Sunday, February 28, 2016

Flora of Iceland

Heather, Calluna vulgaris in bloom
Iceland is famous for stunning landscapes: waterfallls, glaciers and volcanoes. It's plant life however, also deserves attention. While low in species numbers, Iceland flora is jewel like and fascinating. It aptly illustrates the tenacity of life in a diversity of unlikely conditions.

Caluna vulgaris
Pleistocene glaciations wiped out Icelandic Boreal Forests. Succeeding glaciations left fewer and fewer species of flora. Iceland is far from Europe and North America, so species were not easily reintroduced onto the island. The only forest forming tree to return to the present interglacial was the downy birch.
Betula pubescens

Downy Birch leaves
 Other tree species native to Iceland are the uncommon Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), the extremely rare aspen (populus tremula) and abundant shrubby willows. 

Wooly Willow

Salix lanata
Human settlement, begining about 1140, served to decimate the remaining birch forests. The grazing of sheep, an important source of wool and food for Icelanders, prevented the regeneration of the birchwoods, even after human clearing had begun to decline.

Nearly a million sheep roam Iceland freely in the summer.
They are rounded up come fall.

Munch, Munch

Horses also graze, and they always face the way the wind is blowing.

The dominate plants are groundcovers and mosses, they form a colorful tapestry.

Thymus praecox

Wooly Moss colonizes the Lava.

It is gray or green, depending upon conditions.
 It gradually producing soil for the next line of succesion.

Racomitrium lanuginosum 

Marsh Grass, Parnassus palustrus, nestled in moss.

Fluorescent green algae thrives in moist areas.

And in hot springs.

Lichens also help to make soil. Mary's Falls.

Eventually grasses take hold. 
Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe, is in the background.

 Many areas of Iceland have desert conditions, 
and poor soils, such as lava fields.

Sea Campion, (Silene uniflora), growing on lava. Flowers are fading here.

Armeria maritima. 
Another strangely named plant that survives desert conditions. 
This time, mountain scree.

Saxifraga aizoides, growing on glacial deposits.

There are also meadows. Here, with Wooly Willow and Cotton Plant

Eriophoum scheuzeri

Whooper Swans in a meadow.

A common plant in iceland is Angelica archangelica.
 "Angels Herb" in late summer.
Seen growing on the right, along the water in the Gjain Valley.

Because of it's lack of vegetation and its windswept nature in the middle of the Atlantic, Iceland has an erosion problem. Spruce and Aspen have been imported and planted as windbreaks. Lupine and Lyme Grass are also being planted for erosion control. Introducing non-indigenous species may not be a good idea.

Lupine, Lupine nootkatensis.

Lyme Grass, Leymus arenarius.

Goodbye Iceland! Harlequin Ducks in non-breeding plummage.
Histrionicus histrionicus

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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