An Icelandic Overview

Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Our NARGS chapter has recently been given a pretty complete collection of national NARGS bulletins from 1965 to present by a retiring member. (1965, I think, is when our Chapter was formed.) We now have a place to store them and plan their use as a lending library. The first stage is cataloging what we have. I offered to record some of them, and of course, I am taking the opportunity to peruse the literature.

Since we have here at DG a noteworthy Icelandic participant, I thought this appropriate as I ran across an article in a 1967 edition about touring Iceland. Written by an NARGS member, the tour was actually to see “Birds of Iceland”, but as the author puts it: “ Most of the references in the descriptive brochure were about the interesting bird life in Iceland, but there were enough remarks about the plants to whet our appetites and make going . . . worthwhile.” Touring began on June 11 and continued for 2 weeks.

Referring to both the amazingly changeable weather and the “bleak” landscape, Nickolas Nickou’s first impression was: “In short, Iceland seemed a potentially miserable place to look for plants.” But he and his wife were very fortunate that the tour leader was quite learned in the Island’s flora as well as its fauna. In subsequent pages of the article (six pages in all), he goes on to list dozens and dozens of the species they encountered, along with loads of interesting tidbits of botanical observation.

I thought it would be interesting to see some of what grows in Iceland, as for myself, I didn't have a clue. Whether this is a good "overview" of Icelandic flora, is another unanswered question. I just thought the name was catchy.

The venture did, of course, include many bird species, aong with other notable Island features. Nevermind trying to pronounce words like Myrdalsjokull, a 30 mile in diameter glacier. And I can only imagine the Icelandic name for a particular glacial waterfall: He-who-lives-in-the-Gorge.

listed here are species cited in the article, and many were mentioned more than once:
(Please excuse any spelling errors.)
Alchemilla alpina
Alchemilla vestita
Archangelica officinalis
Arenaria norvegica
Arctostaphylos uva-ursa
Armeria maritima
Bartisia alpina
Betula nana
Betula pubescens
Botrychium lunaria
Cakile maritima
Calluna vulgaris
Cardamine bellidifolia
Cardamine pratensis
Cardaminopsis petraea
Cochlearia officinalis
Coeloglossum viride
Corallorhiza trifida
Cystopteris fragilis
Diapensia lapponica
Draba cineria
Draba incana
Dryas octopetala
Empetrum nigrum
Galium pumilum
Galium verum
Geranium silvaticum
Habenaria hyperborea
Honkenya peploides
Juniperus communis
Lathyrus maritima
Loiseleuria procumbens
Lychnis alpina
Matricaria maritima
Menyanthus trifoliata
Mertensia maritima
Orchis maculata
Oxyria digyna
Papaver radicatum
Paris quadrifolia
Pinguicula vulgaris
Plantago maritima
Potentilla anserina
Pyrola rotundifolia
Ranunculus glacialis
Rhinanthus minor
Rubus saxitilis
Rumex acetosa
Sagina sp.
Salix herbacea
Salix glauca
Salix lanata
Saxifraga caespitosa
Saxifraga hypnoides
Saxifraga nivalis
Saxifraga oppositifolia
Saxifraga stelaris
Sedum acre
Sedum roseum
Silene acaulis
Silene maritima
Thalictrum alpinum
Thymus arcticus
Tofieldia pusilla
Trientalis europaea
Vaccinium myrtillus
Vaccinium uliginosum
Veronica fruticans
Viola canina
Viola tricolor
Woodsia ilvensis

(Zone 5a)

Leftwood that is an interesting article!

To answer your question - I think this is a very good overview of what grows here .... not a complete list, but most of the common plants here are on it :-)

I had to look up a lot of those plants since I wasn't familiar with all the latin names.

There are a few that aren't in my icelandic flora book -

Silene maritima ........ not sure if it's the same as Silene vulgaris (or Silene uniflora on the linked website) they all look similar at least.
Sedum roseum - possibly Rhodiola rosea
Salix glauca - Salix callicarpaea has grey leaves
Orchis maculata - I'm guessing that would be Dactylorhiza maculata
Habenaria hyperborea=> ??
Draba cineria => ??
Cakile maritima => Cakile arctica
Archangelica officinalis - Angelica archangelica?
Alchemilla vestita => Alchemilla vulgaris

Here's a link to Iceland's flora with photos :-)

Here's a photo of Mýrdalsjökull - (the white there in the distance) ;-) Can't figure out what waterfall you referred to - was the icelandic name listed??


