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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 36, Number 3
Summer 1982

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Rhododendron lapponicum and Rhododendron camtschaticum subspecies glandulosum
in the Nome, Alaska Area

By Doris and Frank Mossman

R. camtschaticum growing just below the snow line.
R. camtschaticum growing just below the snow line.
photo by the authors

The story begins in the year 1979, when we made the circuit from Anchorage, north through Mount McKinley National Park, on to Fairbanks, up the Richardson River, then south to Valdez and back to the starting point, Anchorage. Numerous side trips produced a varied panorama of wild flowers but no flowering rhododendrons in late July. R. lapponicum is to be seen in McKinley Park and at Eagle Pass on the road from Fairbanks to a town on the Arctic Circle, called Circle. Twenty miles north of Valdez in the glacier country of Thompson Pass is a vast natural rock garden where many flowers were seen but no rhododendron were found.
       Prefaced by this inauspicious beginning in Alaska rhododendron hunting, our arrival in Nome, Alaska on a cold, rainy, windy afternoon, July 2, 1980, near the 65th parallel did not deter us. An Eskimo woman taxi driver showed us the sights on the two mile ride to town: a cemetery with grave mounds above ground level because of permafrost; tethered husky dogs in team groups at frequent intervals; drying salmon halves on racks; mucky but hard-surfaced roads.
       This town of 3,000 inhabitants, mostly Eskimo-Americans enthusiastically celebrated the 4th of July with a parade, speeches, and games in the rain. We wore long-handles and two layers of wool clothing to watch the fun.
       Six days were devoted to researching the area. Three hundred miles of well-graded gravel roads traverse the valleys and passes in a generally northern direction among granite mountains, none over 4,000 ft. high, tundra-covered and no significant trees other than shoulder high willows.

Hillside of R. camtschaticum
Hillside of R. camtschaticum
photo by the authors

       We had been assured that Anvil Mountain, four miles north of Nome, was often ablaze with rhododendron flowers at this time. It was not. Inland, forty-three miles north of Nome, near Salmon Lake, Doris found a granite, rock and fine gravel-covered hill thickly populated with R. camtschaticum (Pall.) subspecies glandulosum (Hult.) in full bloom almost to the exclusion of all other vegetation. The plants rise no more than one to two inches above the ground. The flower stems are three inches tall bearing one or two deep rose-purple colored flowers, 1 to 2 inches across the open face. The roots are a thick mat between and under the granite debris within a thin layer of black-colored soil, rich in organic material, pH 4.0. Sunshine was encountered more frequently here, accounting for the prevalence of flowers inland but not yet in bloom in the coastal areas where fog, wind, and rain are even more frequent.
       Elsewhere R. camtschaticum was part of the tundra along with mosses, cassiopes, ground creeping willows, cranberries, loiseleurias, and a vast array of other small plants, but always more numerous where other plants did not grow. Subspecies glandulosum is similar to subspecies camtschaticum but smaller; leaves are smaller, petals narrower, longer and distinctly darker in color, and in Alaska subspecies glandulosum is mostly on the Seward Peninsula near Nome.1

R. camtschaticum    R. lapponicum
R. camtschaticum
photo by the authors
   R. lapponicum
photo by the authors

       R. lapponicum was seen in bloom on the way to Teller. The shrubs were no higher than the tundra, easily seen when in bloom with numerous small magenta-pink flowers. The plants were occasional on a rocky hillside, not easy to find out of bloom hidden among the other plants. The leafless branches within the tundra extended for many inches with rootlets at frequent intervals, and the actual crown was difficult to find.
       Last year's seed collected from both species, proved viable and was forwarded to the American Rhododendron Society seed exchange.

1Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories by Eric Hulten


Volume 36, Number 3
Summer 1982

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