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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - March 10, 2008

From: Poway, CA
Region: California
Topic: Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Different kinds of plants living in subarctic areas
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

What are the different kinds of plants live in the subarctic areas?

ANSWER:

The subarctic includes the Canadian provinces, Alaska, Scandinavia, Siberia, northern Mongolia and northern China—in other words, the high latitudes south of the Arctic Circle (66° 33' N) and north of 70°N latitude. The soils tend to be acidic and boggy. As you go nearer to the Arctic Circle, you will find the soils will be frozen tundra for a good part of the year. There the plants are small and the primary trees you find are very small willows. There is also an abundance of mosses, grasses and sedges. Here is a link to some plants you can see on the Alaska tundra. As you go south in the subarctic you will begin to find conifers (spruces—Picea mariana (black spruce) and Picea glauca (white spruce), firs—Abies lasiocarpa (subalpine fir), and larches—Larix laricina (tamarack)) and there are smaller broadleaf trees such as birches—Betula papyrifera (paper birch), poplars—Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) and willows. The growing season is short but the daylight hours (sunlight for photosynthesis) are long so that the plants can grow rapidly. Click here to see some giant "domesticated" Alaskan plants.

One good way to see what sorts of plants grow in the subarctic region is to go to our Native Plant Database and do a Combination Search on Alaska (or one of the Canadian provinces). You can also pick what type of plant you are interested in. If you do a combination search on "Alaska" and then "Tree" under Habit you will find 43 entries and see that there are lots of conifers and small broadleaf trees—but no oaks.

Here are a few photographs of typical plants you might see in subarctic Alaska:
 

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