Conditions in the arctic are harsh. The summers are short, and the winters are long and bitterly cold. Despite the inhospitable conditions, more than 1,500 species of flora grow on the arctic tundra, including a variety of flowers.
The arctic summer is an intense growing period. Days of 24-hour sunlight thaw the tundra, so seeds sprout, grow into plants, flower and produce seed for next year in as little as two months.
The average year-round temperature is 7 degrees F. The summer growing season high temperature averages 29 degrees F, even though the sun shines 24 hours a day for 125 days a year.
Arctic rhododendron is similar to other rhododendron varieties, with bright pink flowers and a semi-woody plant. Cushion plants are common with tiny flowers. They grow in small, dense clumps that trap warm air for protection against cold spells.
Cotton grass produces fluffy, cottonlike seed heads atop stalks of grass. Inuit used the seed heads as wicks for oil lamps and in wadded bunches as disposable baby diapers.
Most flowering plants are small and grow close to the ground and close to each other. Many grow in clumps, with such features as hairy stems and petals for protection from the wind. Some, such as the arctic poppy, move to face the sun, absorbing heat throughout the day.