Friday, 27 January 2012

Antarctic summer colours

Summer in Antarctica lasts 6 months, from October to March. During the central 4 months, 24 hours of complete daylight allow a summer temperature maximum around 2°C.

What about flora? Everybody knows about antarctic fauna - seals, penguins, birds - but are there some flowers ? Like the beautiful arctic flowers ?

Well, life is really hard for plants there. There are several mosses, fungi and lichens , but just two kinds of native flowering plants manage to grow:

- a fine-leaved, perennial grass, the Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica), one of only two flowering plant species living below latitudes of 60 degrees:

- and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), that has white flowers and grows about 5 cm tall, with a cushion-like growth habit that gives it a moss-like appearance:

They are present mainly in the 1% of the region that is ice and snow free, along the warmer parts of the Antarctica Peninsula and in the South Orkney Islands and the South Shetland Islands.
Small clusters of the Antarctic hair grass can be seen among rocks and in moss-filled cracks in the bedrock.
Moss - on the better drained, stony slopes of the Antarctic Peninsula, mosses build up to a deep peat - as much as six and one half feet deep and 5000 years old !

Lichens - more than 350 species. They have proliferated in Antarctica because there is little competition from mosses or flowering plants.