Wait … what? Wildflowers in Greenland? I was surprised too, but indeed there are wildflowers during summer, and Narsarsuaq in South Greenland is one of the best places to see them.
How Greenland got its name
According to the Icelandic Sagas, Greenland was given its name by the infamous Erik the Red, who, after being exiled from Iceland, made his way west and settled there. The name was an effort to try and encourage other settlers, the rationale being that “people would be attracted there if it had a favorable name”.
Clearly he was a marketing genius, and he also must have really talked it up when he returned to Iceland after his exile 3 years later, because 25 ships containing several hundred people set out from Iceland to follow him to this new promised land.
These days, common perception is that Greenland is cold, icy, and inhospitable – perhaps not surprising given that 80% of it is covered by an icecap. So visitors may be surprised to learn that parts of Greenland are actually quite green, and have a plethora of wildflowers during the summer. I know I certainly was!
Exploring South Greenland
I visited South Greenland in July 2017, spending two weeks hiking around Narsaq, Igaliku, Sillisit, Qassiarsuk and Narsarsuaq. This gave me plenty of time to become accustomed to the almost complete lack of trees and the joys of walking through Arctic tundra vegetation.
There was plenty of grass – South Greenland is sheep country after all.
But also a lot of other ground cover that ranged from ankle-depth to hip-height, and made hiking a little challenging at times when you couldn’t actually see where to put your feet (there are few actual trails in Greenland).
I’d seen a few flowers here and there along the way, but it wasn’t until I got to Narsarsuaq that I was treated to the most wonderful display of wildflower colour.
Where to see wildflowers near Narsarsuaq
A short and easy hike from Narsarsuaq is the well-defined Ridge Hike that leads up to a viewpoint over the Narsarsuaq Glacier. In the right season, the path is lined with a multitude of wildflowers that are as stunningly beautiful as they are unexpected.
The added bonus is that at the end of the hike you get a slightly distant view of the Narsarsuaq Glacier and the river that results from the melting of its ice.
Another (longer and more difficult) hike from Narsarsuaq that also offers plenty of wildflowers is the Narsarsuaq Glacier Hike. This passes through the Hospital Valley before descending into the aptly named Flower Valley, and then climbing very steeply to a different lookout over the Glacier.
On this trail, you see a lot of the same wildflowers as you do on the Ridge Hike, but you also get to see my favourite wildflower – the Arctic Cottongrass (Ukaliusaq in Greenlandic). This only grows in damp conditions, so can’t be found on top of the ridge.
Again – the bonus (if you make it to the viewpoint) is an amazing close-up view over the Narsarsuaq Glacier, and you can also continue down to the Glacier itself.
My recommendation is that if you find yourself in South Greenland during summer, definitely take the time to seek out the wildflowers there. Just remember to bring a head-net with you because if the flies find you, they will drive you crazy! Yes, even the dogs wear them 🙂
How I arranged my trip in South Greenland
I arranged my 2 weeks of traveling independently in South Greenland with Blue Ice Explorer. They took care of all of the logistics including accommodation, boat transfers and luggage transfers for only slightly more than it would have cost me to arrange it all myself. Highly recommended.