Plants of the Tundra


Above: Moss-covered ice mound in the Alaskan tundra, formed by the ground’s constant vacillation between freezing and thawing.

The “tundra” (from the Finnish word tunturi, meaning “treeless heights”) is otherwise known as that ribbon of latitude on our planet where the landscape shifts from tall trees and flowering bushes to comparatively shrimpy shrubs and frost-covered blankets of moss, brightly colored lichens, and delicate tufts of sedge (or “Arctic grass.”) The top layer of vegetation only thaws and grows for a few months a year, revealing to us a mysterious web of plant life beneath the ice…


Above: Reindeer lichen, an extremely cold-hardy plant most commonly found in the Arctic tundra. The Dena’ina people (native to Alaska) are known to eat this plant (boiled until soft) in dishes with berries, fish, eggs, or lard, and drink its juices to treat a number of physical ailments.


Above: Yellow lichens on a frost-covered Arctic floor, otherwise known in Inuit culture as “Excrement of the Sun.” Scientists have recently discovered anti-tumor, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties in compounds made from lichens.


Above: An Arctic fox takes a nap within the willows. Young Arctic willow leaves contain up to 10 times more vitamin C than an orange, and the bark can be boiled to make a pain-relieving tea.


Above: Last but not least, the Fly-Agaric. This mushroom is found in many areas of the world including scattered about the Alaskan tundra and the Arctic region of Kamchatka (a peninsula in the Russian Far East).

The Koryak people of Kamchatka are known to gather Fly-Agaric mushrooms growing in the roots of sacred birch trees and eat them (either dried or soaked in blueberry juice) as a means of enhancing creative and physical energy (i.e. to “play music all night long,”) among other spiritual and ceremonial purposes. Reindeer also love to eat this mushroom, and are said to act “drunken” under its influence.

Read more about the Koryaks’ use of the Fly-Agaric in the essay “IS THE FLY-AGARIC (AMANITA MUSCARIA) AN EFFECTIVE MEDICINAL MUSHROOM?” by Gary Lincoff.

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