight that results from the thin atmosphere at such elevations.

 
tundra plant life and flowers
 
The most obvious adaptations to severe tundra or alpine environments are reduction in plant height and a tendency toward an herbaceous habit. In exposed places, even small trees are blasted by wind and blowing snows so that ‘tree’ growth is possible only as a twisted shrubs near the ground. Snow collects and packs hard in the dense branches of the shrubs and thus protects the evergreen leaves against death by desiccation in the dry winter air when the soil is cold or frozen. Snow also insulates the leaves against temperature extremes: low in winter and high in the bright sun of early spring before the soil has thawed.

 
arctic flowers
 
Seed dormancy is another consideration when talking about plant life adaptations in the tundra regions. Most seed germination in the tundra takes place in the early summer with seedlings having just a few weeks to sprout, develop a root system and produce sufficient enough food reserves to survive through the next winter. When weather conditions are optimal, plants can easily germinate and take hold however during times of poor weather the plants may miss their germination window. In such times the seeds will remain dormant, sometime for a number of years, before they have a chance to grow. For this reason tundra plants have evolved to know when to germinate to allow for the maximum possible chance of life. 
 
Listed below you can find some typical plants to be present in the tundra along with their scientific names.



Sedges ( Cyperaceae family )


Sedges are one of the most populous and important tundra plants. They provide energy for a number of plants eating animals and are an essential part of the tundra food chain. Sedges are one of the world's top 10 largest families of flowering plants with over 5000 species. Some of the species one find on the tundra include :
  • water sedge ( carex aquatilis )
  • Bigelow's sedge ( Carex bigelowii )
  • tussock cottongrass ( Eriophorum vaginatum )
  • white cottongrass ( Eriophorum scheuchzer 
water sedge - carax aquatilis
water sedge - carex aquatilis
 
Grasses (Poaceae family)

Grasses are one of the most versatile and adaptive lifeforms on the planet. The tundra is home to a number of different grasses which have adapted to survive in the cold environment. These include :
  • arctic bluegrass (Poa arctica)
  • alpine bluegrass (Poa alpina)
  • boreal alopecurus ( Alopecurus alpinus )
  • pendantgrass ( Arctophila fulva )
  • tufted hairgrass ( Deschampsia caespitosa )
  • wideleaf polargrass ( Arctagrostis latifolia )
  • spike trisetum ( Trisetum spicatum )
arctic bluegrass (Poa arctica)
arctic bluegrass - poa arctica
 
Willows (Salicaceae family)

Willows are most commonly thought of as large trees with drooping braches and long searching root systems as you might find in England or Europe. On the tundra willows are a very different looking species. The are very low lying, creeping plants. Some of the common types of tundra willow include :
  • arctic willow (salix arctica , the northernmost woody plant in the world)
  • least willow ( Salix rotundifolia) and netleaf willow ( salix reticulata )
arctic willow - salix arctica
arctic willow - salix arctica

Berries and Heaths (Ericaceae family)


The Ericaceae family contains a number of different types of plants, such as  herbs, dwarf shrubs, shrubs and trees. Tundra plants included in the ercacea family include :
  • Northern Bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum )
  • cowberry/lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
  • alpine bearberry ( Arctostaphylos alpina )
  • wild rosemary ( Ledum palustre )
  • Arctic white heather ( Cassiope tetragona )
  • black crowberry ( Empetrum nigrum  )
Northern Bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum )
Northern Bilberry - vaccinium uliginosum
 
Birch (Betulaceae family)

The birch family of flowering plants comprises of between 120-150 species of plants. On the tundra we can find :
  • American dwarf birch (  Betula glandulosa )
  • dwarch birch ( Betula nana )
American dwarf birch - betula glandulosa
American dwarf birch - betula glandulosa
 
Saxifrage (Saxifragaceae family)

There are currently approximately 300 identified speacies of saxifrage. They are mostly noted for there small, colorful flowers and delicate foliage. As far as the tundra is concerned we can find :
  • purple saxifrage ( Saxifragra oppositifolia )
  • Drooping Saxifrage ( Saxifragra cernua )
  • tufted saxifrage( Saxifragra caespitosa )
purple saxifrage ( Saxifragra oppositifolia )
purple saxifrage - saxifragra oppositifolia
 
Buttercup (Ranunculaceae family)

The Ranunculaceae are herbs or rarely shrubs or vines comprising 50 genera and 2,000 species. in arctic and alpine regions we find:
  • snow buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis)
  • smallflowered anemone ( Anemone parviflora )
  • whitee marsh marigold (caltha leptosepala)
snow buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis)
snow buttercup - ranunculus nivalis
 
Rose (Rosaceae family)

Roses are one of the most well known of all plant families. They are also one of the most economically important plants on the planet. While we are all familiar with the sweet smelling cut roses of the flower shops, the rose family also comprises of apples, pears, almonds, plums and strawberries to name just a few. Tundra plants in the rose family include :
  • Ross' avens ( Geum Rossi )
  • entireleaf mountain-avens ( Dryas integrifolia )
  • snow cinquefoil (Potentilla nivea.)
  • arctic cinquefoil ( Potentilla nana )
  • arctic raspberry  (Rubus arcticus L)
Ross' avens ( Geum Rossii )
Ross' avens - geum rossii
 
Mustard  (Brassicaceae family)

