Plant of the Week
Mountain avens (Geum peckii Pursh.)
By Chris Mattrick
Mountain avens is a diminutive, perennial member of the rose family endemic to northeastern North America. Although common in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, its only other location in the world is a single island off coast of Nova Scotia. The species was named for early New England botanist William Peck, who first collected it on Mount Washington in 1804. Preferring the moist ground along the banks of high altitude lakes, streams, and snowbank communities, it faces a life of extreme peril in one of the most unfriendly environments on earth. Adaptation is a way of life in the alpine zone of New Hampshire. The extreme and varying weather conditions, in addition to a very short growing season require it, and if abundance is any indication, mountain avens has adapted well.
Seemingly out of place in a land of diminutive plants and flowers, the blooms of mountain avens can be up to two inches wide and perch on four- to eight-inch stems. The yellow, buttercup-like flowers are some of the showiest of alpine blooms and stand out in sharp contrast to green and gray world of the alpine zone. The flowers act like mini solar collectors tracking the sun across the alpine sky. Although capable of self-pollination, the showy nature of the flowers is likely an adaptation to attract the attention of its primary pollinator: flies. The flashy nature of the flowers also succeeds in catching the eye of many hikers and plant enthusiasts as well. Mountain avens blooms from June through August
The leaves of mountain avens are typical of the genus Geum, but unlike its close relatives, these are compact, ground hugging, and covered with coarse hairs. These traits along with a rough rootstock help anchor the plant to the ground, protecting it from damage by the shearing winds typical of the alpine zone. Another striking feature of the leaves is their color. Deep green throughout most of the growing season, the leaves turn a striking crimson color in the autumn adding to the colorful display of the alpine zone at this time of year. Of the nine species of avens occurring in northeastern North America, this is the only one which grows above tree line.