Par Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
I think it would be safe to say that few people would think about Iceland and also think, ‘Oh, yeah, they have some pretty incredible flowers.’
You wouldn’t be wrong in saying that. As a landmass, Iceland has proven itself to be notoriously difficult to grow things. The early settlers of the country were almost completely wiped out by famine several times. There’s even a recipe in the history books for a soup made from moss (yummy).
What you might not know is that Iceland regularly puts on a flower show each summer. For a few short months of the year, parts of the country are blanketed with purple. This is all because of the Lupine flower.
What is the Lupine flower? How did it get here? Where can you find it? Read on to find out more.
What Are Lupine Flowers?
Lupines are a flowering plant that grows in North America, North Africa, the Mediterranean, New Zealand and Iceland. They are part of the Fabaceae flower family, which has over 199 different species and is the same plant family as the pea.
Lupines can grow up to 120 cm in height and are known for their dramatic colours and fast-spreading nature, which usually leads to them creating blankets of colour when they bloom.
The kind of Lupine that grows in Iceland is the Alaskan Lupine (Lupinus Nootkatensis). Every single Lupine plant in the country is here because of one person.
In 1945, a committee was set up to revegetate areas of Iceland. A representative of the committee, Hákon Bjarnason, took a trip to Alaska to select plants he thought would do well in the harsh Icelandic landscape.
On November 3, 1945, he arrived home with his collection of seeds, and the story of the Lupine began.
Fun Fact: Although Icelanders always refer to the plant as Lúpína (derived from the name Lupine), there is actually an Icelandic name for it. The official Icelandic name given to the plant is Úlfabaunir, which literally means ‘Wolf Beans.’
When do Lupines Bloom in Iceland?
Lupines are a summer blooming flower, although, in Iceland, their bloom cycle tends to start a little bit later than it does in other parts of the world.
This is because summer tends to start a bit later in Iceland. Although the days have already begun to get longer in May, the temperatures don’t really begin to rise until late June.
Late June and into July and August are when you are most likely to see large fields of Lupine that seem like a giant purple rug sitting in the middle of the incredible Icelandic landscape.
How Long Do Lupines Bloom in Iceland?
The lupine bloom season typically lasts about 2 months. The flowers usually start to disappear by the end of July, but it’s not unheard of to see a couple here and there in early August.
Where Can I Find Lupine Flowers in Iceland?
Lupine was initially introduced to low-lying areas of Iceland but has since spread to many parts of the country. Probably the best place to see these vibrant flowers in full bloom would be on Iceland’s South Coast.
The South Coast of Iceland is home to some of the most popular natural attractions the country has to offer. Visitors could easily spend two weeks just exploring the many waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers located here.
Many people visit the south base themselves in Reykjavík and make day trips, but there are some incredible accommodation options right in the heart of the action. For example, the Panorama Glass Lodge is ideally located in the middle of the action. Overlooking the landscape of the Hekla volcanic region, the Panorama Glass Lodge is the perfect place to unwind after you’ve spent a day exploring.
During summer, the South Coast is abundant with fields of Lupine, just waiting to be discovered.
Why Does Iceland Get So Many Lupine Flowers?
Lupine plants are pretty unique because they thrive well in harsh conditions. They are able to extract nitrogen from the air and redistribute it to their roots. To put it simply, the lupine plant makes its own fertiliser.
Iceland doesn’t have a great deal of botanical competition, so the fact that the Lupine is so good at thriving has meant that it has spread like wildfire. Some Icelanders feel that the Lupine is an invasive species; others think it helps irrigate the soil and prevent erosion.
The fact is that if you ask every Icelander what they think of the Lupine, they will always have an opinion.
How to Photograph Lupine Plants in Iceland
This is really a matter of taste. Of course, you could select different lenses to make sure you can get up close to the flowers, but the real trick to getting a great shot of these plants is to think about the bigger picture.
Lupines are great photography subjects in Iceland because they inject a vibrant blanket of colour into a landscape that can often be relatively muted or stark.
Iceland’s South Coast rolling fields are typically filled with green grass, black volcanic rock, and white misty clouds. Occasionally, through the summer months, these colours are interrupted with a dash of bright purple supported by the incredible midnight sun.
