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Under Norway's midnight sun

Wall Street Journal reporter J.S.Marcus has been on a trip to Tromsø in Northern Norway, —an island city of some 70,000 people, 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, and about as far north as you can go in the world and still be in a city, he writes.

Marcus points to the fact that Tromsø is farther north than Fairbanks, Alaska, or Murmansk, Russia—farther north, in fact, than Iceland and the lower tip of Greenland. A gateway for Arctic exploration in the 19th century, it later become a niche winter destination. Two months of near-solid darkness create ideal conditions to view the Northern Lights, which take over the horizon for hours at a time.

Now, tourists are starting to discover what Tromsø's residents have long known: the best time of the year is the summer. The midnight sun, which lasts for much of June and July, creates a party atmosphere. The Gulf Stream complements all that sunlight with warm temperatures. And the Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden—the world's northernmost botanic garden, and the city's pride and joy—is open 24 hours a day.

The blue poppy, whose second large species will bloom in mid- to late-July, has become a kind of emblem for the city, which is undeniably Arctic but unmistakably green.

At these latitudes everywhere else in the world, almost nothing grows; in Tromsø, however, Marcus finds that during the short, intense growing season, a huge variety of plants can flourish in the shadow of forbidding, glacier-strewn mountains.

The reporter interviews Arve Elvebakk, the Norwegian botanist who has been curator of the garden since 2006:

"Northern Norway is quite unique," says Elvebakk. "We have Arctic light but not an Arctic climate." Mr. Elvebakk, whose study of lichen species has taken him to the earth's extremities in both hemispheres, says that Alaska is "tundra" this far north. "I have been in Greenland at this latitude," he adds, "and it's polar desert."

For up to seven months of the year, the garden—which has no fences and no admission charge—simply disappears under snow cover. From early June until Sept. 1, the period when the garden is at its fullest, a café and small bookshop are open for visitors. Botanical tours are given from late May into early October. July is not quite as bright as June, but it is often warmer, Marcus writes, with temperatures averaging over 15 degrees Celsius. What's the garden like in the middle of the night, he asks Mr. Elvebakk, eyes squinting in the white sun of a midsummer day. "Like this," the botanist says.

(The Wall Street Journal)

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