A Swiss botanist has discovered the highest elevation flowering plant ever recorded in Europe at an altitude of 4,505 metres.
Cushions of Saxifraga oppositifolia were found close to the Don summit in the central Swiss Alps, with one large individual flower, estimated to be more than 30 years old, in full bloom in August 2009.
University of Basel botanist Christian Körner discovered the plant growing above Saas Fee in canton Valais, on the Mischabel mountain range where it snows ten months of the year. Details of the find are published in the journal Alpine Botany.
According to Körner, all plant parts, including roots, experience temperatures below zero degrees Celsius every night, even during the warmest part of the year.
It is the first time a plant has been found growing at such a high altitude in Europe, and thought to be only plant in the world able to do so.
“In comparison with climate data for other extreme plant habitats in the Alps, Himalayas, in the Arctic and Antarctic, these data illustrate the life conditions at what is possibly the coldest place for angiosperm plant life on earth,” Körner wrote.
The saxifrage flower is resistant to extremely low temperatures. It needs just 600 hours of temperatures above three degrees per year to survive.
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