Alpine plants grow high up on mountains, right up to the snowline which marks the permanent snow. Alpine plants are amazing because they have to cope with:
• The cold which slows down growth.
• The wind which steals water from their leaves.
• Strong sunlight which damages leaves, just like sunburn damages your skin.
• Soil without much food which makes it hard to grow.
• A scarcity of pollinators, like bees, which live in the mountains and help the plants make seeds.
Alpine plants have special adaptations which help them to survive.
• They grow low to the ground so they don’t get damaged by the wind.
• They grow close together to trap warm air and water.
• Leaves are often small and tough so not likely to be damaged by snow or hail.
• Leaves have hairs that protect them from the cold.
• They have deep roots so they can cope with strong winds. Their long root system also helps them find food a long way down into the soil.
• They have yellow or white flowers that attract night-flying moths to pollinate them.
• Some even make antifreeze to prevent them from freezing when the temperature drops below 0 °C!
Awesome Alpine Plants
The vegetable sheep is not a sheep at all but an alpine daisy that grows in big cushion shape. From far away it can look like a flock of sheep grazing on the mountain. The cushion is made up of lots of tiny, furry leaves and flowers packed in really close together which protects the plant from the cold, wind and any animals that try to snack on it. Photo: C Rudge
Tussock is a type of grass but it’s a bit different from the stuff you have growing in your lawn. It can live for a long time - up to 300 years! Tussock has long, narrow, rolled leaves which act like gutters to help the plant collect water. Drops of mist or dew roll down the leaf gutters to the roots. A lot of alpine insects and lizards call tussock home.
Photo: Craig Potton
Mt Cook Lily
One of our most beautiful mountain plants is not a lily at all, but a giant white buttercup – just a big version of the little yellow ones that grow in your garden. It has huge, thick, leathery leaves which are bigger than a man’s hand and which act like cups to catch water for the plant. Often thirsty trampers will drink from its cup too! Its giant size makes it the biggest buttercup in the world. Photo: Mike Harre
This carnivorous plant is covered in sticky hairs that can trap insects like small flies. They use a liquid called an enzyme to dissolve the insects and absorb them into their leaves. By trapping insects they can survive in places like alpine bogs that don’t contain much other food.
Photo: Jon Mollivan