The vast tundra of Iceland isn’t for the fainthearted. With its black volcanic deserts littered with deep ravines, epic glacial rivers, and dramatic geothermal hot springs, it takes a lot to survive in such extreme conditions. Enduring freezing temperatures and changing terrain, the flora and fauna of the Laugavegur Trail deserve some recognition and a lot of admiration. There are some hardy characters to watch out for in Iceland.
Arctic foxes were Iceland’s only mammal before humans settled there. They feed on a mix of birds and their eggs as well as insects, with some berries thrown into the mix – you have to be adaptable out here! This beautiful fox is probably best known for its luxuriously thick coat, but did you know that the arctic foxes’ coats exist as two different color morphs?
The white arctic foxes coat will change with the seasons to match its surroundings; transitioning from a brownish hue in the summer to a pure white in the depths of winter. Then there are the blue morphs with their darker grey coats, which don’t change at all. The blue morphs are much rarer than the whites and concentrated in the west.
With approximately 800,000 Icelandic sheep around, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll spot one on your visit. Technically though, they aren’t truly wild. These domestic animals, farmed by locals for their practical wool and meat, are left to roam the wilds of their own accord out in all weather, on all sorts of terrain, so I think that gives them a well-earned “wild” status.
A favorite food of the Icelandic sheep also makes for a pretty plant to tick off your nature spotting list. Arctic thyme can be found all across Iceland, thriving in the sandy/gravel type soils. It’s delicate pink-and-purple flowers make a pretty contrast against the landscape, and its medicinal properties are sought to make an herbal tea that strengthens the heart and cleanses the blood. Maybe that’s why the sheep do so well?
Of course, we can’t talk about Iceland without mentioning the hordes of berries that thrive all over. The most commonly picked berry by the locals is the bog bilberry. Similar in appearance to the blueberry but much sweeter than one, it can be found growing in boggy forests, heaths, and moors around May and June. A refreshing snack after time spent on the trail.
Although many of the berries in Iceland are edible, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and if you don’t know what the plant is then don’t pick it.
The wildlife on Iceland is relatively relaxed, and aside from being mobbed and attacked by an angry arctic tern protecting its nest, then there aren’t many creatures that pose a threat to humans.
From the humble sheep munching on arctic thyme to the elegant arctic fox, the flora and fauna of Iceland have a majestic quality to them. The rugged landscape they thrive in daily enhances their incredible features.