A big thanks to two people today: first of all, “LabTea”, of the UBC BG Forums, for sharing today's photo with us today (BPotD Submissions Forum | original thread). Secondly, thanks to Brent Hine for the write-up!
This is the kind of miniature shrub which can only be properly appreciated by lying flat on the ground – or perhaps seeing it here, for most of us. No pretender, Diapensia lapponica is a classic circumboreal alpine plant (not circumpolar, as in Wikipedia's account), meaning it may be found around the globe in northerly latitudes. There are two subspecies, lapponica and obovata. The difference is in leaf shape: lapponica's leaves are spathulate, or narrow and linear from the base, widening to a rounded tip. Within Canada, subspecies lapponica favours cold habitats. It is also chionophobic (snow avoiding), so it prefers windy, exposed sites. Canada's Ellesmere Island provides ideal habitat – cold, windswept and drier than many southerly locales. Although it is an alpine plant, in the far north Diapensia lapponica subsp. lapponica grows at or near shorelines, typically among rocks in small, acid soil pockets.
As can be imagined, it would be challenging indeed to duplicate these conditions for success in the home garden. I for one would welcome the opportunity to visit Ellesmere Island – during the diapensia's growing season!
This little charmer belongs in Diapensiaceae, a small family including southerly woodlanders Galax, Shortia, and Pyxidanthera.
A fine mini-article is on NARG's (North American Rock Garden Society) website, where it was featured as “Plant of the Month for February 2002”.