Windswept and treeless, the Alaskan Arctic may appear botanically inhospitable, but tenacious mosses, sedges, shrubs and lichen dot the tundra. The U.S. Forest Service ranks only one tundra plant as federally endangered, though three more have been assigned a global rating of G1, which indicates a plant is “critically endangered throughout its range” by The Nature Conservancy. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game credits geographical isolation, limited human impact, “and a little luck” with the state’s comparably short list of threatened species.
Aleutian Shield Fern
The sole federally classified endangered inhabitant of the Alaskan Tundra is the Aleutian shield fern, native to the central Aleutian Islands. It lives on cliffs and rocky outcroppings at approximate elevations of 1,200 to 1,700 feet. The Aleutian shield fern is considered in danger of extinction and has a global ranking of G1. However, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks maintains a greenhouse fern population to monitor the shield fern.
Aleutian wormwood grows on Kiska and Rat Islands, part of the far western Aleutian Islands chain. It demands an elevation of at least 700 ft. and lives best in graveled, windy fellfields. Generally, Aleutian wormwood appears as scattered white rosettes in bare patches between healthy vegetation. Its leaves are covered with long blonde hairs, similar to a paintbrush. Rarely, a flowering stem of 4 to 5 cm appears at the apex of the plant.
Native to Kodiak and Sitkalidak Islands in south Alaska, Sessile-leaved scurvy-grass lives in gravel bars on the coast in intertidal zones. It can grow up to 7 cm tall but is under water at high tide. Its seeds are covered with waxy scale-like knobs called trichomes. While officially ranked G1, the Alaska Rare Plant Field Guide notes, “There remains some question as to the appropriate rank at which to treat this taxon.”
Bering Sea Douglasia
The Seward Peninsula reaches out into the Bering Sea from Alaska's west coast and hosts the Bering Sea douglasia, a small herb with a slender tap root. On the peninsula, this G1-ranked douglasia is often found on limestone. It also grows on mountain summits in western Alaska at heights between 1,000 and 1,800 feet. The Bering Sea douglasia is differentiated from other species of douglasia by the dense blanket of tiny, branched hairs covering the leaves and stem. Pink flowers bloom in mid to late June and gradually turn white.
Sensitive species are evaluated by “significant current or predicted downward trends in populations or habitat” by the Alaska Natural Heritage Program. The U.S. Forest Service has designated just one tundra plant as "sensitive." Calder’s lovage grows near limestone in alpine or and sub-alpine climates on Kodiak Island, off the south coast. It has no global endangerment rank.
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Alaska’s Arctic Tundra
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Alaska’s Non-Endangered Species
- Alaska Natural Heritage Program: Rare Plant Field Guide
- Alaska Natural Heritage Program: Definitions and Codes
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Where Is the Tundra?
- Photo Credit tundra image by Brett Bouwer from Fotolia.com
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