Vascular plants grow on a stem which transport nutrients and water, and they have roots that get these nutrients from the ground. These include notably flowering plants and conifers, as well as ferns, horsetails, and clubmosses. The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) group from the Arctic Council estimates that there are about 2,218 vascular plant species in the Arctic itself, without counting what they consider to be subarctic areas like most of Iceland, Fennoscandia, and the Faroe Islands. This is considered to be a low diversity of vascular plants, representing less than 1% of the world's species. Flowering plants, also called angiosperms, form the most well-known group of vascular plants. They are characterize by their reproduction through flowers, and they bear fruits which contain seeds. Because there are so many flowering plant species in the Arctic, we will be presenting a non-exhaustive list of families for their notable diversity in the region, ecological importance, or simply because they include species that are well-known or easy to recognize. Examples of species found in the East Atlantic Arctic will be given for each family, with their distribution within the East Atlantic Arctic and some interesting features.
The birch family Betulaceae also contains species such as the alders and hazels. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Dwarf birch Betula nana is found in Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland, and Fennoscandia. It grows as low shrub, up to 80cm in more southern regions but only up to 20cm in High Arctic regions such as Svalbard.
- The Downy birch Betula pubescens is a tree that can measure up to 20 meters. It is widespread throughout Fennoscandia. It is estimated that the downy birch used to cover 30% of Iceland's land areas before settlement, and it is one of the only native and wild-growing Icelandic trees although it is more scarce. Icelandic trees only rarely grow above two meters. The downy birch is also one of the only native trees to Greenland, being native to the South and South West of the country.
- The Silver birch Betula pendula. This birch species is more subarctic than the dwarf birch and downy birch. It can grow up to 25 meters high. It is found throughout Fennoscandia but more densely in the southern range.
The willow family Salicaceae is a large family of trees and shrubs which also includes groups such as the poplars and aspens. In Arctic tundra habitats, willow species tend to grow lower to the ground. Willow species are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers develop on separate individual trees. These flowers, called catkins, look different depending on whether they are female or male. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Woolly willow Salix lanata is a shrub usually measuring between 80 and 100cm. It is found in Iceland, northern Fennoscandia, and scarcely in the Faroe Islands. A few individuals may have been observed in Svalbard in two separate locations.
- The Dwarf willow Salix herbacea is one of the lowest growing trees in the world, growing only up to 6cm high. It is the only willow species that is common the Faroe Islands, and it is common in Iceland, Svalbard, Norway, and northern Fennoscandia as well. It is found around Greenland except the North.
- The Arctic willow Salix arctica grows as a low shrub. It is found in Iceland, northern Greenland, and scarcely in the Faroe Islands.
- The European aspen Populus tremula grows higher, and is a more subarctic tree, although it is found up to northern Norway. A few individuals are found in northern and eastern Iceland. It can grow up to 30 meters tall, but only to 6 meters in Iceland. It does not grow in northern mountainous areas.
The heather family Ericaceae is a large and diverse family containing many well-known groups such as the blueberries, cranberries, and rhododendrons. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus is an edible berry which grows in low shrubs in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and throughout Fennoscandia. The edges of the leaves have fine identations.
- The Bog bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum. Similar to the bilberry in size and appearance, this plant also has edible berries. It can be recognized by its rounder leaves with smooth edges. This plant is found in Iceland, throughout Fennoscandia, in some sheltered areas in Svalbard (where it is not able to produce fruits) and in Greenland except the North.
- The Crowberry Empetrum nigrum. This evergreen heather species bears edible berries, but they are not as popular as the bilberry and bog bilberry for human consumption. It is found in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland except the North, and throughout Fennoscandia.
- Common heather Calluna vulgaris. With its beautiful purple flower, this plant is typical of heath habitats in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Fennoscandia.
