So Much More Than Snow and Ice
Many people envision tundra as a barren landscape, devoid of life. In fact, “tundra” is a Finnish word that means "treeless." But we're excited for you to see the truth! Though the summer season is short (often only 50 to 90 days) there are 1,700 plants, including 800 flowering varieties, which grow in Canada's Arctic.
Because the permafrost prevents any deep-rooted plants from growing, plants that live here are extremely adaptable to harsh conditions. Flora such as mosses, grasses, heath, lichens and small shrubs abound. In summer, the icy blanket melts away and quickly the ground is awash in red, pink, purple, green, yellow and blue. At Tutko Lodge, there are surprises all around, and the vegetation will delight you.
This flower is from the daisy family and is often spotted on sunny slopes. A stem, ranging in height from four to 12 inches, supports the large yellow flower.
Part of the Ericaceae family of plants, the Alpine Bearberry is a small dwarf shrub. Late in the summer, the leaves turn a stunning brilliant red. Smallish, white bell-shaped flowers appear before the leaves.
The Arctic Avens
Also called the White Mountain Avens, this flower prefers a rocky environment, especially limestone. Small shiny leaves and a white flower with eight petals help identify the Arctic Avens, which flowers in late June and July.
The Arctic Poppy
The Arctic Poppy, the official flower of the Northwest Territories, flowers late June to August. A cup-shaped solitary flower sits on a stem four to six inches high.
This is one of the three wildflowers on Nunavut's coat of arms and is abundant throughout the Arctic. Purple saxifrage is one of the first to flower, and usually the plant 'colony' flowers at the same time, resulting in a carpet effect. Flowers last for approximately 10 to 14 days.
Lichens and Mosses
Resilient, indestructible and often overlooked, lichens are Earth's dominant vegetation, covering an estimated eight per cent of its terrestrial surface. Lichen can withstand extreme temperatures and have even survived at -460 degrees Fahrenheit. Lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution, so scientists use them as indicators of air quality.
Caribou depend on lichen for survival throughout the winter months. When the snow flies, various lichens form 90% of their diet, and without it, the caribou would starve. Caribou can smell lichen below the snow and will dig craters to get to it, sometimes fighting over lichen patches.
One of the most common lichens found in the Arctic are Xanthoria, bright orangey-red lichen, sometimes referred to as Jewel Lichen. Another is Reindeer Moss, which is grey-green, sponge-shaped lichen.
It's a land of many contrasts with its tundra spanning thousands of miles in all directions, as far as the eye can see. Some say there's no other place on earth that matches the Arctic landscape and its diversity of life. Literally, thousands of lake, rivers, potholes, creeks and sloughs intertwined with the endless horizon, await anglers, nature lovers, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. The Territories and Nunavut are truly, one of the world's great wonders.