Leontopodium alpinum

"Edelweiss. . . the velvety white flower, that pet of herbariums..."

Vladimir Nabokov


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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Leontopodium
Species: L. alpinum

The Edelweiss (a.k.a. Leontpodium alpinum) is a European mountain flower that's most famous for growing only on rocky, inaccessable peaks. The name Edelweiss is a combination of the German edel (meaning noble) and weiß (meaning white). The Swiss revere it as a symbol of nobility and purity. Long ago, young men would traditionally climb the perilous Alps to pluck Edelweiss flowers for their lovers as evidence of their devotion.

The renowned wooly white blossoms of the Edelweiss aren't actually blossoms at all. They're leaflets that grow in a star-like shape around the real blossoms, which grow in clusters of five or six small, yellow flower heads. It usually grows to a height of 15 cm.

If you're a-hankerin' for some Edelweiss, there are three ways you can obtain it:

Pick it:
Unless you're going to break into a nursery and abscond with one, obtaining an Edelweiss blossom in this manner will inevitably involve mountain-climbing. Grab a couple of sherpas and take to the slopes. Be warned, however, that picking Edelwiss in most Alpine regions of Europe is strictly forbidden. So if you don't want an angry Swiss forest ranger on your ass, be careful where you stage your quest.

Grow it:
If you're thinking this is as easy as shoving tulip bulbs into the ground and waiting for spring, I don't think you thought your cunning plan all the way through. Edelweiss plants are capricious bitches and, unless you live somewhere ridiculously high, growing them yourself is a bad idea. If you are trying to do this, be sure to do the following:

  1. Obtain an Edelweiss seed.
  2. Sow your Edelweiss seed from March to May indoors, inside a small container filled with seed compost and grit, with a dash of limestone. Instead of planting the seed, place it directly on top of the soil. Water it and so forth.
  3. Seal the container inside a polythene bag and place it in a location where it will be exposed to sunlight. The temperature should be around 15-20C.
  4. Wait for germination. This can take a couple of months.
  5. After a seedling grows, transplant it into a small clay pot and continue to grow it indoors on a cold frame to protect it from the cold.
  6. When your plant gets a bit larger, you might be able to move it outside to a rocky area of your garden and plant it in a hole you've filled with rough, sandy soil. Your plant will then proceed either to die or be eaten by rabbits.

If you actually succeed at growing an Edelweiss without killing it, colour me impressed. It's a perennial, so you can expect it to flower yearly.

Buy it:
If you want to take the easy way out, there are a number of websites that will ship you dried Edelweiss flowers and they're just a Google search away. Cheers.

Random Edelweiss Facts

  • It was Emporer Franz Josef's favourite flower.
  • The Romanian name of the Edelweiss is floarea reginei, which means "Queen's flower."
  • There was a German anti-Nazi organization in the 1930's known as the Edelweiss Pirates.
  • Swiss military insignia ranks generals with Edelweiss symbols instead of stars.


Siobhan says: hi. interesting article. but, i need to make a note about what you say on how to obtain edelweiss. about picking it - i think you should make it clear that there is a reason why it is forbidden to pick edelweiss in most parts of europe. it's a protected species because it is threatened by extinction. there are only few edelweiss around, and if people pick them, they'll last nicely in a picture book, but no one else will ever see the one you picked. they're rare flowers, and it's much nicer to share them with fellow nature-friends. as for growing them - my mum has managed to grow a batch from seed. they look alright, but because we live on 700m only, they became rather large and not as nicely proportioned as the ones you can find in the alps. there they're smaller, stouter, better proportioned. might also have to do with there being many less nutrients in alpine soil than in usual balcony or garden soil.

sources:
http://www.gauverband.com/cmsindex.php?option=content&task=view&id=90&Itemid=40
http://www.edelweissgrowers.com/
http://www.answers.comtopic/edelweiss
http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/Cornell/Herbaceous/plant/pages/Leontopodiumalpinum.html
the Oxford English Dictionary
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edelweiss
http://www.edelweissgrowers.com/page2.html

E"del*weiss (?), n. [G., fr. edel noble + weiss white.] Bot.

A little, perennial, white, woolly plant (Leontopodium alpinum), growing at high elevations in the Alps.

<-- = the national flower of Austria -->

 

© Webster 1913.

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