Friday, December 19, 2008

Diapensia Lapponica at 5,000 ft in the Franconia Range, west of Mt. Washington

Image courtesy
One plant, Diapensia, develops such a mimimalist strategy even further. Diapensia’s tiny evergreen leaves grow so tightly together that they insulate the plant’s interior from the frigid outside. The entire plant resembles a pincushion, and while it rarely grows higher than six inches, allowing the wind to flow over it with a minimum of disturbance, it can spread out for several feet. Consequently, Diapensia grows in the most exposed areas of the alpine zone on Mt. Washington, often occupying ridgelines where few other plants can survive (Slack & Bell, 65, 1995).


Thus the plant communities as well as the physical structure of Mt. Washington are profoundly influenced by the remarkably strong winds in the area, of which the Big Wind was only the most extreme example. Wind is not the only factor influencing the Presidential Range—temperature, precipitation, sunlight levels, and humans are other important determinants—but it is perhaps the most dramatic feature of this region. Without it, the tourist industry on Mt. Washington could hardly market its destination as having “The Worst Weather in the World” (Lemonick, 2007).


Clark, Brian. (2008) “The Big Wind.”
Lemonick, Michael. (2007) “The Worst Weather in the World.” Time Magazine, February 15.
Marchand, Peter J. (1987) North Woods. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books.
Price, Larry W. (1991) Mountains and Man: A Study of Process and Environment. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Slack, Nancy G. & Allison W. Bell. (1995) Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books.
Waterman, Guy & Laura. (1989) Forest and Crag. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books.
Zielinski, (2005) Gregory and Barry Keim. New England Weather, New England Climate.
University Press of New England.

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