Arctic Wildflowers

I have been fortunate enough to have visited five arctic regions in the last two decades. The first trip in late June of 1997 began on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia and covered the entire Aleutian chain, ending in Seward, Alaska. In subsequent years, I visited arctic Norway, Iceland, Greenland and arctic Canada, and in early July of 2009 went back to the Aleutians and into the Bering Sea, going as far north as the Chuckchi Peninsula of Siberia and ending in Nome, Alaska.

Although there are many interesting and memorable things that I have enjoyed in the Arctic, the beautiful wildflowers stand out in my mind. This page will begin in arctic Norway and travel west to Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the Aleutians and the Bering Sea. A few of the images were digitized from old slides which suffered from too many slideshows, but most were taken with digital equipment.

The Lofoten Islands were an early stop on the way to the Svalbard region of Arctic Norway. They are mostly fishing and whaling areas. In Reine–as in many Norway locations, even the roofs bloom in the spring.

Bear Island is much further north and is surrounded by pack ice in the winter, and some bears are stranded here when the ice melts. So watch out!

Despite its barren appearance, there are fields of wildflowers here–most standing only a few inches tall.

We spent little time on Edgoya Island because of a nearby polar bear.

Spitzbergen Island in the Svalbard region gave us the best saxifrage show yet.

Many regions below the Arctic Circle are considered “the arctic” because the generally accepted definition is those areas above the tree line. Iceland is one of these areas. The flowers we saw there were some of the same genera I would expect to find in Norway or Alaska. In the north of Iceland, the wildflowers were very small, as one would expect. Recent volcanic activity had melted a glacier and made the rivers high and brown.

My visit to Greenland was in September of 2008. Because it was autumn, there were few flowers still blooming, but the tundra was beautiful.

On Killinig Island in arctic Canada, we found a few flowers still blooming among the remnants of ancient native summer dwellings.

On Hebron Island–the site of an abandoned mission that is being restored–we found an abundance of low berries of different kinds.

In Mug Cove, we found berries again and lots of interesting mosses and lichens. And we began to see our first trees although they were very stunted. This was the edge of the arctic region in eastern Canada.

On to Alaska!

The arctic regions of Alaska include the entire Aleutian chain and, of course, those islands in the Bering Sea. The majority of the images here are from my 2009 trip, but there are a few digitized slides from 1997. The 2009 trip cruised west only as far as Dutch Harbor before heading north into the Bering Sea, so those areas further west were the ones visited on the previous trip.

Our first stop was Kodiak Island, and right away we began to see wonderful flowers.

I remembered Aghiyuk Island from the earlier trip as being one of the flower highlights. I wasn’t disappointed.

Unga Island was foggy and drizzly, but the flowers didn’t seem to care. Unga is now uninhabited, but at one time had a fishing and mining community.

Unimak Island was rainy as well, but was festooned with the large and colorful Nootka lupine

Further west, the islands we had visited in 1997 –islands such as Nagai, Atka, Attu and Kiska were similarly adorned with flowers. I am showing a few here from Bering Island (where Vitus Bering died after being stranded here during a voyage of exploration) and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. Bering Island is also Russian.

When we turned north from Dutch Harbor in the 2009 trip, we stopped at the Pribilofs to view the vast colonies of birds and of northern fur seals. There were plenty of flowers on those islands, but we really hit the jackpot much farther north at Matthews Island. Although we cruised as far north as the Chuckchi of Russia and the Diomedes Islands and crossed the Arctic Circle, these were the last flowers that had managed to start their blooming season.

It’s hard to get images of those little low flowers. My daughter, Laurakay, caught me in the act.