By my count I’ve written about 47 different plant species I found in Iceland, and guess what? There are almost 30 more. But I don’t have good pictures of most of them, and some IDs are in doubt, so I think I’ve just about exhausted my material for blog posts. And I do want to get back to posting about the Maryland piedmont.

So for all my fellow botanerds, here’s a list of my Icelandic finds, arranged by family. An asterisk (*) indicates either ID in doubt or unsure of taxonomic status.

Apiaceae (parsley family)
Angelica archangelic  garden angelica
Anthriscus sylvestris*  cow parsley


oneflower fleabane (that’s two plants)

Asteraceae (daisy family)
Achillea millefolium  yarrow
Erigeron borealis  alpine fleabane
Erigeron uniflorus  oneflower fleabane
Hieracium species  hawkweed
Hieracium thaectolepium*   hillside hawkweed
Taraxacum species  dandelion
Tripleurospermum maritima ssp. phaeocephala  sea mayweed

Boraginaceae (borage family)
Mertensia maritima  oyster plant
Myosotis arvensis  field forget-me-not


rock whitlowgrass

Brassicaceae (mustard family)
Arabidopsis lyrata ssp. petraea  northern rock-cress
Cardamine nymaii*  lady’s smock
Cardamine pratensis*  cuckoo flower
Draba nivalis  snow whitlowgrass
Draba norvegica*  rock whitlowgrass



Caryophyllaceae (pinks family)
Arenaria norvegica arctic sandwort
Cerastium alpinum  alpine mouse-ear
Cerastium nigrescens*  arctic mouse-ear
Silene acaulis  moss campion
Silene dioica  red campion
Silene suecica  alpine catchfly
Silene uniflora  sea campion

Crassulaceae (stonecrop family)
Rhodiola rosea  roseroot stonecrop
Sedum annuum  annual stonecrop
Sedum villosum  hairy stonecrop

Cyperaceae (sedge family)
Eriophorum angustifolium  cottongrass

Equisetaceae (horsetail family)
Equisteum arvense  field horsetail
Equisetum palustre  marsh horsetail
Equisteum pratense  shady horsetail
Equisetum variegatum  variegated horsetail

Ericaceae (heather family)
Calluna vulgaris  heather
Empetrum nigrum  crowberry
Harrimanella hypnoides  mossy mountain heather
Kalmia procumbens  trailing azalea
Vaccinium myrtillus  bilberry
Vaccinium uliginosum  bog bilberry

Fabaceae (pea family)
Lupinus nootkatensis  Nootka lupine

Geraniaceae (geranium family)
Geranium sylvaticum  woodland cranesbill

Juncaeae (rush family)
Juncus or Luzula species  rush

Lamiaceae (mint family)
Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus  creeping thyme

Lentibulariaceae (bladderwort family)
Pinguicula vulgaris  common butterwort

Onagraceae (evening primrose family)
Chamerion latifolium  arctic riverbeauty
Epilobium anagallidifolium  alpine willowherb

Orchidaceae (orchid family)
Dactylorhiza maculata  heath spotted orchid
Dactylorhiza viridis  frog orchid
Platanthera hyperborea  northern green orchid

Orobanchaceae (broomrape family)
Bartsia alpina  velvetbells

Papaveraceae (poppy family)
Papaver radicatum  arctic poppy

Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
Veronica fruticans  rock speedwell

Plumbaginaceae (leadwort family)
Armeria maritima  sea thrift

Polygonaceae (knotweed family)
Bistorta vivipara  alpine bistort
Oxyria digyna  mountain sorrel
Rumex acetosa  common sorrel

Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)
Caltha palustris  marsh marigold
Ranunculus acris*  meadow buttercup
Ranunculus species  buttercup

Rosaceae (rose family)
Alchemilla alpina  alpine lady’s mantle
Alchemilla glomerulans  clustered lady’s mantle
Dryas octopetala  mountain avens
Fragaria vesca  strawberry
Geum rivale  water avens
Potentilla anserina  silverweed
Potentilla crantzii  alpine cinquefoil

Rubiaceae (madder family)
Galium boreale  northern bedstraw
Galium normanii  slender bedstraw
Galium verum  lady’s bedstraw

Salicaceae (willow family)
Salix arctica  arctic willow
Salix herbacea  dwarf willow
Salix lanata  woolly willow
Salix myrsinifolia or S. phylicifolia*  boreal or teal-leaf willow

Saxifragaceae (saxifrage family)
Saxifraga cespitosa  tufted saxifrage
Saxifraga hypnoides*  mossy saxifrage
Saxifraga rosacea  Irish saxifrage

