Leontopodium alpinum

"Edelweiss" redirects here. For other uses, see Edelweiss (disambiguation).
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Gnaphalieae[1]
Genus: Leontopodium
Species: L. alpinum
Binomial name
Leontopodium alpinum
, 1822

Leontopodium alpinum, commonly called edelweiss (English pronunciation i/ˈdəlvs/), is a well-known mountain flower, belonging to the Asteraceae (the daisy or sunflower family).

The plant prefers rocky limestone places at about 1,800–3,000 metres (5,900–9,800 ft) altitude. It is non-toxic, and has been used traditionally in folk medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. The dense hair appears to be an adaptation to high altitudes, protecting the plant from cold, aridity and ultraviolet radiation.[2] As a scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas, the plant has been used as a symbol for alpinism, for rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps and Carpathians, and as a national symbol especially of Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Romania. According to folk tradition, giving this flower to a loved one is a promise of dedication.


The common name is from the German word "Edelweiß" as a compound of edel "noble" and weiß "white."[3]

Edelweiß was one of several regional names for the plant, and entered wide usage during the first half of the 19th century, in the context of early Alpine tourism.[4] Alternative names include Chatzen-Talpen ("cat's paws"), and the older Wullbluomen ("wool flower," attested in the 16th century).[5][6]

The scientific name is a latinisation of the Greek leontopódion, "lion's paw."[7]

The first scientific name for Leontopodium alpinum which was validly published according to the current binomial nomenclature is Gnaphalium alpinum in the first edition (1753) of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum.

Since 1822 (Cassini) Leontopodium has no longer been considered part of the Gnaphalium genus, but classified alongside it as a distinct genus within the Gnaphalieae tribe. In 2003, Leontopodium alpinum was re-classified as a subspecies of Leontopodium nivale. Thus, the alpine edelweiss is currently recognized as being divided into two subspecies, Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum (Cass.) Greuter and Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale.


Leaves and flowers are covered with white hairs and appear woolly (tomentose). Flowering stalks of edelweiss can grow to a size of 3–20 centimetres (1–8 in) in the wild, or, up to 40 cm (16 in) in cultivation. Each bloom consists of five to six small yellow clustered spikelet-florets (5 mm, 316 in) surrounded by fuzzy white "petals" (technically, bracts) in a double-star formation. The flowers bloom between July and September.


Leontopodium sp. is a protected plant in many countries, including Mongolia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Switzerland (since 1878), France, Norway, Iran, India (Zanskar region), Italy, Serbia, Malaysia (In Genting and Cameron Highlands), Indonesia (In Semeru Mountain), Germany, Spain (Ordesa National Park), Poland and Slovakia (Tatra National Park), Slovenia (in Gorizia and Gradisca since 1896, in Carniola since 1898), Austria (since 1886) and Romania (since 1933).


Leontopodium alpinum is grown in gardens for its interesting inflorescence and silver foliage.[10] The plants are short lived and can be grown from seed.[11]

Symbolic uses

No.5, Dianthus silvestris, and Gnaphalium leontopodium, (Edelweiss), chromolithograph by Helga von Cramm, with hymn by F. R. Havergal, 1877.

In the 19th century, the edelweiss became a symbol of the rugged purity of the Alpine region and of its native inhabitants.

Berthold Auerbach published a novel entitled Edelweiss in 1861, where the difficulty for an alpinist to acquire an edelweiss flower was exaggerated to the point of claiming that "the possession of one is a proof of unusual daring."[12] This idea at the time was becoming part of the popular mythology of early alpinism.[13] Auerbach's novel appeared in English translation in 1869, prefaced with a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson,

"There is a flower known to botanists, one of the same genus with our summer plant called 'Life-Everlasting', a Gnaphalium like that, which grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolese mountains, where the chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter, tempted by its beauty and by his love (for it is immensely valued by the Swiss maidens), climbs the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found dead at the foot, with the flower in his hand. It is called by botanists the Gnaphalium leontopodium, but by the Swiss EDELWEISS, which signifies NOBLE PURITY."
Before 1914
World Wars era
After 1945
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Edelweiss in art.

See also


  1. Randall J. Bayer; Christopher F. Puttock; Scot A. Kelchner (2000). "Phylogeny of South African Gnaphalieae (Asteraceae) based on two noncoding chloroplast sequences". American Journal of Botany. 87 (2): 259–272. doi:10.2307/2656914. JSTOR 2656914. PMID 10675314.
  2. Vigneron, Jean Pol; Marie Rassart; Zofia Vértesy; Krisztián Kertész; Michaël Sarrazin; László P. Biró; Damien Ertz; Virginie Lousse (January 2005). "Optical structure and function of the white filamentary hair covering the edelweiss bracts". Physical Review E. American Physical Society. 71. arXiv:0710.2695Freely accessible. doi:10.1103/physreve.71.011906.
  3. William Shepard Walsh (1909). Handy-book of literary curiosities. J.B. Lippincott Co. pp. 268–. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  4. Edelweiss reported as common name alongside Alpen-Ruhrkraut in Kittel, Taschenbuch der Flora Deutschlands zum bequemen Gebrauch auf botanischen Excursionen (1837), p. 383.
  5. Aretius, Stocc-Hornii et Nessi [...] descriptio [...], a Benedicto Aretio [...] dictata., published with Valerii Cordi Simesusii Annotationes in Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei de medica materia libros V, Basel (1561), ed. Bratschi (1992) in Niesen und Stockhorn. Berg-Besteigungen im 16. Jahrhunder.
  6. Schweizerisches Idiotikon 16.1997.
  7. λέων, πόδιον, πούς. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  8. NOTE: Sometimes mistaken for a different species (reference only).
  9. NOTE: Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold (reference only).
  10. Mineo, Baldassare (1999). Rock garden plants: a color encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-88192-432-6.
  11. McVicar, Jekka. Seeds: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Successfully from Seed. The Lyons Press. p. 22. ISBN 1-58574-874-9.
  12. Auerbach (1869), p. 77
  13. c.f. "chamois hunting" in New monthly magazine and universal register (1853) p. 166
  14. http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?p=1180704#p1180704
  15. NOTE: DAV on this pin means Deutscher Alpenverein not Disabled American Veterans for which such pins may be confused (reference only).
  16. NOTE: CIECM meaning Centre d' Instruction et d' Entraînement au Combat en Montagne (reference only).
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Leontopodium alpinum
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