Icelandic or Arctic?

Papaver radicatum
arctic poppy, rooted poppy
Icelandic: melasól

If you’re a gardener or flower enthusiast of any sort, you’re probably familiar with Icelandic poppies, popular in the florist trade. These are not Icelandic poppies. They’re arctic poppies.

Because the two common names seem to be tossed around with abandon, I’m going to stick with the Latin here. P. radicatum has four subspecies (according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System), which may explain why I found conflicting data from various sources. Some claim the species is endemic to Iceland. Others claim it’s endemic to Norway and Sweden. And still others say its native range includes Iceland, Jan Mayen, and North America (Greenland, Canada and the US). Probably what’s going on here is each of the subspecies is endemic or native to a particular area.

I can’t say which subspecies this is, but for sure it’s P. radicatum: the hairy leaves and stem are the signs. This species is found in the western and eastern regions of Iceland, with a few scattered occurrences elsewhere. I saw it in the Westfjords near the waterfall Dynjandi, and in the Snæfellsnes penninsula. In the US it can be found in a few counties in the Rocky Mountain states (and in Alaska).

As for the so-called Icelandic poppy of the florist trade, that’s P. nudicaule (or P. croceum in some older sources). It’s hairless – nudicaule means “naked stem”. This species is not native to Iceland, but rather to North America. Sources disagree on its range, though. BONAP shows it as a native in part of eastern Canada only, while USDA shows it as a native in Alaska, Utah, Colorado, and Virginia, and introduced in parts of western Canada.

We did see Icelandic poppies in Iceland:


They grow there in gardens.





still life with poppy

Orchids in Iceland?!

I spotted this charmer in a little forest park outside of Ísafjorður, in the Westfjords. I was wearing contact lenses at the time so couldn’t make out any details (I usually wear glasses when I’m shooting, since I see much better close up with them). All I saw was spotted leaves and a spike with pinkish flowers. The general form made me think monocot (correct), and the spots reminded me of trout lily, so I was thinking maybe it was in the Liliaceae (wrong).

As soon as I got the pics on the computer and zoomed in I saw my mistake. This is an orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata. The English common name is heath spotted orchid. In Icelandic it’s brönugrös.


It’s one thing to have read that orchids are found the world ’round (except Antarctica), in most habitats, but quite another to trip upon one in Iceland when you aren’t expecting it. I was so happy!

In Iceland, heath spotted orchid is rather common within its range, but its range isn’t too extensive. It’s found in some coastal areas but not the central highlands. It’s a subarctic plant that ranges through northern Europe, further south in Europe in the mountains, and even parts of North Africa.

This species does not grow in North America, but three other Dactylorhiza species do, including one that’s endangered in Maryland.