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Plants of the Carcross Desert (Carcross Dunes)

by Murray Lundberg

A photo of the Carcross Dunes, 'The World's Smallest Desert'     The common perception of the circumpolar world is one that includes only a few particulary hardy plants. While that is true in some areas, the plant life in many areas is both abundant and varied. One such rich location is just a mile from my house, and is well-used by locals for walking, cross-country skiing, ATV and snowmobile riding and other activities.

    In October 2000 I had the pleasure of taking a tour of a small section of the Carcross Dunes system with botanist Bruce Bennett from the Yukon Government's Department of Renewable Resources. His passion for this unique resource resulted in the tour lasting until well after dark.

    Known locally as "The World's Smallest Desert", the Carcross Dunes are home to a wide variety of plants, some of them very unusual. The Baikal Sedge (Carex sabulosa ssp. leiophylla), for example, is only known in four places in North America, and the Yukon Lupine (Lupinus kuschei) is more common here than in any other location in the world.

    Other plants found in the Carcross Dunes system that are of interest due to their rarity or limited distribution are the Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), Mutton Grass (Poa cusickii) and Nelson's Needle-grass (Stipa nelsonii ssp. dorei).

    While there has been some discussion about formal protection of the Dunes, either as a Territorial Park or through some other designation, nothing has resulted so far. This is due to a combination of local concerns about reduced access, private ownership of large parts of the Dunes and other development issues. A planned hotel right on the northern edge of the Dunes has now brought the entire issue of the importance of this ecosystem into critical focus again, and residents, the Yukon Government and the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, who are planning the hotel, are working to resolve all the possible conflicts.

Carcross Dunes Photo Album

    The following list of 70 plants has been compiled by Bruce Bennett, Carolyn Parker, Alan Batten and Rhonda Rosie.

Abies lasiocarpa Subalpine fir
Achillea millefolium var. borealis Northern Yarrow
Androsace septentrionalis Northern Fairy-candelabra
Anemone multifida Cut-leaf Anemone
Antennaria rosea Rosy Pussytoes
Arabis holboellii Holboell's Rockcress
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick
Artemisia campestris Pacific Wormwood
Artemisia frigidus Pasture Sage
Aster sibiricus Arctic Aster
Bromus pumpellianus ssp. pumpellianus Pumpelly Brome
Calamagrostis purpurascens Purple Reedgrass
Carex foenea Northern Elegant Sedge
Carex obtusata Blunt Sedge
Carex praticola Pasture Sedge
Carex sabulosa ssp. leiophylla Baikal Sedge
Carex stenophylla eleocharis Spike-rush Sedge
Carex supina Weak Arctic Sedge
Cerastium arvense Field Chickweed
Chamaigrhodos erecta nuttallii American Chamaerhodos
Collinsia parviflora Blue-eyed Mary
Elymus alaskanus borealis Alaskan Wild Rye
Elymus calderi Calder's Wild Rye
Elymus trachycaulus subsecundus Slender Wheatgrass
Epilobium angustifolium Fireweed
Equisetum arvense Common Horsetail
Erigeron caespitosa Tufted Fleabane
Erigeron compositus Cut-leaf Fleabane
Festuca saximontana Rocky Mountain Fescue
Geocaulon lividium Orange-berry Bastard Toadflax
Hierochloe hirta arctica Common Sweetgrass
Juniperus communis Common Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis Creeping Juniper
Lappula squarrosa Bristly Stickseed
Lupinus arcticus Arctic Lupine
Lupinus kuschei Yukon Lupine
Minuartia rubella Red Sandwort
Oxytropis campestris varians Alaskan Locoweed
Oxytropis splendens Showy Locoweed
Penstemon gormanii Yukon Pensternon, Gorman's Beardtongue
Penstemon procerus Shrubby Penstemon
Picea glauca White Spruce
Pinus contorta ssp. laterifolia Lodgepole Pine
Poa cusickii Mutton Grass
Poa glauca Glaucous Bluegrass
Poa pratensis Kentucky Bluegrass
Poa secunda Curly Blue Grass
Polemonium pulcherrimum Showy Jacob's-ladder
Populus balsamifera Balsam Poplar
Populus tremuloides Trembling Aspen
Potentilla hookeriana Hooker's Cinquefoil
Potentilla pensylvanica Pennsylvania Cinquefoil
Pulsatilia patens Prairie Crocus
Rosa acicularis Prickly Rose
Salix alaxensis ssp. longistylis Felt-leaf Willow
Salix barclayi Barclay's Willow
Salix glauca Grey-leaved Willow
Salix niphoclada Barren-ground Willow
Salix planifolia Tea-leaf Willow
Salix pseudomyrsinites Tall Blueberry Willow
Salix scouleriana Scouler's Willow
Saxifraga triscuspidata Three-toothed Saxifrage
Sedum lanceolatum Lance-leaved Stonecrop
Silene taimyrensis Taimyrensis Catchfly
Solidago simplex Spikelike Goldenrod
Stellaria longipes Long-stalked Starwort
Stipa nelsonii ssp. dorei Nelson's Needle-grass
Taraxacum sp. Dandilion
Viburnum edule American Highbush-cranberry
Zygadenus elegans Death Camas

A Guide to Carcross, Yukon