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.

Arctic Saltmarsh

Most saltmarshes at these latitudes only support 3-5 herbaceous species and unlike temperate and tropical saltmarsh there are no woody plants or species belonging to the Chenopodiaceae. The most common saltmarsh grass in Alaska is Puccinellia phryganodes, which usually occurs with scattered clumps of the endemic Carex ursine (Cyperaceae), together with Carex ramenski, C. subspathaceo, Cochlearia officinalis and Stellaria humifusa. Few other species are associated with these Arctic saltmarshes but several endemic species of the grass genus Puccinellia may be encountered including P. andersonii, P. groenlandica and P. tenella. The Arctic endemic Gentiana detonsa (Gentianaceae) is also associated with saline coastal areas.

Subarctic Alaskan Saltmarsh

In subarctic Alaska in the Cook Inlet five major saltmarsh zones have been identified:

1 Outer vegetated mudflats
2 Outer sedge marsh
3 Inner vegetated mudflats
4 Inner sedge marsh
5 Riverbank levee

Outer Vegetated Mudflats
On the seaward fringes this vegetation mainly comprises Puccinellia phryganodes and Triglochin maritimum, with the former spreading throughout the short summer to form lawnlike carpets. Other scattered plants include Puccinellia nutkaensis, Salicornia europaea agg and Suaeda depressa. In some places Puccinellia nutkaensis becomes the dominant grass.

Outer Sedge Marsh
This zone consists almost exclusively of Carex ramenskii and has a superficial resemblance to Spartina on temperate Atlantic coasts. The few other species include Potentilla egedii, Ranunculus cymbalaria and Stellaria humifusa.

Inner Vegetated Mudflats
This zone is more floristically diverse than the outer mudflats with a more even distribution of Triglochin maritimum. Other species include Glaux maritima, Plantago maritima, Poa eminens, Potentilla egedii and Puccinellia grandis.

Inner Sedge Marsh
Here the tall Carex lyngbyaei become the main species forming almost monospecific stands in places especially in the more water logged zones. In the drier zones mixtures including Chrysanthemum arcticum, Potentilla egedii and Triglochin maritimum occur, while in other places clumps of Carex pluriflora occur surrounded by pools of stagnant water. Other species include Carex lyngbyaei, Cicuta douglasii, Hippurus tetraphylla, Scirpus paludosus, Scirpus validus and Triglochin palustris.

Riverbank Levee
These slightly elevated zones support a mixture of species. The lower levels include mixtures of Festuca rubra, Lathyrus palustrus, Ligusticum scoticum, Potentilla egedii and Poa eminens, while high levels comprise Elymus arenarius and various large herbs such as Angelica lucida, Rumex arcticum and Saussurea nuda.  Other species found on these levees include Achillea borealis, Conioselinum chinense, Dodecatheon pulchellum, Hierochloe odorata, Hordeum brachyantherum, Fritillaria kamchatkensis, Lupinus polyphyllus, Parnassia palustris and Trientalis europaea.


Aleksandrov, V. D. 1988. Vegetation of the Soviet polar deserts. Cambridge University Press.

Bliss, L. C. 1989. Arctic tundra and polar deserts. In: North American Terrestrial Vegetation. Eds. M. G. Barbour & W. D. Billings.  Cambridge University Press.

Bliss, L. C., Svoboda, J. & Bliss, D. I. 1984. Polar deserts, their plant cover and plant production in the Canadian High Arctic. Holarctic Ecology, 7: 305-324.

Hooker, J. D. 1862. Outlines of the distribution of Arctic plants. Transactions of the Linnaean Society, London, 23:251-348.

Polunin, N. 1951.  The real Arctic: suggestions for its delimitation, subdivision and characterisation. Journal of Biogeography, 39: 300-315.

Polunin, N. 1959. Circumpolar Arctic Flora. Oxford at the Clarenden Press.

Polunin, N. 1971. Vegetation types of polar lands. In: World Vegetation Types.  Ed. S. R. Eyre. Macmillan.

Polunin, O. & Walters, M. 1985. A guide to the vegetation of Britain and Europe. Oxford University Press.

Ricketts, T. H. et al. 1999. Terrestrial Ecosystems of North America - a conservation assessment. World Wildlife Fund, USA and Canada. Island Press, Washington.

Savile, D. B. O. 1959. The botany of Somerset Island, district of Franklin. Canadian Journal of Botany, 37: 959-1002.

Savile, D. B. O. 1964. General ecology and vascular plants of the Hazen Camp area. Arctic, 17: 237-256.

Talbot, S. S. et al. 1999. Atlas of the rare endemic vascular plants of the Arctic. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Technical Report No. 3.

Vince, S. W. & Snow, A. A. 1984. Plant zonation in an Alaskan salt marsh. Journal of Ecology, 72: 651-667.