A ”plum” discovery in Svea

A ”plum” discovery in Svea

Top image: The plum tree plants were tiny, but tough, surviving in the cold Arctic summer weather in Svea. Photo: Pernille B. Eidesen/UNIS.

A UNIS master student made an unusual find the other day in Svea, the mining settlement south of Longyearbyen. Just outside the mess hall she discovered two small trees, and it turns out they are tiny plum trees!

5 August 2009
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

This summer a team of UNIS scientists, students and colleagues from Tromsø have worked on a vegetation monitoring program in the coal mine settlement Svea. In a trench just outside the mess hall, master student Bente Sved Skottvoll discovered two small tree plants. The plants have obviously sprouted this year, as they were so small.

– We quickly understood that these plants did not naturally belong in Svalbard, but we were unsure what kind of plants they were, says Pernille Bronken Eidesen, UNIS associate professor in botany.

By conferring with colleagues the team suspected that the plants belong to the cherry tree genus. By chance an expert in Norwegian flora, professor Reidar Elven, was teaching at a summer course at UNIS and he determined with 70 % certainty that these tree plants are in fact plum trees.

– Probably someone in Svea have been munching on plums and spit out the seeds, and because of favorable conditions the seeds have started growing in the short Arctic summer, Eidesen says.

Although there have been a couple of light snow falls this summer, the plants have thrived, so they must be very tough, Eidesen says. There have been earlier incidents of sprouting apple trees in Longyearbyen, but plum trees have not been heard of before.

The plants have now been potted and given away.

– There are rumours they will be smuggled to the mainland and planted there in a more favorable climate, Eidesen says with a smile. – I mean, wouldn’t it be cool to have a tree from Svalbard in your garden?

However, although the plum plants could have survived the summer, they would not have survived the oncoming Arctic winter. So a High Arctic Svalbard orchard is not happening in the foreseeable future….

Plum tree, Svea, Svalbard

The botanists are 70% sure that this is in fact a plum tree. Photo: Pernille B. Eidesen/UNIS.

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