The buttercup family Ranunculaceae contains groups such as the buttercups, the clematis, and aconites. All ranunculaceae species contain at least one toxin which is poisonous to humans and other animals. Some can cause death if ingested, such as the Wolfsbane Aconitum napellus which grows in temperate zones. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Glacier buttercup Ranunculus glacialis, also known as Glacier crowfoot. A hardy plant that prefers cold snow beds to warmer spots, the glacier buttercup is rare in northern Fennoscandia and Svalbard, and has a scattered distribution in Iceland. It is frequent in western Greenland but absent from eastern Greenland. In Iceland, it prefers the northwestern and southeastern regions. This plant is present in the Faroe Islands.
- The Sulphur buttercup Ranunculus sulphureus. It is very similar in appearance to the Snow buttercup Ranunculus nivalis, with the sulphur buttercup having wedge-shaped basal leaves with shallower lobes. The sulphur buttercup is circumpolar. It is found with a scattered distribution in northern Fennoscandia and western Greenland, while it is more frequent in eastern Greenland and Svalbard. It is absent from Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The snow buttercup is circumpolatr as well.
- The Alpine meadow rue Thalictrum alpinum. This flower is circumpolar and widespread throughout the East Atlantic Arctic including Iceland, northern Fennoscandia, and coastal Greenland. The pink-purple flowers have a peculiar hanging appearance and the leaves look like ferns.
The daisy or composite family Asteraceae is a very large and diverse family which contains, among others, the daisies, sunflowers, asters, and thistles. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Melancholy thistle Cirsium helenioides. This thistle is remarkable for being more "gentle" than its close relatives: its protective spines are small and softer than in other thistles. The big purple flower attracts pollinators such as butterflies and bumblebees. It is found throughout Fennoscandia (more scarce in the North), in western Greenland (rare), and in a few areas in Iceland, where it was introduced.
- The Sea mayweed Tripleurospermum maritimum. As its name suggests, this beautiful mayweed is found near shores and in coastal areas. It is found around Iceland, Fennoscandia, the Faroe Islands, and is scarce in Svalbard and western Greenland.
- The Alpine pussytoes Antennaria alpina. This hardy tundra flower is found in Iceland, Greenland, and scattered in northern Fennoscandia.
The mustard family Brassicaceae is well-known for including cultivated species such as cabbages, parsnips, mustards, rapeseed, radishes, or rocket salad. However, it also includes wild plants found in the Arctic, for example:
- The Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis. This beautiful meadow flower, also called Lady's smock is found throughout the Iceland, Svalbard, western and eastern Greenland, northern Fennoscandia, and in the Faroe Islands.
- The Hoary whitlow grass Draba incana. With its hairy, straight stem, this flower is easy to recognize. It is common in Iceland, especially in the North, and in Northern Fennoscandia. It is rare in Greenland, especially on the eastern coast.
- The Snow whitlow grass Draba nivalis. This flower can be recognized by the absence of leaves on the stem. It is found in scattered distributions in Fennoscandia, northern Iceland, and Svalbard. It is common in eastern and western Greenland.
The parsley or carrot family Apiaceae. This family includes edible and aromatic species such as the carrot, celery, parlsey, coriander, cumin, parsnip, and many more. However, many species in this family are also extremely toxic to humans, some of which can be confused for edible species such as Fool's parlsey Aethusa cynapium. Almost all species in the Apiaceae fanily have white, yellow, or greenish flowers that are very closely clustered together, with multiple flower-clusters growing closely together. These flower formations are called umbels. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris. Cow parsley is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but was introduced to many regions including the Faroe Islands, Greenland, where it is common in a few specific areas, and Iceland, where it is very invasive and has become common. It was also discovered in Svalbard but was eradicated, although seeds could still be present in the soil.
- Scots lovage Ligusticum scoticum. Recognizable by its dark red stalks, the scots lovage is edible and its leaves and stalks taste like celery or parsley. It is found in eastern Canada, western Greenland, Iceland (where it is rather rare), the Faroe Islands, Northern Norway, and the northern British Isles. It prefers to grow close to the shore.
