Mt. Washington Above The Treeline: A Few Plants

Mt. Washington Sandwort

White Mountain Sandwort (Arenaria groenlandica)

One final delight from our Mount Washington trip was the alpine plant life.  Alpine plants are defined loosely as those that grow between the treeline and the permanent snow line.  These tough little plants have evolved to withstand low temperatures, desiccating winds, poor soils and high UV exposure.  Some are simply miniaturized forms of plants from the gentler climes below while others are unique alpine specialists, growing only above the treeline.  While stumbling over the loose granite scree fields, I was amazed to see these tiny plants flourishing in seemingly inhospitable places.  The Sandwort (photo above) is a native of Greenland, stranded on mountaintops when the glaciers receded, where it forms tiny nosegays to delight hikers.

Three-toothed Cinquefoil

Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata)

The Three-toothed Cinquefoil is another Greenland species isolated on mountaintops by the retreating glaciers.  It was thought to be a member of the Potentilla family but recent study has reclassified it as a member of the Rose family.

Cutler's Alpine Goldenrod (Solidago cutleri)

Cutler’s Alpine Goldenrod (Solidago cutleri)

Alpine goldenrod is another plant isolated on mountaintops.  It has been cultivated for rock gardens but on Mount Washington it serves as a nectaring source for the endemic White Mountain Fritillary, another souvenir of the ice sheets.  This butterfly is found only in the alpine zone of the Presidential Range, chiefly on Mount Washington.  The final two plants I want to share are miniature forms of plants familiar to me from the Maine woods, an exquisite tiny Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis, a creeping form of Dogwood) and a diminutive Meadowsweet, (Spirea latifoliaa).  The Meadowsweet  was being visited by Hoverflies, a fly that looked  and acted like a bee.

Alpine Meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia)

Alpine Meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia)

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Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

 
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