Saturday, July 12, 2014

Surprisingly Colorful

Some of the most frequent questions I received while working at a Visitors' Center were about the flora of the state. A lot of people didn't expect Alaska to be so full of colorful plant varieties. In truth, we can support a wide range of plant life and there are plenty of wildflowers across the state. We even have problems with invasive plant species taking over critical habitat areas and killing the native plants which are important to the wildlife. A large part of this problem is from the seed mixtures construction companies use along highways when re-seeding new road sections. Another part of the problem are the large "box" stores we have up here now. In the summer, these stores get shipments of plants which aren't native, but do quite well in our climate. The birds end up spreading seeds along riverbanks, which carry the plant material downstream and eventually we end up with important waterways being overrun by plants which aren't great for our wildlife or native plant life. It's sad to see less and less of our beautiful fireweed or lupine along the roads.

Alaskans tend to get pretty excited when presented with a new plant choice. Even I filled my garden with non-native plants at one time. Alaska is behind the times with a lot of things, and one of the biggest things is shopping. When I was a kid, my family had to drive into Anchorage for shopping. Once a month, we'd unwillingly pile in the car for the long ride to the "big" city. We got almost all of our food, clothes and essentials from Anchorage. Now, I get into Anchorage once every year or two, if I must. Suddenly, big box stores began popping up in Anchorage, and then closer to home. It was a big deal to finally be able to shop at these places. New merchandise and a wider variety of choices was a thrill to many Alaskans. I've heard people scream with excitement when hearing we'll be getting a new restaurant or store chain. Most people living here are not born and bred Alaskans like I am. They are transplants from states like California, Texas and Maryland. Those are the top three states from which "Alaskans" now hail. My parents came from Maryland before I was born, thank goodness, but I met my husband there. After getting married, it didn't take much to convince him we needed to live in Alaska, and he's never gone back. Along with many of these "transplants" come their desires for a bit of "home." A store or restaurant which they may have frequented in their home state is like getting a piece of home back.

Unfortunately, not all of what these stores bring from other states is good for our own beautiful and wild land. A person sees a cherry tree and they don't just see a plant, they see a part of their past. Nostalgia sells in Alaska. Extremely well. Gardens become full of plants which grew in a person's home state. While trying to re-create the past, people are unwittingly destroying Alaska's present. We need more people to start appreciating what Alaska has to offer. There are plenty of beautiful native plant species, but the popular big stores don't sell them. It has become an epidemic and the struggle to keep invasive plants under control is getting harder. Soon, all of the flowers a visitor may see on the roadside will no longer be Alaskan wildflowers. I have become very interested in documenting Alaska's wildflowers with photography. When I started taking pictures of flowers, it was a way to identify Alaska's plants. Now it may be the only way to preserve them.
Some of the beautiful wildflowers I've come across during camping trips around the state.
Names and descriptions of many wildflowers can be seen on my Flickr page here.

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