The mustard family includes common table vegetables such as brocolli, cabbage, cauiflowers and radishes. Mustard, horseradish and wasabi are also included in this family. In the polar northern regions the mustard family has evolved to survive the cold winters and includes:
  • alpine draba ( Draba alpina L )
  • arctic whitlowgrass ( Draba arctica J. Vahl )
  • golden draba ( Draba aurea Vahl ex Hornem )
tundra plants alpine draba - draba alpina L

 
Aster (Asteraceae Family)

Also refered to as the daisy or sunflower family, the Aster family of plants is very large, containing more than 22,000 species and is mostly comprised of herbacous species. The family includes a great variety of species from lettuce and artichokes to chrysanthemums and dandelions. Some of the species to found on the tundra include :
  • field sagewort ( Artemisia campestris L)
  • arctic groundsel (Tephroseris atropurpurea)
  • Swamp Ragwort ( Senecio congestus )
  • boreal sagebrush (Artemisia arctica Less )
field sagewort ( Artemisia campestris L) tundra vegetation
field sagewort - artemisia campestris L
 
Lichens (Cladoniaceae family)

The cladoniaceae family is a group of lichens withing the Fungi Kingdom. Lichens form a large percentage of vegetation in tundra and provide food for reindeer and cairbou.
  • Reindeer lichen ( Cladonia rangiferina, Cladonia stellar )
  • variety of cup lichens
Reindeer lichen ( Cladonia rangiferina ) arctic plants
reindeer lichen - cladonia rangiferina

Mosses ( Polytrichaceae and Amblystegiaceae families )

Mosses are classified in the Bryophyta division, a large grouping containing approximately 12,000 species of moss. Mosses are known as 'non-vascular' plants in that they do not contain any water carrying veins. Nor do they posses any fruits, cones, flowers or seeds. The tundra is home to a number of different mosses which cover the soil and rocks including :
  • alpine polytrichastrum moss ( Polytrichastrum alpinum (Hedw.) )
  • star campylium moss ( Campylium stellatum (Hedw.) C.E.O. Jensen )
  • Jensen's polytrichum moss (  Polytrichum commune var. jensenii (Hag) )
star campylium moss - Campylium stellatum
star campylium moss - Campylium stellatum

Liverworts ( Marchantiaceae family )

There are close to 10000 different species of liverworts. Most liverworts are small, usually from 2–20 millimetres (0.08–0.8 in) wide with individual plants less than 10 centimetres (4 in) long so they are often overlooked. Within the arctic and alpine tundra regions we can find a number of examples of liverworts clinging to life including :
  • common/umbrella liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha).
common umbrella liverwort - marchantia polymorpha
common umbrella liverwort - marchantia polymorpha
 
Legume ( Fabaceae family )

The Legume ( also known as pea or bean ) family is extensive with approximately 18000 indivual species in existance. Only three genera of legumes (Oxytropis, Astragalus, Hedysarum) are typical of the Arctic, and only Oxytropis has undergone intense speciation.Some examples of tundra plants that are classified as legumes include :
  • Arctic locoweed ( Oxytropis arctica )
  • boreal locoweed ( Oxytropis borealis )
  • alpine milkvetch (    Astragalus alpinus L.)
  • alpine sweetvetc (  Hedysarum alpinum L. )
Arctic locoweed - oxytropis arctica
 
Poppy ( Papaveraceae family )
Poppies are known the world over for their delicate beauty and economical importance as a cut flower, for poppy seeds used in food preperation and as the source of opium. The arctic tundra supports as species of poppy known simply as the
  • Arctic poppy ( Papaver radicatum , the furthest northerly growing plant on the planet)   
  • Svalbard poppy (Papaver dahlianum)
Arctic poppy - papaver radicatum
Arctic poppy - papaver radicatum

Broomrape ( Orobanchaceae family )

Broomrape plants are almost all parasitic or half parasitic flowering plants which feed on the roots of other plants. Broomrape plants are represented in the tundra by :

  • woolly lousewort or arctic hairy lousewort ( Pedicularis dasyantha )
  • elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica)

woolly lousewort  - pedicularis dasyantha
woolly lousewort  - pedicularis dasyantha
 
igwort ( Scrophulariaceae family )

Colorful spikes of flowers and finely dissected leaves characterize members of this easily recognized family. In total, there are at least nine species of louseworts that grow in the Arctic, and six are classified as freshwater plants.Some members of the family are poisonous to insects and other invertebrates, and are a source of natural pharmaceuticals for humans. The following plants are some examples of figworts growing in the arctic :

  • Pale Indian Paintbrush ( Castilleja caudata )
  • Weasel Snout (Lagotis glauca )
  • Few-headed Lousewort (Pedicularis capitata )
  • Marsh Speedwell (Veronica scutellata)
pale Indian paintbrush - castilleja caudata
pale Indian paintbrush - castilleja caudata
 
Pinks ( Caryophyllaceae family )

The pink family is a large plant family, with about 2000 species in 80 genera. They are mainly temperate herbaceous plants, and contain a number of well known garden plants - the Pinks, Carnations and Sweet William (Dianthus), Baby's Breath (Gypsophila), Campions and Catchflies (Silene and Lychnis) and Sandworts (Arenaria), as well as a number of weeds, including several types of Chickweed (Stellaria), Mouse-Ear (Cerastium) and Pearlwort (Sagina). Tundra plants that are listed in the pink family include :
  • moss campion ( Silene acaulis )
  • Arctic catchfly ( Silene involucrata )
  • apetalous catchfly (Silene uralensis)
Arctic catchfly ( Silene involucrata )
Arctic catchfly - silene involucrata