- Garden angelica Angelica archangelica. Garden angelica is a tall plant which can reach heights of two meters. It is native to Eurasia, including Finland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, but is considered an invasive plant in North America. This plant can be recognized from the Wild angelica Angelica sylvestris by its round flower clusters and roughely indented leaves, while wild angelica leaves are smother, with flat flower clusters. Garden angelica has particular smell and taste, and is commonly used to flavor some foods and alcohols. Its stems can be candied and used for flavor and decoration.
The pea family Fabaceae contains the pea and bean species used in agriculture, but also the acacias, the mimosas, and lesser known genera such as the milkvetch genus Astralgus, which contains about 3000 species! In total, the pea family includes more than 20,000 species, making the third-largest land plant family in terms of species diversity. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Alpine milkvetch Astragalus alpinus. Frequent in northern Fennoscandia, this circumpolar plant is also present in eastern Greenland. In the Arctic, it prefers low land heaths, roadsides, and river banks.
- The Tufted vetch Vicia cracca. Native of Eurasia, this plant has spread to North America, including an introduced presence in western Greenland. It is found throughout Fennoscndia, but is less well adapted to Arctic weather than its cousin the Alpine milkvetch. It is quite frequent around the Icelandic lowlands.
- The White clover Trifolium repens. The white clover has been spreading in the lower regions of the Arctic, probably because of rising temperatures. It has a circumpolar distribution and is common in Iceland and Fennoscandia (with less density in the northernmost regions). It is found in southwestern Greenland and the Faroe Islands. This clover is similar to its cousin in the East Atlantic Arctic the Red clover Trifolium pratense. However, as their names suggest, the white clover has white flowers while the flowers of the red clover are deep pink. The red clover, like the white clover, is spreading in many Arctic regions where it was not traditionally found before.
- The Nootka lupin Lupinus nootkatensis. This beautiful and hardy purple flower shrub was introduced from Alaska to Iceland in 1945 as a solution to revegetate some parts of the lowlands, and has since aggressively spread throughout the country. It is very invasive, and has taken over landscapes as well as transformed natural habitats. It is also found in Fennoscandia, where it has been reported north of the Arctic circle and could become invasive as well in the future. Its cousin, the Garden lupin Lupinus polyphyllus, is very invasive in southern and central Finland.
The pink family Caryophyllaceae, also called the carnation family, is a large family that contains, for examples, the pinks and carnations, the sandworts, the pearlworts, the starworts, the chickweeds, and the campions. The Antarctic pearlwort Colobanthus quitensis is one of only two flowering plants found in the harsh conditions of the Antarctic. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Moss campion Silene acaulis. This species is characterized by its pink flowers and dense short leafy stalks forming mats in rounded tussocks. It grows on rocky soils and snowbeds. It is a circumpolar Arctic plants, extremely common in Iceland. It is also common on Svalbard, both Greenlandic coasts, and northern Fennoscandia. It is found in the Faroe Islands.
- The Mountain sandwort Minuartia rubella. This circumpolar species is common in Iceland but rare in Fennoscandia, where it is present only in the North with a scattered distribution. It is common in western and eastern Greenland. Its cousin, the Greenland stitchwort Minuartia groenlandica is only found in Greenland and some isolated mountainoys areas in Canada and the U.S.
- The Arctic mouse-ear Cerastium nigrescens. This Atlantic Arctic species is found on rocky and damp grounds from central Canada to Novaya Zemlya. Its distribution in Iceland is scattered, while it is more common on both coasts of Greenland and on Svalbard.