Thumbnail by rannveig
Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Well this was back in 1967, and a lot of taxonomic changes have ocurred since then. I suspect Habenaria is Plantathera, and I have certainly seen Rhodiola listed as Sedum before. The "Orchis" maculata was found growing en masse under birches. I bookmarked the Icelandic Flora site. It's always interesting to experience how we grow a plant, and then see how it is supposed to be growing.

No Icelandic name for the waterfall, but this is the mention in context:
Our destination was the town of Vik at the southern tip of the island, an area dominated by Mýrdalsjökull, a glacier about 30 miles in diameter. The approach to the coast was guarded by a steep escarpment over which poured numerous impressive waterfalls. One of them had the descriptive name of He-who-lives-in-the-Gorge. After crossing many miles of sterile glacio-alluvial outwash plain, we ascended a more mountainous area then went steeply down to the tiny fishing village of Vik.

Boy that is one BIG glacier, even in that photo! Thanks!

(Zone 5a)

I'm very intrigued by that waterfall - don't know it. He-who-lives-in-the-Gorge would be gljúfrabúi - but I don't know a waterfall that is called that .... Hey! I tried to google it and look what I found!! We drove past it on the trip that photo of Mýrdalsjökull is from - it's a very neat waterfall :-) Now I know what it's called!

Mýrdalsjökull is a fair sized glacier but it's actually quite tiny in comparison to the largest one Vatnajökull which is tha largest glacier in Europe. 3127 sq.miles (had to google that too) :-)

Here's a link - check out the photo gallery - some pretty cool photos there ;-)

I'm pretty sure the Orchis maculata is Dactylorhiza maculata - it's the most common "orchid" here and is often found in similar locations as described in the arcticle. I'd love to grow them in my garden!


Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Well I guess any glacier is big when all you've seen is the puny ones in the U.S.'s Rocky Mountains. Nice links.

(Zone 5a)

Well Mýrdalsjökull is big - it's one of the 4 largest glaciers here - Vatnajökull is just HUGE. The other three big ones combined wouldn't fill half of it :-) Never seen the glaciers in the Rockies but I bet they're pretty nonetheless. There aren't any mountains here that could compaire to the Rocky Mountains - our tallest peak is only 6950 feet tall.

Centennial, CO(Zone 5b)

The altitude where I *live* is 6700 feet. And that's just the measley "foothills".

If you have ever tasted Coors beer, then you have imbibed part of the St. Mary glacier, the nearest one (I think) to Denver.

(Zone 5a)

Greenjay - that is pretty amazing. All towns here are at sea level - you can't live in the mountains here it's just too cold and windy ;-) I'd love to visit the western part of the US - and see those Rockies for myself. Are you close to Denver??

Since Iceland is situated on the divide between the American and European plates which are moving apart there isn't any buildup of great mountain ridges here - just volcanic buildup and those don't get so big. There are actually active volcanoes under both Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull and when they erupt there are great floods that go with it.

In this link there are photos from one of the eruptions and how the crater looked after the eruption :-)

Rosemont, ON(Zone 4a)

Great pictures and interesting facts! This is really fascinating stuff. I visited Iceland with my husband about 30 years ago, and never learned so much. I remember staying near the incredibly beautiful Myvatn (Midge Lake?), and the hotel had an "Evacuation Route in Case of Volcanic Eruption" posted. We took an incredible bus ride across a solidified sea of lava. I also remember traveling across a desert of black volcanic sand, somewhere in the northeast, I think. Fantastic!


Centennial, CO(Zone 5b)

Yes, I am very close to Denver -- 10 mins. to downtown by car or rail.

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Height is all relative. I've been to Denver and the mountain there don't 'look' much taller than the ones in your photo Rannveig. While Denver is about 6700 feet, the distant mountains are about 12,000 feet so the Rockies 'look' about 6000 feet high. In Iceland (correct me if I'm wrong) the mounatins more-or-less rise right out of the sea so in fact, look almost the same height as the Rockies.

