Arctic Life/Arctic Plants/Cool Facts

From Arctic Bioscan Wiki

There is much to learn about Arctic plants, so we have highlighted the most interesting facts for your interest. Please explore the tabs below to learn some cool facts about Northern plants!

Disease Fighters
Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia officinalis.

Early explorers who overwintered in the Arctic were at risk of developing scurvy due to a lack of vitamin C in their diets. Scurvy is a nasty disease causing body tissues to break down because important proteins cannot be produced. The leaves of scurvy-grass, Cochlearia officinalis, which are high in vitamin C, were consumed by these explorers as a dietary supplement to prevent the disease.

Lichens for Lunch

Although lichens would likely be the top choice at any caribou cafeteria, they are seldom found on human menus. Despite this lack of lichen consumption, the Franklin Expedition, on its quest to find the Northwest Passage, was saved from starvation in 1830 by peeling sheets of rock tripe off boulders. When boiled up, these lichens make a gelatinous stew that fills the stomach and provides a few calories, but the taste is no treat!

Making Babies

Because the arctic summer is so short and unpredictable, many arctic plants hedge their bets when it comes time for reproduction. They not only produce seeds through conventional sexual reproduction, but also generate offspring through more innovative means. One of these unique approaches is viviparity, in which plants invest their energy in producing a batch of bulblets (tiny buds) rather than more leaves or flowers. These bulbs can survive the winter and grow into young plants the next season.

Disease Fighters
Moss blankets cover the bottom of Char Lake.

Arctic lake bottoms are often blanketed in thick moss. Because of the water's cold temperature, these mosses grow slowly, and live much longer than their temperate relatives. The decay of dead mosses is also slowed by low temperatures, adding to this coating on the lake bottom. These moss blankets are insulators, trapping heat from the sediments below, and keeping the waters above a few degrees warmer. This is to the benefit of the many organisms that inhabit arctic lakes, like crustaceans and fish.

Cottongrass, Eriophorum sp.

The fluffy, white seed heads of cottongrass are a conspicuous component of most arctic landscapes. Given their abundance, it is no surprise that the Inuit made good use of them. Small matted packets of the seed heads were used as wicks in oil lamps, while larger bundles were used as absorbent linings in the trousers worn by infants – perhaps the world's first disposable diapers!

Warm Fuzzies
Hairs trap warm air, keeping arctic plants like the mastadon flower, Senecio congestus, warm.

Humans bundle up when it is cold outside by wearing warm sweaters and jackets; amazingly, arctic plants use a similar tactic. One of the most striking features of polar plants is their extreme hairiness. These hairs keep the plants from freezing in the cold temperatures and bitter winds of the arctic climate by acting like the glass panes of a greenhouse – they radiate heat back towards the plant. They then trap a thin layer of warm air against the plant, which not only prevents freezing, but speeds growth and development.