From the iconic (but hard to find) edelweiss, to orchids and the hairy alpine roses (yes, really!); from Alpine meadows vivid with colour to 500-year-old forests; there is a rich variety of wild flora to be discovered in the lakes and mountains of Europe. Each species and environment is unique but all of them create a gorgeous backdrop for your holiday.
For many of us experiencing the colourful sights and exotic aromas of the local flora is an important part of the holiday. Here are a few of our favourite plants, and where some of the best places are to find them:
Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum)
A symbol of the Alps and a national symbol of Switzerland, the edelweiss has earned a legendary place in our hearts and minds. The scientific name for edelweiss literally translates as ‘Alpine lion’s tooth’ and the flower grows in locations as dramatic as its name sounds, perched at altitudes between 1,800m and 3,000m. The flowers were reputedly collected from dangerous mountain peaks by young lovers in demonstration of their devotion.
Today the edelweiss is strictly protected across much of the Alps and should not be interfered with. If you would like to try to see this elusive plant growing in the wild we would recommend the Edelweiss hiking path (route number 30) in Zermatt, Switzerland. And we have it on good authority that edelweiss can also be found close to the car park at the top of the Grossglockner near Zell am See, Austria. Happy hunting!
Swiss/Austrian Stone Pine (Pinus cembra)
Known as the ‘Queen of the Alps’ the Swiss/Austrian stone pine is perfectly adapted to harsh mountain climates. Understood to reduce heart-rate and induce deeper sleep, stone pine oils are often used for their therapeutic qualities. This species of tree can live to an immense age, and it is alleged that the oldest tree in the Tirol is a stone pine – approximately 700 years old.
The oldest and largest population of stone pines can be found along the Zirbenweg trail above the Inn valley, close to Igls. This panoramic hiking path runs for nearly eight kilometres through the trees, with lovely displays of alpine flowers along the way and great views stretching out across the valley.
Hairy Alpine Rose (Rhododendron hirsutum)
The Hairy Alpine Rose is abundant in the Alps where it occurs on heath and grassland above the tree-line. A species of dwarf rhododendron with brightly coloured, rose flowers which bloom during June and July, this unusually named plant receives its moniker from its uniquely hairy foliage. Admirers note the distinctive long, bristling hairs which spring out from around the edge of its leaves.
An excellent location in which to find this wonderful plant is amongst the meadows of Selva and Merano in the Italian Dolomites. As you explore keep an eye out for other mountain flora including the snow-white leopard’s bane, the radiant auricula, the delicate alpine poppy and, of course, edelweiss.
Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium calceolus)
Over collected to the point of near extinction in the UK, the distinctive lady’s slipper orchid is perhaps easier to find in the Alps, although still rare. For such a delicate looking plant this orchid is remarkably hardy and can appear at heights up-to 2,000m above sea level.
Orchids are abundant in the meadows of Chamonix. Most common are the bright, pink spotted leaf variety which is frequently seen on mountain walks. And depending on the time of year, you might find wild strawberries and blueberries to gorge on as you go. But the rare lady’s slipper orchids are present too. These flowers typically appreciate wet, grassy areas such as the side of a stream. Hidden away in secret places – you might have to ask our reps for tips to find this elusive gem.
The Anemone of Monte Baldo (Anemone baldensis)
It sounds like something out of an Alexander Dumas novel and may be considered to have a rather plain perennial appearance. But the Anemone of Monte Baldo is one of many endemic species of plant to which the Monte Baldo mountain range in Northern Italy has leant its names.
Monte Baldo near Malcesine and Bardolino is known as the ‘Garden of Europe’, and for good reason. The area is well known for its botanical richness. The isolation of the mountain and the climatic influence of Lake Garda has sheltered and protected the plant life for generations. This has given the area a unique and abundant floral heritage. Many alpine plants share ‘baldense’ or ‘baldensis’ in their scientific name owing to their discovery in this fascinating area.
Whether you are a professional botanist or a hobbyist gardener, there are plenty of fascinating plants to engage with throughout the lakes and mountains. Our list barely scratches the service and we strongly recommend you pack your walking boots and explore the abundance of plant life for yourself this summer.