The poppy subfamily Papaveroideae (in the family Papaveraceae) contains all the poppy species. Some poppies contain compounds called alkaloids which are used for their medical properties. The poppies that are found in the Arctic are some of the hardiest and northernmost plants in the world. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Arctic poppy Papaver radicatum. This species is one of the northernmost plants in the world, growing on the Kaffeklubben island north of Greenland. It is found in Iceland, Fennoscandia, and the Faroe Islands. It is closely related to the Lapland poppy Papaver lapponicum, which is sometimes considered as a subspecies of the Arctic poppy. The Lapland poppy has a circumpolar distribution, and is found in North America, both coasts of Greenland, in northern Norway, and Siberia.
- The Iceland poppy Papaver croceum. This poppy, which is widely sold as a garden decorative flower, is similar in appearance to the Arctic poppy but has more varied colors such as yellow, white, red, or deep orange. It is native from Asia but is now found in the wild in Iceland, Fennoscandia, and western Greenland due to its introduction as a garden plant.
- The Polar poppy Papaver dahlianum. This species is similar to the Svalbard poppy Papaver cornwallisense. Both are present from Canada to Svalbard, with the Polar poppy also being reported in northern Fennoscandia. Until 2009, only Papaver dahlianum was believed to exist in Svalbard.
The rose family Rosaceae is large, with almost 5000 species. It is a diverse family known for the ornamental roses, but also for other groups such as the Lady's mantles, the raspberries and blackberries and the rowans, and commercially important fruits such as the the plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds, apples and pears. Wild examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The European rowan Sorbus aucuparia. This plant, which can take the form of small trees or large shrubs, is found in Iceland and Fennoscandia, with a scattered distribution in the northern regions. In southern Greenland, a similar species is found, the Greenland mountain-ash Sorbus groenlandica. Trees and shrubs of the Sorbus genus produce berries which are eaten by birds such as thrushes and starlings during the autumn.
- The Mountain avens Dryas octopetala. A Eurasian Arctic plant, the mountain avens is frequent in Iceland, of which it is the national flower. It is also frequent throughout northern Fennoscandia, the Faroe islands in mountainous areas, and Svalbard. It is present in Greenland. It grows in low mats on rocky soils.
- The Marsh cinquefoil Comarum palustre. The marsh cinquefoil is a circumpolar flower which is found in wetlands throughout Fennoscandia, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. It is scattered or rare on both greenlandic coasts and is absent from Svalbard.
The saxifrage family Saxifragaceae is a family containing about 640 species, about 400 of which belong to the Saxifraga genus. Species of the saxifraga genus have small clustered leaves growing close to the ground, with flowers growing on a leafless stalk. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Purple saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia. This plant forms dense mats and the flowers are light purple. As its scientific name suggests ("oppositofolia" means opposite leaves), its small scale-like leaves grow opposite to each other on its branches. This plant is common in the High Arctic, including in Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, northern Finland, and Norway, but also in lower Arctic climates such as in Iceland or the Faroe Islands.
- The Tufted saxifrage Saxifraga cespitosa. This saxifrage ressembles the purple saxifrage, but with white flowers. The stalks are "tufted"
- The Alpine snow saxifrage Micranthes nivalis. This plant grows large leaves at its base which are rounded with coarse teeth, and the flowers are grouped together at the top of the long stalk. The alpine snow saxifrage has a circumpolar distribution, and it is common in Iceland, both Greenlandic coasts, Svalbard, and northern Fennoscandia. It is very similar to the smaller (and usually rarer) Slender snow saxifrage Micranthes tenuis, which is also often found in the same regions and habitats.
The grass family Poaceae regroups some of the most ubiquitous plants in the world, with cereals like wheat, corn or rice, lawn grasses, and other species like sugarcane. They are present far North in the Arctic as well, and dominate the tundra and meadow habitats. Some common East Atlantic Arctic tundra and meadow grasses include:
- The Viviparous fescue Festuca vivipara. This Arctic grass is circumpolar, found in Arctic and Subarctic regions. It is widespread in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and scattered in Svalbard, northern Fennoscandia, and western and eastern Greenland. The Northern fescue Festuca viviparoidea is more common in Svalbard and is a scattered species in eastern Greenland.
