A far cry from the white wonderland of winter, in summer the tundra of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve awakens in a brilliant kaleidoscope of wildflowers. From the deep purple of the poisonous Monksood, to the bright pink of the Common Fireweed, the landscape offers an endless selection of flora to identify. Check out some of the most common tundra wildflowers, below!
Woolly Lousewort (Pedicularis dasyantha)
Named for the remarkable artic adaptation that gives it its unusual appearance, the Woolly Lousewort can commonly be found in stony tundra areas across northern Alaska.The "wool", as it is know, is a layer of fuzzy insulation, which wraps around the steam of the plant, protecting it from wind and cold. Much like the glass of a greenhouse, the wool can trap solar energy and hold in warm air around the plant, allowing it to grow in the harsh arctic conditions.
The Woolly Lousewort usually has a single thick steam, or occasionally a few steams clustered together, which grows around 6 inches tall. The pink to purple flours bloom in a cluster at the end of the steam. When young, flowers are covered with dense wool. As warmer weather arrives, the flowers break through the wool, painting the landscape shades of rose.
The entire lousewort plant is edible, and has a history of food use by humans. The blossoms can be eaten raw, and have a lightly, sweet taste. The Inupiat have a dish similar to sauerkraut, where the flowers are covered with water and left in a barrel to ferment.The leaves and steams can be cooked and added to a number of dished like soups or casseroles. The lousewort's thick fleshy taproot, which helps it grow in dryer climates, is similar in flavor and texture to a young carrot and can be used in a variety of recipes, or eaten raw.
Alpine Arnica (Arnica alpina)
Related to daisies and asters, Alpine Arnicas are one of many varieties found in Alaska. They are usually seen around June and July on dry alpine and sub-alpine slopes.
Alpine Forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris)
The Alpine Forget-Me-Not is a member of the borage family and is found in alpine and sub-alpine meadows and slopes throughout Alaska. Blooming May-June, these tall, delicate beauties are the state flower of Alaska.
Both Common Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Dwarf Firewed (Epilobium latifolium) are common in the Seward Peninsula. While both bloom from about July-August, Common Fireweed is taller and its leaves turn bright orange-red in the fall, while Dwarf Fireweed is low-growing and commonly found along streams and rivers.
Both the Mountain Harebell (Campanula lasiocarpa) and the Common Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) are found in the tundra of Bering Land Bridge. The Mountain Harebell is very small and grows solitary on rocky alpine slopes, while the Common Harebell is tall and slender, growing in clumps on grassy slopes and rocky outcroppings.
Kamchatka Rhododendron (Rhododendron camtschaticum)
At first glance, the Kamchatka Rhododendron might resemble Dwarf Fireweed, but in fact it is significantly different on closer inspection. Blooming late-May to mid-June, this low-growing wildflower thrives on tundra slopes throughout the Seward Peninsula.
Labrador Tea (Ledum palustris)
In summer, the tundra will be fragrant with the zesty aroma of Labrador Tea, which blooms in June in wet boggy areas. As a low-growing shrub, it is recognizable by its long, thin leaves. Although it can be brewed into a tasty tea, it contains low levels of a mild poison and should be consumed only in moderation.
Monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium)
Once called wolfbane, the Monkshood is a poisonous plant that blooms in July and August on the sloping tundra. Monkshood is a member of the buttercup family, and is easily recognized by its deep purple lobed petals that grow on long, thin stems.
One-flowered Cinquefoil (Potentilla uniflora)
The one-flowered cinquefoil is one of many cinquefoil varieties in the rose family. These bloom mid-May through mid-June, and are most commonly found on rocky, exposed slopes, and almost always have 5 petals with an orange spot at the base.
Tall Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium acutiflorum)
Found in wet fields and often near streams, the Tall Jacob's Ladder blooms in July and August as a tall perennial plant. It often has clumps of flowers with 5 pointed blue petals at the top of a long stem.