Unique Types of Tundra Plants

The tundra is an ecosystem found in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Northern Europe. The tundra is a snow-covered landscape with plants that have adapted to thrive in low-oxygen and low-light conditions. These plants include mosses and lichens, which form extensive “moss carpets.”

There are over 14,000 species of tundra plants scattered across the globe. The tundra, of course, refers to the coldest and driest climates on earth, and the arctic tundras are among the coldest and most barren. However, when plants survive in such harsh conditions, they develop tough, thick leaves, stems, and roots to protect from low temperatures, strong winds, and extremely low levels of moisture. Many tundra plants are rhizomatous, which means that their root systems can spread long distances to find nutrients and moisture.

Tundra plants are different from the heavy, flowering plants that grow near the equator. Native to the Arctic and Antarctic, tundra plants are tough, hardy plants that thrive in cold temperatures. The cold climate and challenging soil conditions mean that tundra plants have adapted to thrive in harsh environments, surviving without water for long periods and surviving winter by forming their leaves as tiny buds. All tundra plants have a special kind of cell in their leaves that can survive in high levels of acid.

Arctic Moss

The tundra region of Earth has long fascinated scientists, who say that the ecosystem’s extreme temperatures, lack of rainfall, and sparse vegetation make it one of the unique places on Earth. The tundra is so distinct that it’s classified as its own ecosystem or biome. The tundra also boasts a number of unique plant species, including Arctic moss.

The Arctic tundra, part of the Boreal Forest, is a cold, high-elevation biome where temperatures can plummet to -30°F. Among plant species that live in this harsh environment, the “arctic mosses” stand out. These plants grow as small, moss-like plants (often called “mosses”)—and they’re unique among plants because they grow in an Arctic tundra setting without water.

Arctic Poppy

The arctic poppy (Eschscholzia californica), also known as the California poppy, is one type of tundra plant. Tundra plants are perennial flowering plants that belong to the class Magnoliophyta. These plants have a narrow leaf base, erect branched stems and leaves on the stems, and flowers that grow up to the stem. The arctic poppy is an annual plant that grows to a height of between 12 and 18 inches. The flower heads are yellow, and the stems have spiny purple hairs. The leaves of this plant are lanceolate and flat.


Cottongrass is a species of flowering plant, and you’ll find it growing throughout the United States and into Canada. The cottongrass plant grows on dry, open ground and is sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s lawn.” (Don’t worry, you won’t find the grass in your living room.) This plant is an unreliable bloomer, though, only producing flowers when the soil is very dry. And despite its name, cottongrass is a native plant, so you won’t find it on your lawn!

While most Americans think of tundra as snow and ice-covered, it’s much more than that. It’s a region in the North polar region of the northern hemisphere that is home to unique animals and plants. One of these is cottongrass—also known as seashore or sea-shore grass, which is typically found in tundra regions. Native to North America, this flowering plant typically grows in wet areas, such as along coasts or in marshes.

Dwarf Willow

Dwarf willow is one of the unique types of tundra plants that grow throughout most of North America. Unlike other willow plants, dwarf willow grows in compact areas, not along rivers or other bodies of water. Dwarf willow is endemic to the tundra, which is an area located at very high altitudes with less than 15 inches of annual precipitation.

Dwarf willow is quite a unique plant. It is called dwarf willow because it grows very slowly. It has been found growing on mats of permafrost in Arctic regions, making them habitat specialists. The plants grow very slowly because the temperature in the subarctic region is very, very cold. The soils also may be frozen each year, which slows the decomposition of plant life.

Labrador Tea Shrub

Labrador tea shrub, which is also called Labrador tea, is a shrub native to North America. It is native to western Canada, from Labrador through Canada to Alaska. Labrador tea has also been discovered as far south as Long Island, New York. The Labrador tea shrub is native to arctic tundra regions. The shrub is found on moist, sandy, well-drained soils. The shrub typically grows in wetlands, fens, bogs, swamps, and taiga. It grows in sunny, dry, exposed sites. Labrador tea shrubs are allelopathic, meaning they repel other herbaceous plants, preventing them from growing around them and stunting their growth. Labrador tea shrubs grow in very dense layers. In montane areas, the shrub can typically only grow between 2-3 meters in height and 10 meters in width.