Tofieldiaceae (no common name that I could find)
Tofieldia pusilla  Scottish asphodel

Violaceae (violet family)
Viola canina  heath dog violet
Viola tricolor  wild pansy
Viola species  violet

Woodsiaceae (cliff fern family)
Gymnocarpium dryopteris  oak fern


#yowyow – street art on a building in Þingeyri

<— click on this image, it’s worth seeing it larger

nicely sums up how I feel about Iceland


The willowherb family (Onagraceae) is large (about 650 species), cosmopolitan (represented just about everywhere), and taxonomically complicated (“relationships within the family have not been fully understood”*). So taxonomically complicated, it’s hard to even figure out what the current accepted botanical name is for this plant.


This first species, found near Akureyri in Iceland, has the common names broad-leaf fireweed, broad-leaved willowherb, arctic fireweed, dwarf fireweed, arctic river beauty, glacier rose, and who knows how many more. The Icelandic name is eyrarrós. The currently accepted botanical name (per ITIS) is Chamerion latifolium, but it’s also known as Chamaenerion latifolium and Epilobium latifolum.


Whatever you call it, it’s striking, standing about a foot tall, the blue-green leaves contrasting the rosy purple blossoms. It’s fairly common in Iceland, though with scattered distribution. It can also be found in higher latitudes around the northern hemisphere, and in mid-latitudes at high elevation (India, Pakistan, Nepal). In North America it’s present in Greenland, much of Canada, Alaska, and in mountainous parts of the West. A closely related species, Chamerion angustifolium, is found in parts of Maryland (as well as Iceland). And Nova Scotia, where I saw it two years ago.

There are about nine species of plants in the Onagraceae in Iceland, but I saw only two; this second species was near the glacier Sólheimajökull in the south of Iceland. It’s callled fjalladúnurt in Icelandic and alpine willowherb in English. It’s also called pimpernel willowherb, alpine willowweed, and dwarf fireweed. The accepted botanical name is Epilobium anagallidifolium. 

This species has an interesting split distribution in North America: in the east it’s found in Greenland, Quebec and a few of the Maritime provinces, New England, North Carolina, and Tennessee, then westward from the Rocky Mountains. (Note that BONAP does not show it present in the two southeastern US states.) It’s also found in northern Europe and northern Asia.

E. anagallidifolium is readily identified by the bent flowering stems (a harsh-weather adaptation according to NatureGate) and the dark red calyx.


Would you believe that I keep a detailed “life list” of my finds? No kidding. It’s arranged by plant family. Noted under Onagraceae are the two species in Iceland, two more in Nova Scotia, four in the Potomac gorge, and three in Death Valley.

I’m a botanerd.

One more thing, I can’t resist. Speaking of complicated, here’s a comically complicated explanation of Oenothera (the type species for this family):

  • Oenother’a: one source says that this name derives from the Greek oinos, “wine,” and thera, “to imbibe,” because an allied European plant was thought to induce a taste for wine. However, Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names gives an alternate meaning for thera as ‘booty,’ but also suggests that Oenothera could be a corruption of the Greek onotheras from onos, “ass,” and thera, “hunting, chase, pursuit” or ther, “wild beast.’ The root ther also can have the meaning of ‘summer.’ What this might have to do with the actual plant is unexplained. (ref. genus Oenothera)
    from calflora.net’s California Plant Names

*Wagner, W. L. and P. C. Hoch. 2005-. Onagraceae, The Evening Primrose Family website. http://botany.si.edu/onagraceae/index.cfm (July 28, 2016)

Two More Adorable Ericas

We were hiking on a trail south of Akureyri when threatening weather turned us around. I promised Steve I wouldn’t take as many pictures on the way back, since we would be retracing our steps while trying not to get rained on. And almost as soon as I said that, I saw these flowers blooming on the hillside.


Harrimanella hypnoides
moss plant, moss bell-heather,
mossy mountain-heather
Icelandic: mosalyng


This tiny thing is actually a subshrub: though no more than four inches tall, it does have woody stems. In Iceland it’s a common plant in the mountains, but not in the lowlands. The species grows through much of the sub-arctic, including Russia, Fennoscandia, Greenland, Canada as far west as the Northwest Territories, and in the US in New York, New Hampshire, and Maine. It’s threatened in the latter two states.

Some sources claim Harrimanella to be a monotypic genus, but a very similar looking plant formerly known as either Andromeda stellariana or Cassiope stellariana is now called Harrimanella stellariana. That plant is found in northern North America where the other species isn’t: British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, and Washington. H. hypnoides likes altitude: the excellent Finnish website NatureGate (luontoportti) claims that it shares the record for highest-growing vascular plant in Finland, having been found on top of Halti at 4,478 feet.


