National Geographic : 1957 Apr
530 Greenland Yields Plants to the Author's C Rutherford Platt has combed North America, Eui search of material for his books and articles on natur he accompanied Admiral MacMillan on Bowdoin's Arct Many of the plants grow not as a con tinuous ground cover but scattered in cracks of the rock or snuggled under the curves of boulders. Their leaves are compact rosettes, usually forming either "pincushion" clumps or mats growing flat on the ground. Clumps, seemingly springing from bare rock, usually have one central taproot that penetrates between boulders or pushes into a crack with amazing power. A mat may be a foot across and bear several dozen flowers, yet it has only that one thick root as a mighty anchor. There are no trees in Arctic Greenland, but woody plants have already invaded spots at the glacier fronts. Willow and birch grow in mats sometimes several feet across, as flat as though a steamroller had ironed them out. Bilberry and crowberry also grow there as flat as pan cakes (page 538). Possibly some pioneer trees of our own northeast ern forests also were flat thousands of years ago, when they first sprang up in the wake of the reced ing glaciers. Tall trees maples, elms, oaks, and poplars-marched north behind the retreating cold from their Ice Age refuge in the southern Appalach ian Mountains. Arctic Had Tall Trees There is evidence that Greenland, too, once had tall forests of trees much like those of the Appalach ians. Disko Island, lying off the west coast of Green land, is separated from the mainland by Disko Bay and a narrow arm of sea known as the Vaigat. Snow capped mountains face each other across the water. On the mainland side a great ravine has been deep ened by melt water running down from the icecap. Far ollecting Box down in this ravine are ex rope, and Asia in posed layers of sandstone al history. Twice tic voyages, that have been buried for millions of years, and in them are fossils of ancient hardwood forests. From Bowdoin I went ashore here to read the story of these trees. For a time we found no evidence of fossils. Then as we worked farther up the ravine the thin brittle layers showed definite markings. Almost every flake bore an impression. It was easy to imagine the relationship of the designs to part of a sassafras leaf, a sycamore, a fig. In one place we found impressions of what I took to be elm seeds, in another the marks of little pods, in still another the out line of roots in the shale. We were looking at the pages of a story that recorded the existence of deciduous trees where now only the willow and the birch grow as gnarled pygmies. It was a curious, eerie moment in the light of the midnight sun.