Immortalized by Swiss singer Polo Hofer, this flowering plant thrives just above the treeline in the Alps and in the Jura region.
The evergreen shrub – not actually a rose but a rhododendron – can grow up to a metre high, and it flowers from June through August. Its leaves have rusty spots on their undersides, hence the Latin name “Rhododendron ferrugineum”.
The rarer hairy alpenrose, “Rhododendron hirsutum”, is fuzzy and grows at higher elevations, often among limestone rocks and in and around forests. Its more elongated blossoms appear from May through July.
While it’s forbidden to pluck edelweiss or gentian, alpenrose flowers are plentiful and robust enough for picking. However, the blossoms as well as the leaves and seed pods are quite poisonous.
Swiss singer Polo Hofer (1945-2017) released his song “Alperose” in 1985. Sung in Bernese dialect, it’s about a romantic summer night up on Blüemlisalp in the Bernese Oberland. It’s a regular feature on compilation albums, and in 2006 Swiss TV viewers voted it the biggest Swiss hit of all time.
This archive video from Swiss public television, SRF, shows Hofer and his band performing live at the competition.