• Breathtaking autumn colors in Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

    Bering Land Bridge

    National Preserve Alaska

Trees and Shrubs

Because the tundra floor is frozen year round, only the hardiest of trees can survive here. In Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, most of these happen to be willows or birch, which can thrive with a shallow root system, low-growing structure, and high tolerance to wind and cold temperatures. Although many of these may look the same at first glance, upon closer inspection they are in fact quite different, and well-adapted to their respective niches in the environment.

 
Arctic Willow in bloom

Arctic Willow in bloom

NPS Photo

Arctic Willow (Salix arctica)

This small, shrubby willow is well adapted to the tundra environment, with its low-lying structure and shallow root system that allows it to thrive in nutrient-poor soils and rocky ground. The arctic willow even produces its own pesticide to keep insects away during its growing season. It is typically about 7 inches tall with 1 inch oval leaves covered in thick hairs.

 
Yellow Alaska willow on either side of a stream bank

Alaska Willows in fall colors

NPS Photo - Andrea Wilingham

Alaska Willow (Salix alaxensis)

The Alaska Willow blooms late May through early June and is typically a tall (15-20 ft.) shrub with oval, pointed leaves densely covered with white hairs. Alaska willows are known to sometimes turn into "diamond willows," which develop when a fungus eats diamond-shaped patches into the trunk. This creates a highly prized wood for some woodworkers. In addition, the young buds and inner bark can be eaten raw for medicinal purposes as a painkiller.

 
A hillside of brilliant orange birch bushes with granite tors in the background

Dwarf Birch in fall colors

NPS Photo - Andrea Willingham

Dwarf Birch (Betula nana)

With smaller and more rounded leaves than willows, the dwarf birch grows thick in densely vegetated areas of the Alaskan tundra. The twigs can be resinous and hairy, with thick, leathery leaves, and the seeds are distributed mainly by the wind.

Did You Know?

Two male musk oxen budding heads in the middle of the Kougarok Road in Nome, Alaska.

Muskox were once extinct on the Alaskan Seward Peninsula, but were reintroduced in 1970. They are now thriving on the Peninsula, even in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.