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Forests and “Forests” of Iceland

Latest posts by Jerry Wilson (see all)

A lady asked me at the coffee shop if I saw the desert in Iceland.

I actually saw about 5 different types of desert there, the country is mostly desert.

There are many places on the Ring Road ( Hwy 1 ) where you can see for many kilometres without a blade of grass or a willow bush in sight. The forests of Iceland? The quick short answer is there are none.

The native trees that were there when the Vikings arrived are a birch that splits in 4 or 5 trunks and only grows to about twenty feet tall. In the few valleys I saw this type of brush, I never saw a trunk bigger than about 6 inches in diameter ( 15 cm ).

The tourist guides use the term “forests” to mean plantations of non-native pine, spruce, poplar and larch. Most of the planted trees are high up on the sides of the mountains where it’s too steep for tractors. The most common tree is a larch that had no needles in late April. It must be a lot different than our Tamarack as they’re planted on slopes that would be very well drained.

The Iceland government website says that tree planting began in 1899, but didn’t really take off until the middle of the twentieth century.

The tallest trees I saw where at a park called Kjarnaskogur on the edge of Akureyri that were planted in 1952. The pine and spruce are about 35 feet tall, about as tall as the trees planted after the big Kenora fire of 1982.

Most of the plantation trees throughout the South part of the country are less than twenty feet tall but there are taller ones near Akureyri which is the big port town in the middle of the North coast.

To compare the growing seasons to Canada’s, there was no corn stubble anywhere, but there is silage corn grown just South of Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. When I was talking to the tree planter, Harold Smith- Perez, on the plane I thought that he should check out the possibilities in Iceland. Tree planting may be a growth industry there if they’re getting paid for carbon credits from the E.U.

Iceland is beautiful now because there are no trees to block your view!

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