Arctic Life/Arctic Plants

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One arctic plant, the Wood-horsetails, Equisetum sylvaticum.

Vast, windswept plains of snow are among the most common images of the Arctic. However, it may surprise many people to learn that these plains burst into a dizzying carpet of colour as the spring warmth melts away the blanket of snow and ice. Plants have colonized every niche available on earth; arctic lands and waters are no exception. From the flowers of the tundra to the hardy lichens that cling tenaciously to rock, plants are an integral part of all arctic ecosystems.

Plants are critical to other life on this planet because they form the basis of all food webs. Most plants are autotrophic, creating their own food using water, carbon dioxide, and light through a process called photosynthesis. Some of the earliest plant fossils found have been aged at 3.8 billion years. These fossil deposits show evidence of photosynthesis, so plants – or the plant-like ancestors of plants – have lived on this planet longer that most other groups of organisms. At one time, anything that was green, and not an animal, was considered to be a plant. Now, what were once considered "plants" are divided into several kingdoms: Protista, Fungi, and Plantae. Most aquatic plants occur in the kingdoms Plantae and Protista.

Adaptations, Cool Facts, and Plant Biology

Arctic plants are interestingly unique from other species, mostly due to the harsh conditions of Northern environments. Please explore the sections below to learn more about these distinctive organisms.

Northern Plants

We have compiled a list of characteristic plant families and some species currently surviving in the Canadian Arctic.