The world's alpine biomes are those of its upper mountain altitudes, according to the Marietta University Department of Biology. From the Rockies of the Western United States to Europe's Alps and South America's Andes to the towering Asian Himalayas, this biome is identifiable from its freezing temperatures and rainfall amounts that vary significantly from one side of a mountain to the other. Coniferous trees and low-growing wildflowers and succulents are typical alpine plants.
Brilliant red snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is a fungus-feeding Indian pipe family plant native to the alpine forests of California. Its lack of chlorophyll requires snow plant to take nutrition from the mychorrizae--below-ground fungi--that enable pines and other conifers to extract nutrients from the soil. It emerges from the ground in late spring, says the U.S. Forest Service. Dense, five-petaled bell-shaped flowers cover the up-to-1-foot stalk. The plant’s color and unusual shape give it the appearance of raw meat. Snow plant must have a location in humus-rich soil near coniferous trees.
Discovered in the mountains of western China where it flourishes at above 9,000 feet, nomocharis (Nomocharis paradanthina) is an alpine lily. Reaching up to 18 inches high, it likes full sun and cool temperatures. In June and early July, nodding, light pink flowers appear at the juncture of its erect stems and pointed green leaves. A single stem produces as many as 10 of the 3-inch blooms. The plant needs well-drained soil high in humus and lots of summer rain, according to the Alpine Plant Society.
Seldom reaching 6 inches tall, alpine bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpine) is a red-barked, branching shrub native to alpine heaths of Alaska and Northern New England. Its pale pink, urnlike flowers appear in April and May, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The plant's green spring and summer leaves provide red fall color before dropping. Its edible, deep purple berries attract birds. Alpine bearberry grows in moist, peat-rich locations and full sun.
Like other low-growing alpine plants, 4-inch high alpine penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii) is safe from mountain winds. It has woody stems with dense, deep green rounded leaves and blue- or rose-violet July and August blooms. Hummingbird favorites, its flowers make spectacular summer displays in the alpine woods of California and the Pacific Northwest, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Alpine penstemon needs full sun, summer rain and winter protection from snow. It grows in full sun and well-drained soil.
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