Plant of the Week
Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum (L.) Wahlenb.)
By Chris Mattrick
Simply put, the most striking flower in the arctic or alpine zone, and not just beautiful but tough. Where Lapland rosebay is found abundantly on Mount Washington in New Hampshire is an area known as ‘felsenmeer’. Felsenmeer is an area of broken angular rock or large rock fragments transported and deposited by the last glacier. These areas are often quite expansive and deep in broken and fragmented rock. Over the centuries these rocks have been ground together by freezing and thawing action. Through this action soil has been created and filled in some of the gaps between the rocks. In these tiny pockets of soils an astounding array of plant and animal life has evolved. Life on the felsenmeer is not easy; plants are exposed to desiccating winds, and baking sun, the ground shifts due to frost activity, and the limited amount of soil that is present is often frozen solid four to six months a year. This is not a hospitable place to make your home, yet Lapland rosebay thrives under these conditions.
Likely stranded here, and in similar conditions on the several other high mountain peaks in Maine and New York, as well as isolated locations in the Dells of Wisconsin following the retreat of the last glacier, Lapland rosebay is also found on the arctic tundra of northern Canada, Greenland and Alaska and reported from locations across Eurasia.
Ranging from two to rarely 12 inches tall, Lapland rosebay is one of the smaller Rhododendron species. Yes, that flame azalea or great laurel planted in your front yard is a close cousin. One of the first alpine flowers to bloom each year, the one-inch flowers of this diminutive, perennial shrub are considered huge, by alpine standards, dwarfing the rest of the plant. The leaves and branches seemingly disappear in a sea of pink during its short blooming period from mid- to late-June.