Plant life in the Northern Arctic Ecozone is generally sparse and stunted. Plant colonization is impossible for all but the hardiest of species, due to the exceedingly dry climate, permafrost, frost-churned and calcareas soils, and gale force winter winds. Not surprisingly, the number of plant species is very low -- only about 140 species compared with 3 000 in southern Canada. Moss and lichen, however, seem to thrive in this ecosystem. Over 600 species are found in the Northern Arctic compared with about 500 in the more temperate latitudes.
Although much of this region is virtually devoid of plants, relatively lush "oases" are found scattered across the landscape. These oases are confined mainly to coastal lowlands, sheltered valleys, and moist, nutrient-rich corridors along streams and rivers. They often support thick hummocky carpets of sedges, mosses, and lichens and are vital to many species of wildlife.
Arctic plants have developed numerous adaptations to this harsh ecosystem. Nearly all species are perennial because too little energy is received for plants to germinate, bloom, and produce seeds during one brief summer. To avoid the chilling arctic winds, most plants are very short. Woody species such as the Arctic Willow assume a ground-hugging form. Others, such as Moss Campion and Yellow Oxytrope, grow in dense cushions or mats that reduce heat loss caused by the wind.
A particularly well-adapted plant found throughout this region is the Arctic Poppy. Its parabolic shape, heat-absorbing centre, and ability to track the sun's movements through the sky make it a natural solar collector, raising its internal temperature by up to 10oC and hastening the formation and ripening of seeds. This strategy further promotes reproduction by attracting pollinating insects that come to bask in the flower's warmth.