Plants of the Alpine and Sub Alpine Zones

As promised, I am ending my series of posts on the White Mountains with a look at some of the plants we encountered above and just below the tree line. We were there in late August, so we missed the prime blooming season of early summer, but there were still plants growing wherever they could survive, and a few were still flowering.

It always amazes me how plants can establish in the rockiest, gnarlyest, highest, most windswept places — like the exposed mountainside  in the top photo.

This diapensia was flowering consistently wherever we hiked above the tree line.

In other places, thick carpets of diverse plants, including mosses and grasses, blanket the ground.

We were told that many alpine plants are decades old. It’s a fragile environment, and the Appalachian Mountain Club asks hikers – verbally and in writing –  to stay on the trails to avoid trampling and destroying what took so many years to create. But as you can see in this photo I took at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, people still walk all over areas where they shouldn’t be, crushing everything they step on. I didn’t hear or see anyone from the hut enforcing the stay-off-the-plants policy, either.

Another inconsistency: We actually saw several people smoking, and found cigarette butts on the ground outside both of the huts we stayed in. One evening after dinner, a man was smoking a big, stinky cigar just outside the hut. We were surprised this was tolerated, since you are not supposed to light any sort of flame around the huts, not to mention the incongruous stink in the clear alpine air. Yuck!

Rant over. Back to the plants:

This alpine azalea was the only one of its kind we saw that was in flower. It’s only about an inch and a half tall! It looks just like the ones we grow here in Rhode Island, only much smaller – and way tougher.

Bunchberry is also common, and the red berries are a nice contrast against the green.

The leaves hanging down above the stocky balsam ( just a few inches tall)  belong to an equally tenacious and short birch tree – about a foot tall. I found the balsams to be very generous with their wonderful scent. We were hit with it every time we walked past them. And the air was  generally clear and sweet, although it can get hazy sometimes from all the pollution to the south.

The AMC offers many specialized tours, including a guided early summer trip to see  the alpine meadow during peak blooming season. For more information, go here.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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4 Responses to Plants of the Alpine and Sub Alpine Zones

  1. Wendy says:

    What a cool series of posts.


  2. Wendy says:

    I just read A Walk in the Woods. Have you read that? It’s funny and I learned a lot. How fitting to see these gorgeous photos.


    • dirtynailz says:

      Yes, I read it a few years ago. I enjoyed it too. It’s pretty hard to take a bad photo up there, as long as you have the kind of weather we did.


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