Diapensia lapponica
diapensia in flower

Identification Diapensia mat

- Forms low-growing cushion-shaped mat; 2 inches or less.
- Evergreen leaves form  tight rosettes that often surround a flower or leaf bud.
- White flowers with 5 petals fused at the base like a goblet.
- Flowers are large compared with leaves.
- Fruit is surrounded by numerous bracts (small leaves) and forms a hard brown capsule, which splits at the top to release the seeds.

Flowering  Are some or all of the plant (s)...

   Before flower - A flower bud is dormant, or has begun to swell or grow above the leaves, but remains unopened .

   In flower - A flower has opened enough to allow access to a pollinator, but the petals have not wilted or fallen.

   After flower - The petal tube has wilted or fallen off, leaving a small green ovary surrounded by reddish-green bracts.  The ovary will begin to swell, but has not yet turned red or brown. 

Fruiting  Are some or all of the plant(s)...

    Before ripe fruit - A petal tube has fallen off, leaving a small green ovary surrounded by reddish-green bracts.  The ovary will begin to change color as it develops into ripe fruit, but has not turned completely red or brown yet. The surrounding bracts can obscure the developing fruit, so look carefully to see whether the fruit capsule has changed color.

   Ripe fruit - A fruit has turned from green to completely red or brown, but has not split open yet.   Look carefully, as the surrounding bracts can hide the fruit.

   After ripe fruit - A fruit capsule has begun to split open.  After the fruit has ripened, it will split into a 3-parted capsule and release the enclosed seeds.


Fun Facts

Grows in exposed alpine areas on high elevation ridgelines.

Diapensia is especially well adapted to the exposed alpine areas and extreme conditions where it is found. Its low-growth form of tight cushions helps to reduce heat and water loss from wind, as well as physical damage from blowing snow and ice. Early in the season, the leaves have a purple-red color. This pigment (anthocyanin) absorbs potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation, which is re-emitted as heat energy.

This slow-growing species survives in some of the harshest  weather, but is slow to recover from footfall.  A typical dinner-plate sized cushion could be hundreds of years old!