Iceland Road Guide

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Iceland Road Guide

Your key to Iceland in one handy volume. Iceland's entire road system, including the highlands and all mountain roads, plus its geography, culture and history. Easy to use for travel in either direction.

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Plants

Vegetation in Iceland is typical of the north and the majority of the almost 500 different higher plant species that grow wild in Iceland are of European origin. Exceptions include the Arctic river-beauty and Lyngbye's sedge which originally came from North America.

Icelandic plant communities developed after the end of the last Ice Age. In spite of this, scientists believe that some species have grown there since before then. Some species have survived through the last Cold Era of the Ice Age, for example the Arctic poppy. Birch was the most common tree species but mountain ash and willow species could be found amongst them. Birch woods grew on land to an altitude of 400 metres and covered slightly over a quarter of the country's area.

Icelandic plant communities developed after the end of the last Ice Age. In spite of this, scientists believe that some species have grown there since before then. Some species have survived through the last Cold Era of the Ice Age, for example the Arctic poppy. Birch was the most common tree species but mountain ash and willow species could be found amongst them. Birch woods grew on land to an altitude of 400 metres and covered slightly over a quarter of the country's area.

The effects of deforestation are various; soil erosion is undoubtedly the most critical. Wind erosion of the soil has left the land rocky and lifeless where it was once lush. Soil is still blown out to sea and future generations will have to deal with the consequences.

Downy Birch
Fig.: Downy Birch
(Betula pubescens)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Harebell
Fig.: Harebell
(Campanula rotundifolia)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
The downy birch is the only tree species in Iceland that forms consecutive woods. Birch woods cover currently a little over 1% of the total area of the country but it is believed that when the settlers arrived here in the ninth century approximately one third of the land was covered with birch woods. Birch has been utilized since the beginning of settlement. At first, the main use was for making charcoal but also, the bark and leaves were used for medicinal purposes and in dyes. The harebell is common in woodlands all around the country, particularly in the east. The roots are edible and the plant was once used in dyes.
Arctic River-beauty
Fig.: Arctic River-beauty
(Epilobium latifolium)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Bog Violet
Fig.: Bog Violet
(Viola palustris)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
The arctic river-beauty is the main plant on riverbanks and derives its name from this fact. It originated in North America and is not found in Europe outside of Iceland where it grows nearly everywhere. According to old tales, the extract of this plant cures headaches and stops nose bleeds. It was also considered healing to lay leaves of the plant over wounds. Common plant in moorlands all around the country.
Arctic Poppy
Fig.: Arctic Poppy
(Papaver radicatum)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Lyme Grass
Fig.: Lyme Grass
(Leymus arenarius)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
The arctic poppy is most common in the Western Fjords. There are different varieties but it generally has yellow flowers. Plants bearing pink and white flowers are protected. The Arctic poppy was once believed to cure insomnia. Lyme grass is the main plant on windblown sands. It grows in sandy areas all around the country, from the shore to the highland in mid- Iceland. Lyme grass has been utilized for land restoration since it binds the sand with its rootstalk and intense root system. Lyme corn was once used as food.
Arctic Willow
Fig.: Arctic Willow
(Salix arctica)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Mountain Ash
Fig.: Mountain Ash
(Sorbus aucuparia)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
The leaves of this plant have been used as animal fodder and an extract made from its bark was used for medicinal purposes. These trees grow in many places around the country, in particular amongst birch trees in birch mwoods or in crevices and river canyons. In earlier times, superstition was associated with these trees. The berries can be boiled and eaten.
Lyngbye's Sedge
Fig.: Lyngbye's Sedge
(Carex lyngbyei)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Moss Campion
Fig.: Moss Campion
(Silene acaulis)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
Lyngbye's sedge grows in wet mires and bogs. It is considered an excellent fodder plant. It originated in North America and does not grow anywhere in Europe except Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. Moss campion grows on hills and gravel plains all around the country. It blooms early in summer and forms green tussocks with light red flowers. It has one deep root under the tussock. The roots of these plants were sometimes eaten in earlier times, even though they were not easily digestible.
Mountain Avens
Fig.: Mountain Avens
(Dryas octopetala)

Source: Iceland Road Atlas
 
The mountain avens has recently been selected Iceland's national flower. It grows in gravel plains and peat lands all around the country. The leaves are evergreen; along with creeping thyme were once used to make tea.  
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