Click on these pictures to get a sense of how small the plants are. The gray-green stuff nearby is lichen, and that’s a 77 millimeter lens cap in the second photo. The flowers are a little under a quarter-inch wide. I was able to shoot at this angle because the trail was going through a little hollow, and the ground where the plants were growing was about chest-high.

Kalmia procumbens
(formerly Loiseleuria procumbens)
trailing azalea, alpine azalea
Icelandic: sauðamergur

This species is a cousin to the mid-Atlantic’s mountain laurel (K. latifolia), but much, much shorter, growing no taller than four or five inches. Its range is similar to moss plant’s, except that it grows further south in Eruope and further west in North America. It’s listed as sensitive in Washington, threatened in Maine and New Hampshire, and endangered in New York. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site claims that it’s common above tree line on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Adorable Ericas

It’s hard to choose favorites, but I’m perennially drawn to the beautiful flowers of the Ericaceae (the heath or heather family), be they on trees, shrubs, sub-shrubs, or herbs. I’m writing this after eating a bowl of blueberries, thinking about the other edible ericaceous fruits: cranberries, bilberries, crowberries, lingonberries, huckleberries. Gardeners in the mid-Atlantic states grow azaleas and rhododendrons, Japanese andromeda, leucothoe, zenobia. Real garden geeks (e.g. me) seek out specimen plants like enkianthus. Sourwood is one of the most beautiful trees, though very difficult to grow in a home landscape.

Actually many ericaceous plants are difficult to grow. They usually require humusy, acidic soil, and are often shallow-rooted, hence easily disturbed and damaged. And quite a few of them are mycorrhizal (meaning they can only grow in symbiosis with certain soil fungi).

Then there are the wildflowers. In the mid-Atlantic we’re blessed with a good variety: Indian pipe and pinesap, spotted wintergreen, sweetbells, shinleaf, deerberry, mountain laurel, and the stunning pinxter azalea.

It’s a big family, represented in many habitats around the world. Of course Iceland has its share, too, ten species or so. I saw six, two of them not flowering but identifiable nonetheless (heather and crowberry).



Vaccinium myrtillus
bilberry, whortleberry
Icelandic: aðalbláberjalyng





Vaccinium uliginosum
bog bilberry
Icelandic: bláberjalyng


Bilberries are in the same genus as blueberries, but I can’t tell you if they taste similar. I saw both species near Akureyri, and bog bilberry also near Húsafell. Bog bilberry is very widely distributed around Iceland, bilberry less so. In Flowering Plants and Ferns of Iceland, Hörður Kristinsson states that the latter grows “where snow cover is ensured throughout winter”. Interestingly this does not include the interior highlands, presumably because the combination of windiness and lack of substantive vegetative ground cover means that fallen snow just doesn’t stay put.

Both species are sub-shrubs: they have woody stems, but never grow more than a foot tall. In North America, bilberry is found in the mountainous West from Arizona to British Columbia (but not California). Bog bilberry has a much wider range, including Greenland, all of Canada, most of the American West, parts of the upper Great Lakes States, and New England.

Both species have some interesting characteristics, including usefulness in rehabilitating disturbed areas, and bog bilberry is tolerant of high levels of heavy metals in soils. Read more about them on the USFS website: bilberry, bog bilberry.

Next time, the other two ericaceous species.


The last plant (woolly willow) in my last post got me to thinking about other woolly Icelandic things. Like sheep, and grass.

Sheep are everywhere. On-line travel guides will warn of common road hazards, like sudden changes from asphalt to gravel, or one-lane bridges, or fords (not Fords), but they don’t always mention this common cause of sudden braking:

Sheep are as common in Iceland as functional fences aren’t. Mostly bred for meat, this breed of sheep’s double coat yields two different types of wool, which are spun together to form lopi, from which the traditional sweaters (lopapeysa) are knitted. These sweaters are itchy but incredibly warm. After two trips to Iceland I own more of them than I care to admit.

Note how bright the sky is in that photo. It was around 9:30 pm when I shot it, and it’s an accurate exposure.


As for grasses, there are a lot of grass and sedge species in Iceland, but this one is really eye-catching. It’s Eriophorum angustifolium, common cottongrass (Icelandic klófífa). It’s actually a sedge. (Some day I will write about the difference between sedges and grasses.) I saw another cottongrass, E. scheuchzeri, but never got any good pictures of it. Both are very common in wetlands all over Iceland.