- The Common saltmarsh-grass Puccinellia maritima. This shore grass needs soils with high slat contents, which makes it a common saltmarsh grass. It is an Atlantic species which is found in coastal Fennoscandia except the Northernmost regions, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and scattered in western Greenland.
- The Arctic meadow grass Poa arctica. This circumpolar Arctic grass is found around Svalbard, western and eastern Greenland, and it is scattered in northern Fennoscandia.
The sedge family Cyperaceae is a large family of grass-like plants, with more than 5000 species. They are usually found in wetlands and poor soils, and many species are recognized by their single or multiple flower spikes. Examples of species of the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Common sedge Carex nigra is widely found around mires, lakes and wetlands in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and northern Fennoscandia. It is rare in western Greenland. As shown on the picture below, the plant shows both female parts (light green shorter flower spikes below) and male parts (long dark flower spikes above).
- The Common cotton grass Eriophorum angustifolium. This circumpolar cotton grass is found in bogs, wetlands and mires in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, northern Fennoscandia, western Greenland. and less frequently in eastern Greenland. It can easily be confused with Scheuchzer's cottongrass Eriophorum scheuchzeri which also possesses cotton-like flowers and is found in similar habitats throughout Iceland, northern Fennoscandia, and both western and eastern Greenland. In the common cotton grass, there are multiple flowers on one stlak (see picture), while in Scheuzer's cottongrass, there is a single flower.
- The Fasle sedge Kobresia simpliciuscula. This sedge is part of the bog sedge genus Kobresia, and is recognized by its short, dense, dark flower spikes. It is found in a few places in Svalbard, and scattered in eastern and western Greenland.
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- "Salix lanata, or woolly willow" by bobtravis is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
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- "haapa, lehtiä / Populus tremula" by hanna.forsman is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
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- "Calluna vulgaris" by talaakso is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- "Melancholy thistle" by Cycling Mollie is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Antennaria alpina - alpine pussytoes" by Matt Lavin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Sea Mayweed - Matricaria maritima" by Ian Cunliffe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Puccinellia maritima (Common Saltmarsh-grass / Gewoon kweldergras) 1025" by Bas Kers (NL) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Poa arctica" by Matt Lavin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Carex supina ssp. spaniocarpa (spreading arctic sedge)" by Tab Tannery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
- "Common Cottongrass" by Kim Hansen is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
- "2016.07.23_12.28.30_IMG_7468" by AndreyZharkikh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- "Engkarse - Cuckooflower - Cardamine pratensis - Billeri dei prati" by color line is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- "Draba incana (Cruciferae)" by Tim Waters is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Draba nivalis (snow draba)" by Tab Tannery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Sorbus aucuparia" by douneika is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "DRYAS OCTOPETALA (Camedrio alpino. Silberwurz. Dryade à huit pétales. Alpska velesa. Mountain Avens). Rosaceae" by apollonio&battista is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Comarum palustre (Marsh Cinquefoil / Wateraardbei) 0346" by Bas Kers (NL) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
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- "Lupinus nootkatensis" by Hans Hillewaert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Astragalus alpinus" by Jörg Hempel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "File:Bayreuth 2012 - Vicia cracca 02.JPG" by El Grafo is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
- "Trifolium repens plant NC1" by Macleay Grass Man is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- "SILENE ACAULIS (Silene acaule. Kalk-Polsternelke. Silène acaule. Brezstebelna lepnica. Moss Campion). Caryophyllaceae" by apollonio&battista is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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- "Arktisches Hornkraut - Cerastium arcticum" by ruedikueng is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Cow Parsley or Keck. Anthriscus sylvestris" by amandabhslater is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
- "Ligusticum scoticum" by peganum is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Angelica archangelica (Umbelliferae)" by Tim Waters is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Papaver radicatum (Papaveraceae)" by Tim Waters is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Svalbard Mohn - Papaver dahlianum" by ruedikueng is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
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