Main Narrative » Extreme Alpine Plants

Alpine Adaptation: Dig-Down & Stand Your Ground

By Charles J. Zimmerman

Sep 27 2019

Extreme conditions at high-elevations tend to impede the establishment of annual plants which must grow from seed and complete their life cycle within a single year. Short seasons and inhospitable soils largely explain why the vast majority of native Alpine plants are perennial, maintaining persistent tissues above- and below-ground. Roots in particular are important for stabilizing plants, stockpiling energy during winter, and maximizing extraction of moisture from extremely dry soils. The taproot shown on this specimen—characteristic of many alpine plants—would likely extend several more feet down into the substrate.

Documenting the places where plants can live through collection and preservation of scientific specimens is essential for understanding and predicting their current and future distributions. Alpine Larkspur (Delphinium alpestre) is an example of a rare Alpine plant known to occur in very few high-elevation sites in Colorado and New Mexico. Species like these with restricted geographic ranges are more vulnerable to go extinct in the face of physical threats from human disturbance and Climate Change driven habitat transformation.

A Closer Look


Zwinger, A.H. & Willard B.E. (1972). Land Above the Trees. Harper & Row Publishers.

Colorado Rare Plant Guide (2012). Delphinium ramosum var. alpestre [Website]. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from