The tundra rosebay plant, better known as the Lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum), makes its home on alpine and arctic landscapes, where it endures rocky ground, snow, sun, winds, freezes and thaws. This small rhododendron family blankets the tundra with bright flowers during its brief summer blooming period. The rosebay is endangered or threatened in several areas of the United States.
In the United States, the Lapland rosebay grows in only a few places. These areas include the alpine tundra atop high mountain peaks in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine and New York, in the Dells of Wisconsin and on the Alaskan tundra. It is also in the arctic tundra regions of northern Canada, Greenland and Eurasia.
Like other rhododendrons, the Lapland rosebay is a member of the Ericaceae, or heath, family. The fragrant, bell-shaped, pink or purple blossoms look like miniature versions of those found on related rhododendron varieties, such as the flame azalea and the laurel. Like other rhododendrons, the flowers have five to 10 long stamens in the middle. The rosebay, however, has thick, evergreen leaves covered with small scales.
The Lapland rosebay takes root in crevices atop peaks and along rock faces, where it grows in low, spreading mats. In southwestern Wisconsin, for example, the plant grows in sandstone cliffs. On New Hampshire's Mount Washington, Lapland rosebay takes root in terrain called "felsenmeer," fields of rock fragments deposited by an ancient glacier.
The Lapland rosebay is a perennial shrub that grows about 2 inches to 1 foot high. The flowers measure about an inch across--large for a tundra plant. The Lapland rosebay is one of the first tundra plants to bloom. The flowering period is brief, however, spanning the last two weeks of June.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies the Lapland rosebay as endangered in New York and Wisconsin and threatened in Maine. Human recreational activity, such as hiking and camping, affect the plant. Climate change could also threaten this rare shrub.
In the continental United States, the Lapland rosebay grows in very few places. The Maine Department of Conservation reports that the shrub grows "only above treeline on Mount Katahdin," a peak in north-central Maine. The New York Natural Heritage Program records just eight populations in the highest elevations of the Adirondacks. Wisconsin has only two populations, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources.