Fuzzy and white, Edelweiss flowers are a lucky find for hikers, and a ubiquitous sight on Swiss marketing materials.
The hairs on their petals, more accurately described as bracts, help Edelweiss to survive the harsh alpine climate’s cold dry air and ultraviolet rays. Edelweiss have long been used in folk medicine as well as cosmetics. They are also a popular symbol in the mountaineering, military and tourism sectors.
Edelweiss are part of the daisy and sunflower family. They also grow in the Himalayas, China and Siberia. The Latin name suggests how rugged they are: Leontopodium alpinum means lion paws. But in Switzerland, they almost succumbed to the attention of overzealous fans who nearly plucked them into extinction. Since the 1970s, Edelweiss have been a protected species throughout their Swiss range.
Those who’ve seen the film The Sound of Music might recall Captain Georg von Trapp – played by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer – singing about the pretty little flower as he strummed a guitar:
Every morning you greet me.
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever.
Bless my homeland forever.
His homeland was post-Anschluss Austria, and the film shows his family scampering across the Alps and into Switzerland as they flee Hitler’s regime. However, in real life the musical family took advantage of their concert schedule to escape Austria via Italy. They eventually emigrated to Vermont in the United States.
Blooming season: July to August
Where to find: Rocky limestone, 1,700-3,400 metres above sea level
Conservation status: Protected in the 15 Swiss cantons where it grows