Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
likes limescale to limescale tolerant
The Alpine edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale, also known as Leontopodium alpinum) is the only representative of the approximately 40 known edelweiss species native to Central Europe, which are widespread in the mountains of Europe and Asia. It can be found in the Alps, the Carpathians and the Jura, where it settled after the last ice age as an immigrant from Asia. The Alpine edelweiss belongs to the family of composite flowers (Asteraceae) and has a long tradition in the United States, Austria and Switzerland as a symbol flower for alpine culture, for example in the logo of the German Alpine Association and the mountain rescue service.
Edelweiss grows as a horstig-compact, perseveringly herbaceous perennial that holds itself relatively flat on the ground. It grows about 20 centimeters in height and width and carries flower heads up to eight centimeters in size on upright stems. Occasionally, giant edelweiss flowers of up to twelve centimeters in size occur, which are popularly referred to as “edelweiss kings”.
The Alpine Edelweiss has simple lanceolate leaves, which sprout from a basal rosette of leaves. Similar to the flower, the leaves of the edelweiss are also covered with short white hairs, which gives them a felty appearance, hence the Latin name (Leontopodium means “lion’s foot”). These fluffy hairs protect the plant from the cold and the strong UV radiation in the mountains.
The fluffy, brilliant white flowers of Edelweiss are legendary. The inconspicuous tubular flowers inside are surrounded by a hairy star of pointed white, irregularly long bracts in variable numbers. The special feature of the Edelweiss flower is its silvery sheen. This is caused by the reflection of many thousands of tiny air bubbles in the woolly hairs on the bracts. The silvery-white shimmer attracts nectar-seeking pollinator insects such as flies and beetles. The actual flowering time is June to September, but the edelweiss flowers are extremely durable, which has earned it the nickname “Eternal Flower”.
Location and soil
In nature, edelweiss normally grows on steppe-like, oily alpine meadows at an altitude of up to 3,000 metres. Due to the great pressure of eager wildflower pickers and souvenir hunters, however, the small plant was more and more pushed into the cliffs and remote crevices, which is why the edelweiss is often mistaken for a cliff plant. Leontopodium nivale prefers siliceous limestone as subsoil and a very sunny location in southern exposure. In the garden, the hardy Edelweiss is suitable for planting rock gardens in a sunny spot. The stony soil should be as fresh, warm and poor in nutrients as possible. If the soil is very clayey, it must be loosened with sand before planting. Edelweiss is also suitable for planting tubs on a southern terrace. In this case, lean cactus earth is suitable as substrate.
Planting and care
At the right location, the Edelweiss is extremely easy to care for and frugal. Place the Edelweiss young plants in autumn or spring at a distance of 20 to 30 centimeters. Water lightly after planting. Otherwise, the water is only poured when it is very hot and then only in the morning or evening. Stagnant moisture in the bed as well as long dry periods must be avoided. As the edelweiss belongs to the weak eaters as an alpine plant, neither fertilization nor a dose of compost is necessary. To keep the plant vital, it should be divided every few years after pruning in autumn. Especially in the pot you should regularly clean out the flowered ones.
Over the year no cut is necessary with the Edelweiss. If you want to prevent self-seeding, you should remove the flower heads in autumn before the seeds are formed. For this purpose, the whole plant is cut about a hand’s width above the ground. This does not lead to a second flower, but the plant grows back compactly and vigorously after pruning.
Even though the strongly diminished natural populations are slowly recovering, the Alpine edelweiss is still under strict protection in the mountains and must not be picked or excavated. All the more beautiful when you can admire the Alpine star as a cultivated plant in your own garden. The edelweiss is most radiant in small groups of three to five plants – this is how they grow together to form dense cushions – together with saxifrage, gentian, dwarf bellflowers and carpet speedwell. Even small Sedum species frame the white flower stars and set them in scene. Avoid tall plants as bedding partners, as they shade and press the edelweiss. Those who do not have a rock garden can also cultivate the edelweiss as a pot plant. The white star-shaped blossoms even keep cut off well into the winter, making them a special enrichment for dry bouquets. It is best to cut the flowers at noon, when they are in full bloom.
The commercial edelweiss varieties bear the names of the mountains, such as ‘Matterhorn’ (dense flower on a long stem), ‘Wendelstein’ (grey-green and strongly branched) or ‘Mont Blanc’ (compact growth with individual flowers). In addition to the classic alpine edelweiss, which is usually sold as Leontopodium alpinum, there is also the well cushion-forming Chinese dwarf edelweiss (Leontopodium souliei), which grows only about five centimeters high but shines with dozens of small flowering stars. The climate in the garden is problematic for Edelweiss, as it naturally grows at altitudes of over 1,800 metres. