Alpine edelweiss

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Alpine edelweiss
Alpine edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale subsp. Alpinum) in the Zillertal Alps, South Tyrol

Alpine edelweiss ( Leontopodium nivale subsp. Alpinum ) in the Zillertal Alps, South Tyrol

Order : Astern-like (Asterales)
Family : Daisy family (Asteraceae)
Subfamily : Asteroideae
Tribe : Gnaphalieae
Genre : Edelweiss ( Leontopodium )
Type : Alpine edelweiss
Scientific name
Leontopodium nivale
( Ten. ) A. Huet ex Hand.-Mazz.

The alpine edelweiss ( Leontopodium nivale ) is a species of the genus Leontopodium (edelweiss) within the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It is one of the most famous and symbolic alpine flowers.


Alpen-Edelweiss, illustration (right)

The alpine edelweiss is a wintering green, perennial herbaceous plant that reaches heights of 5 to over 20 centimeters. The above-ground parts of the plant are woolly, white-felt, with the narrow, lanceolate, approximately 5 cm long leaves that are particularly hairy on the underside. The leaves stand together in a basal rosette .

The flowering period extends from July to September. Five to fifteen glossy white bracts form a multi-pointed star and surround the actual inflorescence . The two to twelve similar cup-shaped partial inflorescences each contain 60 to 80 white-yellow tubular flowers. The very narrow tubular flowers on the edge are female. They are also called thread-like flowers. Further inwards are larger male tubular flowers. Since the functionless stylus is still there, the flowers can appear hermaphroditic.

There are achenes formed.

The number of chromosomes is 2n = 48 or 52.


Alpine edelweiss ( Leontopodium nivale subsp. Alpinum ) on the Höfats in Allgäu
Detail of the inflorescence with white bracts, which are often mistaken for the actual flower
Edelweiss, fruit state in December

The alpine edelweiss is a hemicryptophyte .

The achenes are spread out as an umbrella flyer; when wet, they can also stick to animals.

The apparent flower is an inflorescence, just a false flower ( Pseudanthium ). The viewing function is created by the thick, white felted bracts. The actual flowers sit in the hundreds, organized in individual flower heads, in the middle of the star and together with the bracts form a pollination-biological unit (superpseudanthium).

The dazzling white shimmer on the bracts is created by the fact that thousands of small air bubbles reflect the incident light on the often tangled, frizzy hair. This serves as a signal for nectar-seeking insects, as protection against evaporation and as protection against heat loss. The working group led by the Belgian physicist Jean-Pol Vigneron from the University of Notre-Dame de la Paix in Namur has found that the hair itself consists of parallel fibers with a diameter of 0.18  micrometers , which is in the order of magnitude of the wavelength of UV radiation and leads to their absorption. However, the rest of the light is let through so that the plant can photosynthesize .

Pollinators are mainly flies as well as hymenoptera , butterflies and beetles . The pseudo-bloom lasts into winter.


Distribution area

While Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum is autochthonous in the Alps , in the Jura , the Carpathians , especially in Romania, the northern Balkans and the northern Apennines and the Pyrenees, Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale in Abruzzo , the Dinaric Mountains and the Pirin Mountains . Other species of the genus Leontopodium are found in Central Asian high steppes in the northern Himalayas , in northern China, in Mongolia, in Japan, Korea and on Kamchatka.

Anointing locations

Since the 19th century, many botany enthusiasts found joy in enriching nature with plants that they brought back from their travels (so-called anointing ). These plants also include edelweiss, which was planted on rocky sites in some low mountain ranges and can still be found there occasionally.

From the perspective of invasion biology and nature conservation , this is assessed critically. According to § 40 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act , all such anointings are subject to approval.


Edelweiss stick on the Höfats in the Allgäu Alps

Contrary to popular belief, the alpine edelweiss is not a steep rock plant. It is true that it also inhabits ledges, but according to its original origin from high steppe areas, it is far more likely to be found in alpine lawns, especially since it is no longer picked in all easily accessible places thanks to greater awareness of nature conservation. Such practice had made it survive in harder-to-reach places.

The alpine edelweiss can thus be found - in addition to the occurrence on limestone cliffs  - again on stony meadows and lawns, and - more rarely - on alpine meadows , is unevenly distributed and prefers rocky limestone surroundings at altitudes between 1800 and 3000 meters. It shows a preference for siliceous sites, including on lime, where it indicates chert tubers. The very abundant occurrences z. B. in the Allgäu on the Höfats are localized on silica-containing chert limestone .

The alpine edelweiss is a weak character species of the Seslerio-Caricetum sempervirentis.

Vegetation history

The alpine edelweiss "immigrated" into the Alps " after the last ice age cold period from the high steppes of Central Asia". At that time the Alps were free of vegetation and resembling steppes , because the ice sheet that had covered most of the mountains had only just melted. "Relatives of the Alpine edelweiss occur in the high steppe areas of Central Asia and East Asia.

Hazard and protection

The alpine edelweiss is considered to be endangered in Germany. a. Entering and driving on the locations, in the past mainly the partly commercial picking. The stock at the Höfats in the Allgäu Alps can be cited as an example of successful protection of a deposit . There the remaining deposits of the alpine edelweiss, which were already protected at that time and which were found there, fell sharply during the inflation period due to excessive picking, and were guarded by the Allgäu Mountain Rescue from 1935 to 2007 during the heyday. For this purpose she had set up a tent and later a bivouac box . Today the populations there have recovered and the nature conservation awareness of the mountain hikers has increased so that guarding is no longer necessary.

In Switzerland, the alpine edelweiss is under nature protection in all cantons and may not be picked, even if it is no longer considered endangered in Switzerland today.

In Austria, edelweiss was placed under nature protection as early as 1886 , many decades before all other rare and endangered plant species. With the advent of tourism in the Alps, it quickly became a coveted and durable souvenir due to its numerous myths. In Austria, the plant is only on the Red List in Carinthia (potentially endangered here because of its attractiveness). In Austria, however, edelweiss is still completely protected in the federal states of Salzburg, Carinthia, Vorarlberg, Upper Austria and Tyrol, in Styria it is partially and in Lower Austria classified as endangered to pick.


The valid first description of Leontopodium nivale (described in Latin) was given in 1928 by Heinrich von Handel-Mazzetti in: Supplements to the Botanical Centralblatt , Volume XLIV, 1928, Second Section: Systematics, Plant Geography, Applied Botany etc. , pp. 137 ff.

The common alpine edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum Cass. was changed to the subspecies Leontopodium nivale subsp. in 2003 by Werner Greuter . alpinum (Cass.) Greuter recombined. As a result, the taxon was incorporated into the species Leontopodium nivale , which as a total species is referred to in German as "Alpen-Edelweiß". The species name Leontopodium alpinum , which dates back to 1822 ( Alexandre Henri Gabriel de Cassini in Cuvier Dict. Sci. Nat. , 1822, 25, p. 474), was different from the older species name Gnaphalium nivale Tenores in 1811 ( Fl. Napol . 1, xlviii, 1811) should not be considered valid, since according to the general opinion both clans belong to one and the same species. So only the recombination remained, so that at least the name alpinum could be kept for the subspecies .

Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale of Bulgaria


The alpine edelweiss is divided into two subspecies:

  • Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum (Cass.) Greuter : It comes in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and in Ukraine before.
  • Leontopodium nivale (Ten.) A.Huet ex Hand.-Mazz. subsp. nivale : It occurs in Italy, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.

Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale is also known in German as "Weißes Alpen-Edelweiß" and Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum referred to as "Ordinary Alpine Edelweiss".

Origin of name

The botanical generic name Leontopodium is derived from the Greek words leon for lion and podion for little feet, this refers to the characteristic thick, felted, white hair and the shape of the bracts. The specific epithet nivale refers to the alpine level (from Latin nivalis 'snowy').

Other common names are Wollblume, Bauchwehbleamerl, Irlweiß, Almsterndl, Federweiß, rarely also Silberstern and Wülblume (in Switzerland). In Romansh [fourth Swiss national language, spoken and written in addition to German and Italian in the canton of Graubünden] is Leontopodium nivale Alvatern (alv = white, etern = eternal): this reflects the peculiarity that the white inflorescences persist into winter.


In addition to varieties bred from alpine edelweiss, nurseries also have species and hybrids from the Himalayas that, if cultivated correctly , can retain their white color in the lowlands. However, in places that are too nutritious and shady, they run the risk of becoming less compact and greening. The alpine edelweiss was traditionally used as a medicinal herb and boiled with milk and honey was used against stomach ache. This usage is also reflected in the Bavarian popular name "Bauchwehbleaml" (bellywehblümchen). It was also used by the mountain dwellers as a durable flower ("eternal flower") in dry bouquets. However, the flower was not very well known before the middle of the 19th century.

An instant product is sold as an isotonic , anti-inflammatory drink with edelweiss extract from the Swiss town of Delsberg . Extracts from the leaves of the alpine edelweiss are also used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and UV protection for anti-aging products and sun creams due to their high antioxidant content . Edelweiss is therefore cultivated agriculturally in the Swiss Alps and is also available as an additive in beer, tea and liqueur.

Edelweiss as a symbol

Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary wears the so-called edelweiss stars .
Painting: Franz Xaver Winterhalter

The passion for edelweiss, which had previously been neglected, began in the middle of the 19th century. The focus is on an incident from 1856 when the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Sissi went on a mountain hike to the Pasterzen Glacier on the Grossglockner . There the emperor picked his wife an edelweiss from the steep rock with the words “The first in my life that I picked myself”. The affection for edelweiss was a common feature of the famous couple and this well-known story raised people's attention to this alpine plant.

The plant became known as a symbol of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth. A portrait by the painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted in 1865 shows Empress Elisabeth with nine artificial edelweiss stars braided in her hair. The jewelery made of precious metal and diamonds was designed in the years after 1850 by the then court and chamber jeweler Alexander Emanuel Köchert . In the ku k monarchy, with the increasing veneration of the empress Sissi, more and more romantic myths have grown up around the alpine plant . Only daring climbers manage to pick an edelweiss. It embodies values ​​such as love, courage, loyalty and community. According to such myths, the edelweiss is said to have arisen from tears which the Ice Maiden shed over the infidelity of her beloved hunter. Before her death jump, she conjured tears in the form of edelweiss stars on the rocks there. Anyone who reaches for the edelweiss in the rock should from now on perish.

With the rise of mountain tourism at the end of the 19th century, the edelweiss became the badge and symbol of alpinists and mountaineers. In order to prevent the extinction of the often picked symbolic species, it was placed under nature protection early on. The edelweiss was soon adopted as a symbol in the logo of numerous alpine clubs and associations. In the Austro-Hungarian Army in particular , the symbolic relationship between defiant, frugal and resilient alpine plants or the required perseverance, agility and cutting edge of the alpine troops was recognized and emphasized and often promoted by badges and designations.



Face of the 1 shilling coin
Rank loop of the fire brigades in Austria with edelweiss as a star, around 1990
  • The alpine composites can be found in the logo of the Austrian Alpine Club and various other Alpine clubs.
  • In 1907 Emperor Franz Joseph assigned the Alpen-Edelweiss to the troops (three regiments) of the Austro-Hungarian Army intended for use in the mountains . It was worn on the collar of the uniform skirt.
  • Before 1918 there were also innumerable edelweiss badges in the Habsburg army. These include, for example, the military mountain guide award (ice ax with edelweiss and winding mountain rope), edelweiss emblems on the collar and cap or badges from alpine patrol companies. Many alpine units, commandos and soldiers proudly wore unofficial edelweiss badges.
  • The edelweiss also played a role in the troop designation, which also reflected the special relationship with the mountains. In addition to the "Edelweiss Corps" (kuk XIV. Corps) of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, an "Edelweiss Division" was also formed in the course of the First World War. It essentially consisted of Kaiserjäger of the 3rd and 4th regiments, the Salzburg infantry regiment "Archduke Rainer" No. 59 and the Upper Austrian infantry regiment "Grand Duke of Hesse and the Rhine" No. 14.
  • Made of metal on the field caps of the Austrian Armed Forces (today only lightly on the combat suit cap for soldiers of the 6th Jägerbrigade and members of the mountain combat center for suit 03, as well as on the mountain cap of the original uniform).
  • Association badge of the 6th Jäger Brigade .
  • As a usage badge for soldiers who have completed military mountain guide training.
  • On the two-cent coin of the Austrian euro coins , before their introduction on the Austrian schilling (one-schilling coin)
  • Branding for the Haflinger
  • In the signet of the Austrian mountain rescue service
  • On July 19, 2005, the Austrian Post issued “Edelweiss”, Austria's first embroidered stamp, limited to 400,000 items. The stamp has a face value of 375 cents, is made of fabric and shows an edelweiss embroidered with white thread on a green background with short fringes.
  • When swearing in to the National Council on November 9, 2017, the MPs of the FPÖ wore edelweiss on their lapels instead of the controversial cornflower . According to FPÖ boss Strache, this stands for courage, bravery and love.




In earlier times the plant was used for love spells and as a symbol for tokens of love and daring boldness. Edelweiss served as a badge of opposition youth groups of Edelweiss Pirates in the era of National Socialism . A song called Edelweiß from the film The Sound of Music (1965) became very popular, especially overseas. The film is based on the musical of the same name by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein . While the song is generally little known in Austria, it is often seen by tourists as the unofficial national anthem of Austria or elsewhere by tourists as an old folk song.


Occasionally there are abnormally large flower stars (maximum 6 to 12 centimeters in diameter), which appear in the legendary world as magical "edelweiss kings".

In the comic Asterix with the Swiss , an alpine edelweiss has to be found as part of a healing potion for a poisoned quaestor .



  • Edelweiss - star of the Alps. Myth, kitsch, reality. Documentary, Austria, 2009, 42:30 min., Script and direction: Ruth Berry and Wolfgang Beck, production: Looks , Avro , ORF , arte France, first broadcast: May 3, 2009 on ORF2 , summary by 3sat, ( memento from 31 May 2014 in the web archive ).

