Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Plants and Animals of the Alpine Tundra

We encountered a bit of a traffic jam as we approached the highest point on Trail Ridge Road.  The problem was that many vehicles were stopping to see the elk.  According to a forest ranger a herd stays up here year around.  It seemed that they are quite use to people gawking at them!  Only other animal we saw way off in the distance was a fat marmot, who was sunning himself on some rocks.
At the Alpine Center there are wonderful exhibits displaying the varieties of wild flowers growing on the tundra, which number about one hundred.  Some of them grow so slowly that they will be only the size of a silver dollar after thirty years!   Summer is brief here, like about 3 months.  Plants have only that amount of  time to bloom and reproduce.  I was lucky to find a few forget-me-nots poking their heads up.  There are signs along the path to identify them.
The flower has a vegetable version of a fur coat, according to the interpretive sign near them.  Fine "fuzzy" hairs along its stem trap heat.  The flower has a sweet fragrance which draws honeybees- that may explain how the plant received its name. The delicate white flower near it is a white mountain avens.  It has an extensive root system which may reach up to 6 feet down into mineral- rich topsoil.
One flower which I saw a lot of on the tundra is the moss companion.  It, as well as many of the flowers in this area, hug the ground to protect it from harsh, drying winds.  The plant is tightly packed with leaves to conserve moisture and heat.  The dense greenery traps dirt which accumulates into topsoil. 
Some of the flowers on the tundra are dwarf versions of flowers found in lower areas, such is the case of the sunflowers pictured above.  As you may have noticed in the previous posting, there are many other types of yellow flowers up here as buttercups, avens, yellow stonecrop and the common dandelion. 
We spent one more day in the national park, more on that in the next posting.

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