© Ron Niebrugge / www.wildnatureimages.com
The maritime climate and abrupt, glacially carved peaks of the Kenai Fjords are home to a diverse array of plants. From the largest Sitka spruces, ancient and immense, to the smallest shoots of sprouting fireweed and the soft and verdant blankets of moss covering the forest floor, the plants of Kenai Fjords thrive in a harsh land of ice, rock, snow and rain. The sheer cliffs, jagged peaks and steep valleys of the ice-carved landscape create huge variations in habitat and plant communities over short distances. Lush and highly productive temperate rainforests can be found less than a mile or two from nearly desolate mountain ridges which support only a thin layer of alpine vegetation.
Kenai Fjords National Park is a truly dynamic place. Some of the changes are natural. Others are not. As glaciers retreat since the last ice age, plants colonize new areas and ecosystems grow and change through ecological succession. Anthropogenic climate change is speeding this process, and humans are further modifying the natural order by introducing invasive plants. The plants of Kenai Fjords are a perfect lens through which to see the forces of nature at work, remaking the landscape and its inhabitants, and to understand the growing role of human decisions in shaping the natural world.
Did You Know?
River otters defecate in certain spots to mark their territory. Researchers in Kenai Fjords National Park have discovered that these "latrine sites" enrich the soil, allowing plants to grow in those spots that aren't found anywhere else close by.