Saturday, June 30, 2018

A brief glimpse of the Alaskan flora

The southeastern coastal areas of Alaska
are covered in temperate rain forest, similar
to that in the Olympic Peninsula of
Washington. The dominant colors here
are greens, provided by a rich carpet of
mosses, skunk cabbage, and other
understory plants.
Alaska is billed as the last American frontier, and like the rest of western North America, boasts an incredible array of wildflowers.  As I often find myself, other reasons called me to this great state recently, but I took the opportunity to capture a small sample of the floral diversity on (virtual) film. 

Arriving by cruise ship on nearly the longest day of the year, I experienced the other nickname for the state: land of the midnight sun.  Though still too far south to actually see the sun at midnight, the days were incredibly long, and dusk blended into dawn without getting really dark.  Wildlife somehow almost completely evaded me on this trip, though I heard other people shouting 'bear,' 'moose,' 'whale,' etc. - always from the other side of the train, bus or cruise ship. They somehow knew I was a botanist and probably thought I wouldn't be interested.

The first stops on any north-bound Alaskan cruise land us in temperate rain forest, dominated by green foliage and mostly white flowers.

The dwarf dogwood, Cornus canadensis, was our constant companion in the lowland forests of Alaska.
Maianthemum dilatatum (Asparagaceae),  the False Lily-of-the-Valley, is
another white-flowered denizen of North American forests.

Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.) can be counted on to brighten sun-lit clearings throughout western  North America.
Streptopus lanceolatus (Liliaceae) brings a bit of color
 to the forest floor, unlike it's white-
flowered cousin, Solomon's Seal.

A wild rose, Rosa acicularis, was found blooming
abundantly near Anchorage.

Cerastium beeringianum, another member of the Caryophyllaceae, was
growing not far from the wild rose. 

The chocolate lily, Fritillaria camschatcensis
(Liliaceae), like many members of its genus, has
odd, dark-colored flowers.

Lupinus nootkaensis (Fabaceae), is a common Alaskan lupine, seen here growing on top a ledge at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center.

A wild pea, of the genus Lathyrus, brightens a sunny spot.

In sunnier areas, such as the slopes around Mt. Denali, the colors expected in alpine areas make their appearance. 

Arnica angustifolia, a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), brightens up a rocky slope near Denali National Park.
Another member of the Fabaceae, apparently an Astragalus, occurs with the Arnica on rocky slopes.
As spruce trees diminish at higher elevations, much of the green cover consists of
shrubby willows.
One of the common shrubby willows  (Salix sp.) of the Alaskan taiga.

A surprising find was this dwarf willow, Salix reticulata, which branches at ground level and rises scarcely two inches.

Flat mounds of Silene acaulis, a perennial of the Carnation family
(Caryophyllaceae), can be found among boulders on rocky slopes.

Potentilla villosa (Rosaceae) forms similar low mounds on the same rocky
slopes with Silene acaulis.