Naturally as a wildlife enthusiast and Eagle Scout, I was excited about seeing bears and moose and caribou. Yet as we made our way through both national parks and scenic hikes, I began to discover an abundance of life that I had not been prepared for. On many of the hikes our guides would stop to point out different plants, describing them in detail. I almost never paid attention to this preferring to scour the area for the bigger life-forms. It wasn’t until I was hiking high up in Denali National Park in what is considered alpine tundra did my perspective change. We were being led along the ridge of a mountain, heading for a herd of Dall sheep, when I saw a tiny little blue flower with a yellow center. Such a simple little flower, yet at that moment I saw how incredible this plant must’ve been to be able to thrive in such a harsh environment. It was so delicate and seemingly insignificant, yet it completely captivated and inspired me.
This little plant turned out to be the Alpine Forget-Me-Not, Alaska’s state flower. From that point on I began to pay much closer attention to all the life surrounding me, not just the big and dangerous. I purchased a field guide and began to identify any flowers that I came by. It wasn’t long till I grew to love Alaska’s wildflowers. The more I observed, the more I realized how remarkable plants are and this realization truly changed and enhanced my experience. I noticed how people would walk through the Alaskan wilderness hoping to see a wolf or a lynx completely ignoring the abundance of life only inches away. I am so happy to have gained this respect and understanding for Alaska’s native plant life because it has given me a better glimpse into what this place truly is. Both the plants and the animals are crucial in maintaining their ecosystem, a fact which more often than not goes unnoticed. Because of this new-found respect, I have been able to truly experience the wildlife of Alaska in all its remarkable forms. Whether it’s Arctic Lupine, Monk’s Hook, Siberian Aster, Fireweed, or the Alpine Forget-Me-Not; all of these flowers are important and have revealed a world in which I was completely ignorant to. They have taught me that beauty is spontaneous and open, existing in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors; a lesson that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.
While I obviously cannot go into detail about every flower Alaska has to offer, here are some of my favorites that I encountered along my journey through the Last Frontier:
|Arctic Lupine - One of the coolest plants I've ever seen, Lupine
is poisonous to humans, but is an important food source
for grouse and Alaska's state bird, the ptarmigan.
|Red Columbine - Found this near a waterfall, the Red Columbine |
attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies due to the open
chutes that lead straight to its nectar.
|Tall Larkspur - Another great plant, Larkspur is poisonous to |
both humans and animals. Able to get up to 6 feet tall, its seeds
are its most toxic part. Check out Glenn in the background!
|Alpine Forget-Me-Not - Alaska's state flower; they were |
once worn to maintain a lover's affection. They grow
on mountain slopes and in alpine tundra.
|Cow Parsnip - One of the larger plants I came across, Cow|
Parsnip has an alkaloid inside its stem that can
react with sunlight to cause an irritating rash. I noticed
a lot of people confused it with Yarrow.
|Yarrow - Much smaller than Cow Parsnip, Yarrow has unusual |
fern-like leaves, making it easy to identify. It is an
aromatic herb, often being used in tea.
|Blue Bells - A pretty little flower, these plants are |
also known as chiming bells. They grow in
meadows, beaches, and woodlands.
|Siberian Aster - Characterized by its starburst flower head, |
Siberian Aster is just one of Alaska's aster species.
Thanks for reading! Come see these flowers for yourself!
--Stephen St. Michael