My internship with Betty Ford Alpine Gardens was a great introduction to the world of plant...
Weather in the alpine is defined as being too hard to support trees. In the northern hemisphere that is around where mean summer temperatures are 50 F. Growing season is short, temperatures are cold and wind is almost constant.
Perhaps the most fascinating of all is the adaptation made by plants to the dry desiccating wind, low temperature, heavy winter snow and short growing season. From low cushion profile to hairy and succulent leaves the adaptations make these true alpines real ‘Conquerors of the Cold’.
The alpine ecosystem is a mosaic of habitats created by the constantly changing geologic environment. From steep rocky cliffs and boulder fields to gently sloping fellfields and alpine turf. Each more rocky and with less soil than its lowland counterparts.
Some fascinating animals have adapted to living in the alpine. Some, including many of the larger animals such as Elk spend the relatively warmer summer and move to lower elevations in winter and some, such as the Pika and Marmot have made the alpine home year round.
Alpine Areas of the World
Since alpine areas occur wherever the climate is too harsh to support tree life they occur all over the planet. From mountain summits to the arctic tundra the existence of alpine ecosystems is dependent upon latitude, altitude and also the proximity of ocean currents. From the Alaskan arctic tundra to the Himalayas to the southern tip of Patagonia, all of these areas are too extreme for trees to grow.
Not surprisingly wind is an important pollinator on the alpine tundra but some hardy insects also play an important role. Some of these insects have made significant adaptations specific to certain flowers.