Most of the plants listed by Leftwood for Iceland are also native to northern fact, the book on the flora of Iceland is what we use as a plant guide in that part of my province! Mind you, we don't have all the species listed...Dactylorhiza maculata does not occur here, nor S. maritima. We have Betula pumila as opposed to B. nana (they look VERY similar)....and there are a few other subtle differences. Northern Newfoundland looks much as the same as the flatter areas of southern Iceland. I'm sure I'd feel right at home in Iceland (except for the cool summer temps). I've been to Greenland and it looks much the same as your photo except the rocks are granitic rather than volcanic.

I think Habenaria hyperborea is now Platanthera aquilonis.

Greenjay, do you know Panayoti Kelaidis, the rock garden guru? I stayed at his house for 3 days in September, 2005. I must say, I did enjoy my stay in Colorado. I spent 4 days driving from Denver to Pueblo to Canon City, up the Arkansas valley to Leadville, Georgetown, Loveland and back to Denver. There were still loads of wildflowers open and the bird watching was fantastic (the main reason I made the trip)

Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

The "midge" lake was mentioned in that NARGS article too, along with its reputation. Didn't sound too inviting during that time of the year.

Centennial, CO(Zone 5b)

I do not know Panayoti Kelaidis personally, but I know his *work* very well. I go to the Denver Botanic Gardens every weekend during the spring & summer. I hope to meet him in person some day.

(Zone 5a)

Todd - that's interesting - I'd never thought of that. You're right, most mountains rise pretty abruptly from sealevel or close to it.

June - glad you enjoyed your visit! It's always fun to hear from people that have been here :-) A lot has changed here in those 30 years!

Lake Mývatn is very beautiful, but the "midge" (I'd never heard that - had to look it up ;-)) can be a real pain. My mother grew up in a small town, close to Mývatn (Húsavík) so I went there a lot as a kid and got used to it. My grandfather used to say that there was no harm in swallowing a few flies with your food ...... just extra protein ;-) I was actually there this summer. The day we were there it was windy and wet and really cold - I think it was below 50°F.

Greenjay - then you're about as far from Denver as I am from Reykjavik ;-) I think it's a beautiful part of your country :-)

Photo from lake Mývatn taken this summer.


This message was edited Dec 10, 2006 1:01 AM

Thumbnail by rannveig
Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

That part especially is beautiful. There are no trees?

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Rannveig, that scene could be Newfoundland! (except for the volcanic rock part) Do any parts of your coast look like this, or are they more cliffy?

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
(Zone 5a)

Wow - Todd that is a beautiful scene! Never seen photos from New Foundland - it's gorgeous! Is it close to where you live?? It looks pretty similar apart from the light colored rock or sand ..... it would be black or dark grey here :-)

Leftwood, the trees don't grow very tall here - those bushes up on the rocks would be our native birch trees ;-) Taller trees are trees that have been planted ...... I'll find a photo from Mývatn with trees :-) Very close to where that picture was taken is an are that was planted with trees and would be considered a "forest" by Icelandic standards.

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

St. John's looks nothing like that is a pic overlooking our city taken about 2 weeks ago. We are surrounded by coastal hills.

The previous pic is from an area called Cape Freels along the northeast coast (4 hours from St. John's). The island in the background is where my father grew up! Bleak to say the least with nary a tree in sight. Much of our NE coast is like this...many coastal islands and relatively flat terrain.

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Here is a picture of a typical Avalon Peninsula coastline (such as where I live). The Avalon and south coast of Newfoundland have quite high coastal cliffs dotted with small, sheltered bays.

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Western Newfoundland has our 'mountains'...really just hills that reach 600-800 m but they do provide homes for many alpine wildflowers. The lowland areas of the west coast are the pastoral regions of Newfoundland

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Once you get away from the coast, we either have typical boreal forest or in more exposed areas, barrens (the latter being typical of your Iclandic 'forests')

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
(Zone 5a)

Todd - Beautiful photos! St. John's looks like a very nice place to live - very nice setting for a city :-) Love the other photos as well - a lot more trees than you'd find here!

