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Vegetation of the Khibiny tundra

First vegetation on the territory of the North of the Kola Peninsula appeared about 10 thousand years ago with the retreat of the Ice Age. The evolution of flora led to the formation of different natural and geographical zones. The Khibiny mountains area divided into tundra, forest-tundra and taiga. The Khibiny massif settled in the northern taiga zone. The mountain slopes are covered with vegetation, unevenly; there are different types of plants at different heights. All the territory of the Khibiny can be relatively divided into three plant zones: forest area settled at the mountains foot smoothly turns into the subalpine birch wood and alpine tundra type at the top of the mountains.

Vegetation of the Khibiny tundra

The zonal division of vegetation cover depends on not only the northern climate, but also mountainous terrain and soil features. The tops of the mountains have enough heat only for birches, but this characteristic can vary from time to time. The reasons for the lack of forests are different: high humidity, soil rockiness that is deprived of silt soil, etc. But the main obstacle to the realization of the thermal minimum that contributes to the growth of trees in the Kola tundra is strong winds (especially in the winter time). Soil and plant roots in this time are slightly frozen. They have unfavourable temperature (from -1 up to -7 Celsius degrees). Under the winds influence overground part of trees gets dry, loses moisture being unable to fill it up from the frozen ground. This process becomes stronger during the thawing, when the overground part of the tree thaws out and the loss of moisture by the wind influence sharply increases. Therefore, for the forest-tundra and tundra zone quite common elfin woods with the trees spreading along the ground and covered with snow in the winter time. For the first time it was Finnish scientist O. Kielmann, who in the late 19th century reported about the phenomenon of dehydration of trees due to the winds influence.

The lack of enough heat and high humidity creates a special mountain atmosphere that greatly affects the vegetation character. Despite the high humidity, it is observed a lack of precipitation preventing to the growth of trees. The fact is that most part of the year it's snowing there and the temperature rarely rises above zero. Almost constant mountains snowboundness has a great influence on the distribution of vegetation. The movement of snow down the slopes led to the birches distortion giving them acinaciform shape. Moreover, the mountain relief promotes the rapid water flow and strong wind strengthens soil dehydration. Therefore, there are the coniferous trees at the mountain foot, slightly over birches are settled and it can be observed minimal plant cover on the tops.

The fir trees are found only in the lower part of the Khibiny massif. It can be also explained by the winter dehydration. Unlike deciduous trees, the fir does not shed the needles in winter, therefore it has great sailing and transpiration (evaporative) surface. Coniferous trees are losing much more moisture than birches. The fir can’t survive under the conditions of strong winds of winter thaws, therefore it can be rarely met in the forest-tundra as oppressed elfin and flag-shaped trees with a lop-sided crown and branch «skirts» near the ground.

Climate conditions of the Khibiny are not suitable for fast-growing heat-loving plants. Only long-lived species with a slow growth rate are able to survive there. In the mountains grain vegetation grows: wood sorrel spruce forest, groundsel, bluegrass Alpine.

Vegetation of different altitudinal zones of the Khibiny strongly differs. The difference can be seen through the analysis of vegetation cover in each zone separately.

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