The surprising beauty of Alaska's tundra flowers

August 17, 2015, 12:03 p.m.

When we think of the tundra, most of us probably think of a vast, flat, frozen expanse of rocks and lichen. But in reality, the tundra is home to an impressive diversity of plant life. In northwest Alaska, for example, there are dozens of flowering plant species and in the spring and summer, that supposedly barren landscape is alive with color.

The magenta flower above is called woolly lousewart flowers (Pedicularis lanata). The beautiful pink flowers covering the stalks are a stand-out on the tundra. But here you'll also find a mix of yellow, white, pink and purple flowers blossoming in a riotous mix of color spreading low across the moist ground.

Flowers on the tundra have a short time in which to bloom, and that means a short time in which the arctic bumble bee can get to work after months of hiding out in an underground burrow.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game writes, "She has been hibernating for the past nine months at least, suspended in an almost lifeless state in a mouse nest or some other subterranean burrow, waiting for the ground to warm. Already mated, the queen is the sole survivor of her colony and she has no time to lose. Some insects take years to complete their life cycle in the Arctic... A bumblebee in the Arctic, however, must get busy right away, said biologist Bernd Heinrich."

These bumble bees have but a couple of months to take advantage of the diversity of blooms across the tundra. And the flowers also rely on the bumble bees for pollination. It is thanks to these and other pollinating insects even in the far reaches of the north, that such a wonderful diversity of flowers can be enjoyed by so many other species.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.