A creek bed between orange and red tundra slopes
Tundra extends west from the Neacola Mountains near Big Valley

NPS Photo / L. Wilcox

A close up view of red tundra plants in autumn
Many tundra plants turn bright colors as the northern summer transitions into autumn

NPS Photo/K. Jalone

To scientists, tundra is treeless zone with generally low temperatures and a short growing season. Alaskan hikers, on the other hand, know tundra as a welcome relief from alder thickets, bogs, and dense spruce forest.

There are two kinds of tundra in Alaska, alpine and arctic. Arctic tundra is found north of the permafrost line, generally north of the arctic circle. Alpine tundra is found around the state at high elevations - this is the kind found in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Caribou make their homes on the tundra, as do ground squirrels, ptarmigan, red-backed voles, and other animals.

Tundra plantlife consists of a vibrant but fragile patchwork of many different species. The landscape is buried underneath snow for a majority of the year. Even once the snow has melted during the short summer, temperatures on the tundra can be cold and winds can be strong. This is a world where only the heartiest survive. This short and harsh growing season gives plants less time to grow and results in them being smaller and closer to the ground. Growing near the surface in dense, low-lying mats helps tundra plants retain valuable heat and moisture in a landscape where it can be drained quickly by howling winds. Tundra plantlife in effect becomes a world in miniature, consisting of small leaves and the tiniest of flowers.

Common species of plants found on Lake Clark's tundra include:

  • Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)
  • Crowberry (Empertrum nigrum)
  • Caribou Moss or Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia rangifernia)
  • Lowbush Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis idaea)
  • Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)

Learn more about the plants of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.


Last updated: February 15, 2018

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