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The Land of the Midnight Sun: Flowers Offer Bursts of Color on the Tundra

Rita Oliveira Monteiro

Flowers found on the Alaskan tundra: on left, Pink shooting Star; top right, Rock Jasmine; bottom right, Forget-me-not. (Photos: Alex Huryn)

Ecosystems Center researchers have returned to their Long Term Ecological Research site at Toolik Lake on the North Slope of Alaska, where the sun does not set from late May to late July. The Land of the Midnight Sun allows a spectacular display of flowers. The intensity and variety of colors of these flowers are aimed at attracting the scarce pollinators such as flies and bumble bees. Yet it is well known that almost all reproduction in these plants is through vegetative means that do not require pollination.

The ever-present sun also affects several plants to move so that their flowers are continuously turned toward the sun. This behavior (“heliotropism”) is caused by changes in the fluid pressure of cells within their stems which controls the orientation of the flower. The poppies are probably the best known plants showing heliotropic behavior. During the Arctic summer, poppy flowers face the sun for 24 hours a day.