Web links

Commons : Edelweiss ( Leontopodium alpinum )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Edelweiß  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Leontopodium alpinum Cass., Alpen-Edelweiß. In:
  2. a b Erich Oberdorfer : Plant-sociological excursion flora for Germany and neighboring areas . With the collaboration of Angelika Schwabe and Theo Müller. 8th, heavily revised and expanded edition. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart (Hohenheim) 2001, ISBN 3-8001-3131-5 , pp. 918 .
  3. ^ Jean-Pol Vigneron : Slap on the edelweiss for the ultimate sunscreen. In: New Scientist . Volume 2628, 2007, p. 20 (beginning of the article, English) and
    hairy sun protection for edelweiss. In: , October 31, 2007.
  4. a b c Manuel Werner: Which alpine flower is that? Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart, 2011, ISBN 978-3-440-12576-2 , pp. 4-5.
  5. a b see Berg Höfats with numerous individual references
  6. Erhard Dörr, Wolfgang Lippert : Flora of the Allgäu and its surroundings . Volume 2. IHW-Verlag, Eching near Munich 2004, ISBN 3-930167-61-1 .
  7. ^ Heinrich von Handel-Mazzetti : Systematic monograph of the genus Leontopodium. In: Supplements to the Botanisches Centralblatt . Original work. Second section: systematics, plant geography, applied botany, etc. Volume XLIV (44), 1928, pp. 1–178, see p. 137: ( PDF; 461 kB, 1 p. ) In the Biblioteca digital del Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid ( CSIC ).
  8. ^ Werner Greuter : The Euro + Med treatment of Gnaphalieae and Inuleae (Compositae) - generic concepts and required new names. In: Willdenowia. Volume 33, No. 2, 2003, pp. 239–244, (here: p. 244; PDF file ).
  9. a b c Werner Greuter: Compositae (pro parte majore). Leontopodium nivale. In: Werner Greuter & Eckhard von Raab-Straube (eds.): Compositae. Euro + Med Plantbase - the information resource for Euro-Mediterranean plant diversity. Berlin, from 2006.
  10. ^ Robert Zander : Zander. Concise dictionary of plant names. Edited by Walter Erhardt , Erich Götz, Nils Bödeker, Siegmund Seybold . 18th edition. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-8001-5408-1 , p. 499.
  11. alvate. In: Glosbe / Dictionary Romansh-German .
  12. SANKOM Edel-Tonic, isotonic drink with Edelweiss extract. In: SANKOM Switzerland
  13. hb / New Scientist / dpa : UV radiation: edelweiss as sun protection. In: Focus , November 1, 2007.
  14. Thomas Kraus: Innovative anti-aging care ›siin‹ “Edition Edelweiss” conquers Austria. In: pressetext news agency , November 3, 2011.
  15. Edelweiss from the tube protects the skin from wrinkles. ( Memento of April 17, 2015 in the Internet Archive ). In: , 2015.
  16. The business with the tamed Edelweiss. In: , July 12, 2005.
    David Hesse: Edelweiss is on the shelf. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , January 13, 2008.
  17. ^ According to Ernst Moriz Kronfeld , Das Edelweiß , Hugo Heller & Cie., Vienna 1910; quoted by Georg Weindl: The eternal love for edelweiss. In: Almanach - 3 Zinnen Dolomiten , No. 50, 2019, pp. 68f., Online text , here on pp. 34–35.
  18. Myth Edelweiss. A symbol of alpinists and a new addition to the watch list of ‹Diversity Moves! Alpine Club ›. In: Alpine Association Austria. July 1, 2017, accessed March 4, 2018 .
  19. Michaela Ernst: Sisi star: The most famous piece of jewelry from Austria. In: profile . April 10, 2014, accessed March 4, 2018 .
  20. Hermann Hinterstoisser: The edelweiss - Alpine flower with symbolic power. In: Troop Service , 2012, No. 5, episode 329.
  21. ^ A b Peter Temel: Why the FPÖ now wears an edelweiss. In: Courier . November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 11, 2017 .
  22. Hofer advises FPÖ politicians not to use cornflower. In: , November 29, 2016, accessed on November 21, 2017.
  23. apa , Thomas Schaffer (tsc), Karl Oberascher (kob): FPÖ mandatars today wear edelweiss instead of cornflower. In: Kurier , November 9, 2017.
  24. Tobias Scheidegger: The Sound of Music , in: ders., Mythos Edelweiss: on the cultural history of an alpine symbol. A documentation. Edited by the Botanical Gardens in Zurich and Geneva, 2008, p. 75, (PDF; 927 kB).