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How Do Plants Survive the 
Cold Weather of Denali?
a


A Blueberry Bush Thriving  in Denali

 

I bet you are wondering how plants survive 
out here on the cold tundra?
  

I do, too.  Plants need warmth and sunlight to grow. But out here on the tundra it is cold and the sun is always very low in the sky. Many plants do not survive but those that do have adapted to the harsh, cold climate.  While we're hiking, keep an eye out for interesting plants and we'll explore how they are able to survive.

 

Cold

Check this out.  It's a blueberry bush.  Yummy.  These berries are tasty!!!  I'm surprised that these plants can survive the cold weather of the tundra.  In the winter, the temperature can dip down near -50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Even in the Summer, the temperature can dip down near freezing most nights.  The blueberry bush and other arctic plants have had to adapt in many interesting ways to survive these very cold 

 

 


The blueberry bush grows very close to the ground so that it can absorb the warmth that has been trapped by the dark soil.

temperatures.  One of the most interesting adaptations of the blueberry bush and other arctic plants is how they grow very close to the ground with leaves that spread out along the soil.  You must be wondering how this helps the plant survive Denali's cold weather?  Out on the tundra, the dark soil absorbs the heat of the sun.  Many plants grow close to the ground so that they can absorb the warmth that has been trapped by the dark soil.
 

 


Alpine Forget-Me-Nots make the most 
out of every second of Denali's short growing season.

 

Short Growing Season

Wow, over here is the Alpine Forget-Me-Not.  This flower, and many other arctic plants, have had to adapt to survive the very short growing season of the arctic tundra.  After all,  the growing season only lasts between 50 and 90 days.  Plants must make the most of every minute.  The Alpine Forget-Me-Not, and many other arctic flowering plants, actually form their flower buds at the end of the summer.  These buds are

small but tough and can survive the brutally cold winter.  In the Spring, as soon as the temperatures get high enough this bud will form into a flower.  In this way, the Alpine Forget-Me-Not makes the most out of every second of Denali's short growing season..

 

Wind

The wind out here just keeps blowing.  Day after day the tundra is swept by very high winds.  It's amazing that plants don't get blown away. Sometimes, we can feel sand that is blown by the wind sting our faces and arms.  I can just imagine what the wind-blown snow feels like during the winter when the winds are even stronger.  How do plants survive this harsh wind?  First, plants that are

 

 


The Fireweed's seeds are plume- shaped.  This allows them to ride on the wind a long way before falling to the ground where they can take root.

out of the wind in sheltered  nooks and valleys have a much better chance of taking root and growing to maturity.  Second, many plants use the wind to their advantage.  That plant over there is called Fireweed.  It has seeds that are plume-shaped.  They ride on the wind for a long way before falling to the ground where they can take root.  Third, this plant disperses its seeds over time.  The wind often changes direction and will spread the seeds over many different areas. 
 

Infertile Soil

Oh, good.  I was hoping we would see this interesting little plant, the Saxifrage.    Because the weather is so cold and the ground above the permafrost is so soggy, dead plants do not decompose very well.  This plant grows well on the rocky, infertile soil because of a neat adaptation.  When its leaves die, some of them fall to the ground.  On the ground they do not decompose but pile on top of other dead leaves.  This pile of dead leaves helps the plant in several 

 

 


The Saxifrage is a cushion plant.  The cushiony pile of dead leaves help this plant get food. 

ways.  First, they provide some nutrients for the growing plant.  Second, they trap wind-blown dust that adds nutrients for the plant.  Third, this cushiony pile of dead leaves traps heat from the sun and provides protection from the high winds of the tundra.

 

Even though it is very difficult for plants to survive out here on the tundra, they do survive.  Look around at how green it is.  Ingrid, our friendly park ranger, told us that there are many different kinds of plants (over 1,700 different plants).  Check out some more of the plants that we saw to learn about them and how they survive the cold weather and lack of sunlight out here on the tundra.

The Amazing Plants of the Tundra

 

So, You Want To Learn More About Alaska's Plant Adaptations?

Arctic Plants Can Stand the Heat
http://www.nature.com/nsu/000831/000831-10.html

Arctic Plant Life
http://www.saskschools.ca/~gregory/arctic/Aplants.html

Arctic Tundra: Plants
http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/msese/earthsysflr/tundraP.html

Tundra Plants
http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/tundra_plant_page.htm



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