The trick to getting an incredible photo of Iceland’s lupine flowers in bloom is to think about how it is framed. Is there a volcano or glacier in the distance? Can you also see the rough Atlantic Ocean? Is there an Icelandic horse in the frame?
The possibilities are endless; it’s just about hitting the road and having fun.
What Other Summer Plants Should I Look Out For in Iceland?
Iceland might not have many other plants growing, but there are at least a few worth looking out for.
Harebells (Campanula Rotundifolia) are more commonly known as Bluebells or in Icelandic Bláklukka.
They are a delicate looking wildflower with purple or blue heads in the shape of bells. Their petals are rough to touch, and the leaves on their stems are heart-shaped.
Harebells tend to grow in low grasslands and are pretty common in the eastern part of Iceland.
Cotton Grass (Eriophorum) is called Klófífa in Icelandic. It’s a plant that is incredibly common in the arctic, subarctic and temperate areas of the northern hemisphere.
It tends to grow in wet areas like beside ponds, lakes and in meadows and marshes. You can also find cotton grass growing in moist gravel, so it’s commonly seen by the side of highways in Iceland.
It grows most of the year, but in winter it’s more dull. It becomes a bit more of a showstopper from summer to Autumn (June to October).
Source: Mountain Avens plant. Wikimedia. CC. Anne Burgess.
Mountain Avens (Dryas Octopetala) are called Holtasóley in Icelandic and are particularly special because they are also the national flower.
They are considered quite pretty, with white petals in a circular pattern around a golden centre. Although they are the national flower, they’re actually more difficult to find than many others in Iceland. Mountain avens tend to grow in the gravel of mountain slopes, so you’re more likely to see them if you head off on a hike or visit the peak of a waterfall.
In the past, they were called ‘Thief’s Roots’ because they seemed to grow commonly at the spots where people were hanged for stealing.
In Iceland, they were traditionally used for medicinal purposes. The leaves of mountain avens can be dried and diffused in teas or used like tobacco.
According to Icelandic folklore, if you steal money from a poor widow and bury it underneath some mountain avens, it will double your fortune.
Meadow Buttercups (Ranunculus Acris) are called Brennisóley in Icelandic. They’re perennial, meaning they can live all year round.
As their name suggests, they tend to grow in meadows and low lying areas, but you will also see them on hillsides or mountainous regions. They’re quite hairy and can grow up to a metre in height.
They tend to bloom from May till July and can cover parts of the country in small patches of glossy yellow from their vibrant petals.
Source: Moss Campion plant. Wikimedia. CC. Hermanhi.
Moss Campion (Silene Acaulis) is known as Lambagras in Icelandic, translating to ‘Lamb Grass.’
It’s a hearty herbal plant that tends to grow on the higher mountains of Iceland. It can often be found thriving in very dry soil in places like the deserts of the Highlands.
In the early days of human settlement in Iceland, moss campion was used as a food source.
It’s very easy to spot because of its pink or white flowers that have a yellow ring around the base of their petals.
Moss campion is in full bloom during the early part of summer, just after the snow has melted (May to June).
The easiest way to see these flowers in the wild is to head to Iceland’s Westfjords.
Source: Angelica plant. Wikimedia. CC. Den Haag.
Angelica (Angelica Archangelica) is one of only a handful of plants to have survived the last Ice Age. The early settlers of Iceland used the plant for herbal and medicinal purposes and called it Ætihvönn.
References to angelica can be found in Icelandic texts dating back over 1000 years, including a story where the hero of an Icelandic Saga was able to cling to the plant to stop himself from falling to his death.
It’s a widespread plant to find in Iceland and can be seen throughout most of the country. It tends to prefer wet or moist conditions, so places like beside creek beds are perfect for the plant.
It’s normally prettiest in Autumn, from September through to November.
Iceland might not have been the first place that comes to mind when you think of wildflowers, but it certainly has a decent collection to offer.
Summer in Iceland is an incredibly magical time, and travelling around the country, the addition of these wild pops of colour bring an even more fantastical element to the table.
Iceland’s wildflowers take the already incredible scenery and turn it into something from the pages of a fantasy novel. So what are you waiting for? Get over here already!