Included here is the northern treeless regions of Europe, Siberia and North America, and all of the islands north of the Arctic Circle including Greenland and Iceland.  In the Bering Sea its southern boundary includes the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak Island.

Arctic High Polar Deserts

Plant life in these zones is often so thin on the ground that the striking aspect of vast areas is the prominence of geomorphic features, with many of the colour patterns resulting from bedrock geology. The vegetation is characteristically devoid of the dwarf shrubs so typical of the tundra further south, and the few flowering plants that do occur usually form cushions or compact rosettes, while the few graminoids are small, compact and caespitose. There is little soil development and plant cover can be down to less the 2%. In the Canadian Arctic Archipelago some of the more dominant species include Cerastium alpinum, Draba corymbosa, Minuartia rubella, Saxifraga oppositifolia, and the endemic Draba subcapitata (Brassicaceae), Papaver radicatum (Papaveraceae) and Puccinellia angustata (Poaceae). Other endemic vascular plants found, for example, in the Russian High Arctic of the Zemlya Frantsa-Josife and Severnaya Zemlya archipelagoes include Androsace triflora (Primulaceae), Arctagrostis latifolia, Dupontia fisheri, Poa abbreviata, P. arctica and Puccinellia vahliana (Poaceae), Carex ursina (Cyperaceae), Cerastium regelii and Stellaria crassipes (Caryophyllaceae), Ranunculus sabini (Ranunculaceae), Braya purpurascens, Draba macrocarpa, D. pohlei and Parrya nudicaulis (Brassicaceae), and Potentilla pulchella (Rosaceae). One of the major biological entities that breakes the monotony of these otherwise barren landscapes is the plant communities supported by melting snow – the so-called snow flush communities. Vegetation cover is significantly higher in these areas and often dominated by the endemic Eriophorum triste (Cyperaceae). Other typical vascular plants include Alopecurus alpinus, Oxyria digyna, Phippsia algida, Saxifraga caespitosa, S. cernua and S. oppositifolia, while other endemic species associated with this habitat include Antennaria canesens (Asteraceae), Draba glacialis and D. oblongata (Brassicaceae).  Often more important than the vascular plants throughout these polar deserts are bryophytes such as Cephaloziella arctica, Bryum arcticum, Seligera polaris, and lichens such as Cetraria islandica var. polaris, Ochrolechia frigida and Umbilicaria arctica. In fact, many of the species of these more ancient plant groups have bipolar distributions.  On the other hand, in parts of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago crustose and foliose lichens are virtually absent, and this together with a very depauporate vascular plant flora is thought to be evidence that these areas were wiped clean by ice during the Little Ice Age between 130-430 years BP.


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