Category Archives: Vegetation

Vegetation, plants, flowers

Rowan tree at Sandfell

Reynir – Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia

Again we post a picture of the beautiful Rowan tree at Sandfell in Öræfasveit planted in 1923 beside the family farmhouse. In 1947, however, this old church site and parsonage was abandoned. In South Iceland Rown trees rarely reach such a high age as this one, almost 100 years old.

This tree is by many considered the most beautiful Rowan in Iceland. In 2015 it received the title “Tree of the year”by the Icelandic Forestry Association. It is 11 metres high with seven stems. In autumn each stems displays varied colours. This difference is due to the amount of water in each stem, resulting in these magnificent autumn colours of leaves in different stages of wilting. See also Tree of the year 2015.

Wild flowers in the Highlands

Blágresi – Geranium sylvaticum – Wood cranesbill

A lot of flowers are in full bloom now in the interior. Vegetation, however, is more often very scarce at this altitude for several reasons. The weather is not favourable, the soil is sandy and is on the move in stormy weather. Therefore the interior is heavily affected by grazing sheep. Letting these domestic animals lose in the interior for the summer has been a custom in Iceland since the Middle Ages.  In the moonlike environment, the black sands made of volcanic minerals and lava, are often dominant and it is no wonder that flowering plants are on the top of the menu for the wandering sheep.

Steindepla – – Veronica fructans- Rock speedwell
Hvítmaðra – Galium normanii – Slender Bedstraw

Coming across fields of wild mountain flowers in the highlands is very often a great surprise and nothing less than heavenly. Hiking this week we were so happy to come across such a delight.

Barnarót-  Coeloglossum viride – Long-bracted green orchid

The mountainside was covered with different kinds of wild flowers in bloom. These include velvet bells, snow gentian, moonwort, rock speedwell and many more.  The blue colours of snow gentians and rock speedwells caught the eye and  a great surprise was to see a field of wood cranesbill and meadow buttercups high up in the mountainside.

Dýragras  – Gentiana nivalis – Snow gentian

Blágresi – Geranium sylvaticum – Wood cranesbill
Brennisóley – Ranunculus acris –  Meadow Buttercup

What do you do if you are lost…

Stafafura – Lodgepole pine – Pinus contorta

“What do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest?” used to be a popular joke, the answer being “you stand up!” Today this joke is obsolete. Spruce and pine forests are growing very fast all over the country and the trees at Snæfoksstaðir probably at least 12-15 metres high or more.

A Sunday stroll in the forest makes the weekend perfect. Nothing beats being outside in the fresh air, surrounded by  trees and bird song.

Remains of an ancient birch forest

Drumbabót with a view to Glacier Mýrdalsjökull

The forest in Drumbabót was destroyed by a huge flood originated from an eruption in Glacier Mýrdalsjökull some 45 km away. The surge of water and glacial sediment swept away and broke tree stems as big as 30 cm in diameter. This eruption in the autumn of 822, most likely in the volcano Katla, wreaked havoc. Forest remains have in the last century been emerging from the sands by the River Þverá in Fljótshlíð, South Iceland. These are the remains of an ancient birch forest, which covered an area of over 100 hectares. This gives credence to the Icelandic Sagas which say that Iceland was more or less covered with trees from mountain to shore at the time of the settlement which is believed to have begun some fifty year later.

River Beauty

Eyrarrós – River Beauty – Epilobium latifolium

The River Beauty is one of the most beautiful flowers you see. It is now in bloom. It grows on the banks of rivers and is common in the highlands in places where sheep can not get to it.

The River Beauty is the national flower of Greenland and when Icelanders were choosing their National flower it was a strong  candidate.

Happiness reports

Last Friday, Marsh 30

Spring comes and goes. This is not uncommon for the month of April in Iceland. We have had some beautiful sunny days and then we wake up to snow and hail. We should be used to this but we are always amazed when we experience what looks like a battle between winter and spring.

The days are brighter and much longer. The dark winter days have retreated, the sun rises earlier and sets later. We feel optimistic and think everything is possible. No wonder we score high in happiness surveys.

Iceland is now number three on the World Happiness Report, with the Nordic countries Norway and Denmark coming first and second.

In OECD better life index Icelanders score on average higher than people in other OECD countries. Icelanders seem to be more satisfied with their lives. We rate our general satisfaction with life 7.5 on the scale from 0 to 10. This is higher than the OECD average of 6.5. – I wonder whether these surveys are taken during summer or winter.

Fireweed autumn colours

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) in an island in Rivr Ölfusá and Mt Hekla in the background

Autumn colours catch the eye everywhere at this time of year. Red, orange and yellow in adundance.  The bright red here is the autumn colour of the Rosebay Willowherb, more commonly referred to as Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). This beautiful plant is used both for food and medicine. Fireweed builds a thriving plant community by spreading its tiny seeds and with lateral root networks.  In an island in River Ölfusá this is the case and the plant is overrunning other vegetation.

Tree of the year 2015

A ram stands watch
A ram stands watch

Last month the Icelandic Forestry Association announced Tree of the year 2015. This special tree is a rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) that was planted in 1923 in Sandfell in Öræfi, Southeast Iceland.

The Rowan is around 12 metres high
The Rowan is around 12 metres high

It is a special tree for many reasons. The weather conditions in Öræfi are not ideal. Here you get the strongest storms in Iceland. This rowan is very prominent in the scenery, it has seven thick trunks and it stands alone below the mountain Sandfell. The lady who planted the tree got it as a present from a friend.

In the settlement of Iceland around the year 900 the area around Sandfell was claimed by a woman.  She was a widow named Thorgerdur and the first woman to claim land as her own.

Collecting birch seed


The birch (Betula pubescens) is the only tree species that grew natural forests in Iceland before the settlement.  Still today it is an important species in forestry and reforestation. Every year considerable amounts of seed is collected and used to raise plants or sown straight into barren landscapes.


Here is a group of students from the upper secondary school in Selfoss collecting birch seed in Þjórsárdalur, South Iceland. There birch has grown in an area where former there were only barren sands. This birch forest is around 15 years old and has started producing seed.
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