M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

Arctic Plants

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Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario

Learning about Arctic plants
In this lesson students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic plants. Through their explorations students will develop an understanding of the biological mechanisms that allow plants to survive in Arctic conditions.

Lesson framework and materials:
- This lesson should cover 1 full class period for grades 11-12.
- Computers with internet access can be used to explore the website expeditionarctic.ca, which provides more information about Arctic plants.
- A notebook to write down observations and reflections.
Arctic Plant Life
Canadian Museum of Nature
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Scorpion moss
A Scorpion moss plant.
Scorpion moss (scientifically named Scorpidium scorpioides) is a small plant that is usually found in wet soggy places like the edges and bottoms of Arctic lakes and ponds. Usually dark in colour, especially if it has been growing in a sunny location, this type of moss can grow to cover very large areas.

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Dwarf Fireweed
A Dwarf Fireweed plant.
Dwarf Fireweed (its scientific name being Chamerion latifoliumi) is a flowering plant that grows in sandy and gravelly moist soil. Often found growing along the banks of rivers and streams, this species has the largest flowers of any flowering plant in the Canadian Arctic. It is often called “river beauty”, referring to its abundant purple-pink flowers.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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The Arctic Poppy
An Arctic Poppy plant.
The Arctic Poppy (known scientifically as Papaver sp.) is one of the most common plants found in the Arctic region. It is one of three plants featured on the Nunavut coat of arms. Preferring areas where the vegetation cover is kept open, these yellow, four-petaled flowers grow in almost all High Arctic habitats, except for wetlands.

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Sunburst lichen
Orange Sunburst lichen on a rock.
Lichens are not plants, but rather a mutually-beneficial partnership between two types of organisms: fungi and algae. The fungi provide a protected home for the algae, which, for their part, provide nutrients as the result of photosynthesis. Lichens are very tough and can survive in harsh conditions where many plants cannot.

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Alpine bistort
An Alpine bistort plant.
Alpine bistort (scientifically named Bistorta vivipara) is a flowering plant that grows on dry rocks, in well-drained gravel and in sand. It flourishes along shorelines and on tundra, slopes and cliffs. It has a long stalk that extends upward toward its red bulbils (small bulbs) and small white or pink flowers.

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Cotton grass
A Cotton grass plant.
Cotton grass (known to scientists as Eriophorum sp.) can be found growing in damp meadows and often near the edges of ponds. Its name comes from the white puffs of cotton found at the top of the plant’s stalk, 10 to 30 cm above the ground.

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Tufted fen-moss
A Tufted-fen moss plant.
Tufted fen-moss (scientifically referred to as Paludella squarrosa) can be found growing in wet and seepy places. This species of moss has short, pointed leaves that grow in rows on a stem and that curve away and downward towards the ground, creating a pipe cleaner effect. With a strong magnifying glass, you can see that the stems are coated with dense, dark hair.

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An Arctic Tree
Learn about an Arctic willow tree.
HabitatSeven
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Plant Protection
Learn how an Arctic tree protects itself against weather.
HabitatSeven
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Suggested Activity
Have students think about the following:

Specific questions:
- What types of plants grow in the Arctic?
- What are some characteristics of Arctic plants?
- How do Arctic plants differ from those in other biomes?
- How has the climate influenced the development of plant life in the Arctic?
- How might changes in climate affect the current plant life of the Arctic?

General questions:
- What interested you the most?
- What surprised you to learn?
- What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

- General knowledge of how plants survive in harsh environments.

- Familiarize himself/herself with botanical vocabulary.

- Explore the types of plants that grow in the Arctic region.

- Develop a general knowledge of Arctic plants and lichens.