Wednesday, 29 July 2015

One thousand flowers

The plants at Lake Hazen have almost finished flowering now and there is an early morning chill to the air, hinting at autumn being just around the corner. The late flowering dwarf fireweed (Paunnat, Chamerion latifolium) and prickly saxifrage (Kakillarnat, Saxifraga tricuspidata) are at the peak of their flowering. The Arctic willow (Suputiit, Salix arctica), mountain avens (Malikkaat, Dryas integrifolia) and purple saxifrage (Aupilattunnguat, Saxifraga oppositifolia) have already started to disperse their fruit.

Dwarf fireweed (Paunnat, Chamerion latifolium) (top) and 
prickly saxifrage (Kakillarnat, Saxifraga tricuspidata
(bottom) are now in peak flower at Lake Hazen.

Mountain avens (Malikkaat, Dryas integrifilia) with the
fruit twisting (left) and ready to disperse seed (right).

We have had some amazing warm weather for the past two weeks - beautiful blue skies, no clouds and no wind. The water is roaring down the glacial fed Blister Creek, Abbe River and Snow Goose River that bound the Camp Hazen area. The water level in Lake Hazen is rising fast because of the warm temperatures melting the glacial ice faster than the last two years. My temperature sensors have been registering temperatures as high as 29°C at plant height (5cm above ground) and the temperature 10cm below ground has reached as high as 20°C. The landscape is looking much greener than I remember in the past two years.

Arrow Glacier (top) and Bridge Glacier (bottom) at the head of Blister Creek. The warm weather is producing high amounts of melt water from the glaciers this summer (top right). The water from the Arrow glacier runs underneath the Bridge Glacier (bottom left). Zoe at the snout of Bridge Glacier (bottom right).

The flowers have not lasted as long as last year probably because of the warm weather but there have been a lot more flowers to make up for it. The Arctic white heather (Itsutit, Cassiope tetragona) is a prime example. At my site close to camp last year the most flowers on any heather plant was 200 flowers, this year one plant had 1400 flowers at peak flowering!

An Arctic heather (Itsutit, Cassiope tetragona) plant we are
monitoring in full bloom high up on McGill Mountain on 8th July. 


  1. Zoe,

    Beautiful photos! How far do the seeds disperse? In your seasons of field work, have you ever seen any seedlings of these species or any others? How long do the seeds last in the soil. How long do individual flowers stay open? Can you quantify any relationship such that warmer weather results in shorter lifetime? Does rain cause flowers to spoil?

  2. Seeds can be carried a long way in the strong winds of the Arctic, the seeds are very small and often have hairs or pappus to aid with long distance dispersal.
    Seed recruitment is very low in the high Arctic. I have seen seedlings of short lived perennials in the mustard family including Pallas' wallflower and brayas and also the only annual, Androsace septentrionalis, which is often biennial given the very short growing season. I have seen very few, if any, seedlings of woody plants (willow, heather and mountain avens) and long lived perennials such as the saxifrages. These long lived woody plants and perennials propagate mostly vegetatively.
    The rain in the polar desert of Lake Hazen is very light, often one can see the individual rain drops on the ground so the flowers are not spoiled by the rain but the openings and pores of the dehiscent capsule fruits on plants such as the campions and poppies do close back up in the rain.