By Janelle Eklund
It was a sunny summer day. Dryas covered the landscape in front of me. Dark evergreen leaves laid a carpet around the rocky shoulder of the riverbank. Tooth like edges of the leaves crimp downward, more so during a drought. Stems emerge from the woody base (caudex) of the glossy carpet standing four to ten inches tall and bending at the top. The end of the stem houses an outer green envelope (calyx) covered with dark glandular hairs. Out of this envelope emerges a shy flower that never really opens its eight to ten yellow petals.
I have also seen yellow Dryas at the foot of glaciers near McCarthy. They are the pioneers to receding glaciers uncovering their rocky innards. This hearty plant is an adapter. It has to be in order to survive the harsh conditions that it grows in. Its roots are tough and grow deep to anchor it against prevailing winds. Nodules on the roots have nitrogen fixing bacteria. The backs of its waxy leaves have a wooly coat that in some ways reminds me of sheep's wool. It sheds ice in the winter and conserves moisture in the summer. The flowers face the sun basking in its warmth in order to heat up the female parts (pistil) so insects will be attracted to it and spread its pollen. The insects also like spending a little time in the flower, enjoying its warmth, greatly increasing its body temperature from the ambient air temperature.
These solitary flowers dot the landscape until about mid-July. The flowers drop their petals forming its head into fluffy swirls, eventually opening its tight curl to release seeds to the winds of time.
I enjoy capturing the light of the sun as it plays through the fluffy swirls, giving off golden yellow tones.
From my light to yours-
References: http://www.flora.dempstercountry.org/; Wildflowers of the Yukon Alaska and Northwestern Canada by John G. Trelawny; Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories by Eric Hultén
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.