For many years Mr. and Mrs. Wood of South Bedford Road, Mount Kisco, New York have specialized in the photography of plants, during which time they have worked from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains. In addition to general coverage of the area they have made more detailed studies of the plants of certain floristic areas such as New England and the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Their interest in the alpine flowers of the New England mountains drew to their attention the fact that no systematic photographic study had ever been made of the plants of the North American Arctic. Dried specimens of such plants may be examined in many of the large herbaria, but portrayals of the live plants as they grow are lacking. The authorities of the National Museum of Canada, of which the National Herbarium is a part, were familiar with the work of the Woods, and gave the Museum's official endorsement of their project in the far north. Duplicate originals of the plant photographs of the area are deposited permanently in the National Museum.
Traveling entirely by air and using both commercial air transport and Canadian government planes their expeditions to the north involve five to ten thousand miles annually. Flying in the far north being somewhat more hazardous than elsewhere, this occasionally results in unusual experiences. The Woods recall one flight in a Canadian Air Force plane when the weather forced a landing on a little strip in the forested wilds of northern Manitoba, at a radar-defense station. They were never able to get back to their base of operations and that year they arrived at Idlewild Airport attired in arctic field clothing, just as they were when they finished their work. Their street clothing and much of their supplies were still in the Arctic.
During these years Mr. and Mrs. Wood have worked in the Hudson Bay region north from Churchill, Manitoba, on Southampton Island in Northern Hudson Bay in the barren lands interior of central Keewatin district, on the continent's north shore in the copper mine area, and on Victoria Island in the Arctic Archipelago. In regard to the place and manner of growth of R. lapponicum which is well covered in the accompanying notes Mr. Wood writes "It prefers dry, rocky tundra and slopes. Of all places we have worked in the Arctic, it appeared best in the Churchill area, where it literally covered large landscapes with its beautiful flowers. We have seen it in every arctic location where we have worked except Herschel Island. Yukon Territory where we worked this season Herschel is a clay island with no rock, and is especially susceptible to soil movements (solifluction), so we were hardly surprised not to find it there. Our trip this summer was very successful and the photographic work quite satisfactory. Being west of the Mackenzie River for the first time we found numerous new species (new to us, that is), many of which are amphi-Beringian and do not occur east of the Mackenzie. The adventurous highlight of the trip was being stranded on an isolated bit of the Yukon arctic coast, where we spent the night in sleeping bags on the sand, surrounded by caribou, until a helicopter picked us up and delivered us to Herschel Island. Ice conditions there in early July were such that no fixed-wing aircraft could get in." Herschel Island is an ice island overlain with gravel and sediment and historically was important as the center of whaling operations in the Arctic Ocean. The flora of the area is relatively rich and quite different from the other parts of the Canadian Arctic farther east. The only inhabitants are the Eskimo and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police outpost of two men.
The color transparency of R. lapponicum that appears on the Cover of the Bulletin was loaned to the Society by Mr. and Mrs. Wood and as reported in their notes could very easily be over 400 years of age
R. lapponicum, photographed at Churchill, Manitoba, in rocky tundra bordering the west coast of Hudson Bay, July 2, 1956, by Mildred and Raymond D. Wood.
Rhododendron lapponicum (L.) Wahlenb. Azalea lapponica L.]; Lapland rosebay. Depressed, matted, or erect, much-branched, dwarf shrub with scurfy twigs, and elliptic-oblanceolate leaves 1 to 2 cm. long, that are scurfy beneath. The showy, deep purple, very aromatic flowers, 1 to 2 cm. broad, in few-flowered terminal clusters. In dry, rocky tundra and on stony slopes. General distribution; Circumpolar, in N. America wide-ranging arctic. (Distribution may for North America)
- A. E. Porsild, Illustrated Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, National Museum of Canada Bulletin No. 146, Ottawa, 1957.
This, the "Atoongowyak" of the Eskimo, is one of the most attractive and lovely of all dwarf shrubs, at least in early summer when covered with a profusion of delicate purplish flowers. Its charm is further enhanced by its habit, for it grows as a spreading bushlet with 'trunk' often more than 0.5 cm. thick near the base, gnarled and much branched, and rarely exceeding 10 cm. in height but flowering and fructifying early and abundantly.
- Nicholas Polunia, Botany of the Canadian Eastern Arctic, vol. 1, National Museum of Canada Bulletin No. 92, Ottawa, 1940
For distribution, map, etc., Alaska and Yukon, see Hulten, Flora of Alaska and Yukon, (Part VIII, page 1224), Lund, Sweden, 1941-50.
Owing to the severity of the climate and the short growing season the rate of growth in arctic plants is very slow. Many species require a long period of years before they flower and fruit for the first time. This is especially true of woody plants. In the trailing stems, no thicker than a man's thumb, of juniper or Lapland rhododendron, no less than 400 annual rings have been counted.
- A. E. Porsild, "Plant Life in the Arctic," Canadian Geographical Journal, March 1951.
In our own talks we have remarked from our personal experience, that frequently the flowers of R. lapponicum will lend their color to an entire landscape-an inspiring sight!
Very poorly illustrated in Curtis Botanical Magazine Plate 3106 (1831).
We do not recall having seen published color photographs of this plant, other than that appearing in Vare Ville Planter, Vol. V. Plate 650 (Lagerberg, Holmboe and Nordhagen; Oslo, 1956), which photograph as reproduced leaves much to be desired in respect to the photography, reproduction or both.