Plants that live in the cold

Updated April 11, 2017

Two cold climate biomes exist on Earth: the Taiga and the Arctic Tundra. The Tundra is the most harsh and includes the shortest growing season. The Taiga extends from the bottom of the Tundra to include most of Canada and Northern Europe. Plant diversity is quite limited due to the cold and shorter exposure to light, as well as the lack of available water.

Mosses and Lichens

Moss and Lichens grow in both the Arctic Tundra and the Taiga. Moss is a very small green plant that grows on rocks or on the ground. It has a velvety feel and can range from 1 to 4 inches tall.

Lichens also grow in cold climates. These small plants are a type of algae that grows with a fungi in a symbiotic relationship. The algae feeds the fungi and the fungi supports and protects the algae. These plants are very cold resistant and are not damaged by extreme temperatures.

Lichens are well suited to the Taiga in a number of other ways. They can survive in conditions of low light and no water by becoming dormant. They will start to grow again when conditions improve.

Grasses and Small Plants

A number of small plants live in the Taiga and Tundra. Examples include Arctic Willow, Bearberry, Diamond-leaf Willow, and Labrador Tea. These plants grow only a few inches to a few feet in height, which is a method to protect them from the harsh wind. These small plants are the dominant species in the Arctic Tundra. The soil is permanently frozen, which prevents larger plants from taking root. Plants in the Tundra grow over a relatively short period, only 50-60 days before it becomes too cold.


Trees cannot grow in the Tundra, but they are dominate in the Taiga. Trees take the place of small plants and shrubs to grow into large forests. Evergreen, or coniferous trees are best suited to the cold environment. They do not loose their leaves and can photosynthesise as soon as the weather permits. The small needles also protect the cells from freezing. Some common trees in the Taiga include the pine, White Spruce, Hemlock and Douglas Fir.

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About the Author

Risa Edwards is a librarian who works for a small private university. She has a degree in geology and library science, but is interested in topics from across many disciplines. Edwards enjoys using her research skills to help others as well as continuing to broaden her own knowledge.