Here's another photo from Mývatn - the "forested" area :-) The trees down by the water's edge are pretty tall and you can see the difference accross the lake where the vegetation is natural = no trees :-)

Thumbnail by rannveig
(Zone 5a)

Here's one thing Iceland is known for - hot springs! This hotspring area is very close to lake Mývatn.

Thumbnail by rannveig
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Wow, the hotsprings area is otherworldly! The only place that comes close in Newfoundland are the serpentine Tablelands of western hot springs, but similar reddish rocks.

Your forest is much like the forests of northern Newfoundland.

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
(Zone 5a)

Todd - if those rocks were gray that photo could have been taken here :-)

Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Wow! These pics are SO COOL! Where to start, the the beginning, I guess.

Rannveig, I wondered if those "bushes" were trees in that pic, since the structure was treelike and not like that of a bush. I asked because in that NARGS article was written that the "Orchis" maculata was growing under birches.

Todd, your pic of the coastal cliffs - are those, red, black, or white spruce? In Minnesota an area like that would have been logged off to pruduce "young" trees like that. But those little guys are old virgin trees? I've always been so envious of the giant trees of the southern half of the U.S., and of course the west coast. I guess it is all relative. Your typical inland borieal forest is typical for the northern quarter of my state. No barrens here though, although we do have some baby sand dunes/blow-outs in a few prairies. Our "mountains" are the same as yours in New Foundland. They are called mountains in the north, and bluffs in the south.

Now about the hot springs: they're red because of . . . . iron? . . . goofy algae? . . . . what? Can you walk across that area?

Really great geological insights, guys!

(Zone 5a)

Thanks Leftwood - I wish I knew what makes that red color but I don't, could be iron. I know the light color is sulphur. You wouldn't walk accross that area because you could step down in a "pot hole" and burn severely. The light spots are areas where there's just a thin crust over and a hot spring might break through. There were marked walkways around the area where it was safe to walk :-)

Here's a close up of one of the springs - the springs in this area were all bubbling with clay - what we call clay springs.

Thumbnail by rannveig
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Leftwood, most of our coastal conifers are white spruce and balsam fir. We refer to these stunted, wind-blown forms as tuckamoor....and yes, they are probably 50 years old or more.

This is the only pic I had showing our more-or-less barrens. Essentially they are a mix of exposed bedrock, dwarf ericaceous shrubs and stunted black spruce and balsam fir. The pic was taken in early spring hence no leaves.

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
Blenheim, New Zealand

I am really enjoying the views of the far north,wonderful pics of beautiful places.

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

We are envying you Boot since you are in early summer mode now!

Blenheim, New Zealand

here it has been 4 seasons in one day.we have been promised summer four Xmas.Today has started well, but I will be taking sox's ,jersey,coat, and rain coat along with me, too work.

Awatere Valley, near Moleworth Station

Thumbnail by bootandall
(Zone 5a)

Boot - love the photo - very pretty scenery :-) Haven't seen much from New Zealand. Thanks!

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

That scenery reminds me of NW Argentina! Looks very dry.

Blenheim, New Zealand

Hope to see more pics of Iceland and Newfoundland.

It can be very dry in the summer months,that is where some of our the scree plants live.

St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Boot, here is my screen-saver pic...taken along the coast near Bonavista, NF. I 'discovered' this place last of our hidden treasures.

Thumbnail by Todd_Boland
somewhere, PA


Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Spectacular! What is that green carpeting in the foreground (and elsewhere)?

Blenheim, New Zealand

That looks very inviting, and I too am wondering what that green ground cover is.
This pic Monkey Bay is also on the east coast, and not too far from where I live.

Thumbnail by bootandall
St. John's, NL(Zone 5b)

Boot, your area looks downright tropical! I think its the first time I've seen a 'wild' Phormium.

The green ground cover in my pic is primarily Juniperus horizontalis. It is common all along exposed headlands of Newfoundland.

(Zone 5a)

Merry Christmas!!

Todd and boot - gorgeous pics. Boots - that was my first thought as well - looks tropical to me too! :-)

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