Are you curious of what kind of plants that grow in the harsh mountain climate? Ever wondered what that cute, white flower is called that you passed several times on your hike? Göran Wallin gives you a quick guide to the flora of the Swedish Lapland mountains.
Swedish author Sten Selander writes in his book “The Swedish Landscape”: “When you walk up a mountainside during summer, you wander backwards through the year”. A very accurate description of how you in the valley, can experience full summer, and as you walk to a mountain peak you get to experience the spring change into a snow-covered landscape.
The variations in vegetation and climate
The mountain vegetation can be organised in three different areas which follow one another according to altitude: mountain pine forest, mountain birch forest and mountain tundra.
In the low altitude areas – vegetation is richer than in the high altitude areas. The glacier buttercup (Ranunculus glacialis) is a mountain plant that grows between rocks in high altitude areas – preferably 1000 mamsl (meters above mean sea level), a very barren biotope. But there are exceptions. In Tarfala which is a high altitude alpine area in the Kebnekaise mountain range, you can find moss bell heather (Harrimanella hypnoides) on the moraine ridge close the Mt Kebnekaise glacier. Moss bell heather is usually found on much lower altitude areas of the mountains.
The mountains are a rough and exposed environment for any growing life. An important factor for the mountain flora is the altitude and how far north the growth place is. The proximity to ocean, or other large masses of water, has a lot of impact on the climate in the mountains as it has in other locations. Areas with bedrock particularly rich in lime are especially favourable and have a larger richness in vegetation. The climate of the mountain areas are consistently very stable. There are no sudden changes, and the plants have been able to develop over time into a great variation.
The growth period in the northern part of the mountain range is quite short, in the lower altitude areas of the mountain tundra from end of mid June to the beginning of September. In the areas above 1000 mamsl the growth period spans from the beginning of July to mid august – for only five weeks. But it’s not only the altitude that affect the summer climate in the mountains, the duration of the snow cover also has a great impact. When the winter is rich in snow and the spring cold – the plants get a shorter growth period. Many of the mountain plants are usually smaller in size, and it’s common that they create alternative growth patterns like bows, carpets and tussocks in order to protect themselves from wind and frost. They have other features like for example hirsuteness in order to limit evaporation and commonly a very strongly developed root system.