Against All Odds: 5 Common Alpine Flowers in the Northeast

Credit: Patrick Scanlan
Credit: Patrick Scanlan

When I first started venturing into the alpine zone, the obvious captivated me. The absence of large trees, the swaths of exposed rock, the strength of the wind, the view (or lack of one) around me, and the perspective that came with it kept me coming back for more.

Everything in those environments seems big and expansive. But, every time I came back, the closer I looked, and the more I found. And, the colorful alpine flowers that dot the summits exemplify nature’s beauty and resiliency in such a harsh environment.

Alpine Adaptations

It is no easy feat to come back every spring after a winter of heavy snow, arctic temperatures, and hurricane-force winds. However, plants growing in an alpine ecosystem have adapted over time to survive.

For instance, growing close together in clumps or mats helps the plant retain heat and allows wind to pass over with minimal disturbance. As well, growing low to the ground protects the plant from deep, wind-packed snow. Some also have thick, wax-coated leaves, which retain water in shallow soils and aid in protecting the plant from high winds.

How to Spot Them

When you search for wildflowers, make sure to be environmentally conscious. Though these plants have evolved to withstand extreme conditions, they are fragile to human contact. So, when looking for these flowers, stay on the trail to avoid trampling other alpine plants and take only pictures.

If you are headed into the alpine zone, generally above 4,000 feet, you will be able to find many of these species. In New Hampshire, for instance, these flowers can be found in the Presidential Range, Franconia Ridge, Mount Chocorua, Mount Cardigan, Mount Monadnock, and on bald summits.

Over in Maine, they can be found in Baxter State Park, the Bigelow Range, the Mahoosuc Range, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Mount Abraham. When you’re in Vermont, alpine zones exist on Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. As you venture into New York, you can find them on Whiteface Mountain, Algonquin, and Mount Marcy.

Alpine Flower Guide

Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Diapensia lapponica, a.k.a. pincushion plant: This densely-growing plant has five-lobed white flowers extending no more than a few inches above the soil. These bloom from June through July.
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Geum peckii, a.k.a mountain avens: The mountain avens’ yellow flowers have five petals. Depending on the environment, the plant’s height can be between six and 20 inches. Flowering from June through September, this species is only found in the White Mountains and Nova Scotia.

Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Rhododendron lapponicum, a.k.a lapland rosebay: This low-growing plant that forms mat-like clusters has five-lobed pink-purple flowers with long stamens. Lapland rosebay is generally between four and 12 inches tall and flowers from May through July.

Credit: Caitlin McDonough
Loiseleuria procumbent, a.k.a alpine azalea: Alpine azalea forms short, bushy patches that only grow a few inches off the ground. Its crown-shaped flowers are bright pink and white and bloom from June through August.

Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Potentilla robbinsiana, a.k.a. dwarf cinquefoil or Robbins cinquefoil: Forming small clusters in sheltered alpine areas, this plant’s flowers are five-petaled and yellow. Flowering during a two-week window in June, dwarf cinquefoil is extremely rare and can only be found on Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge.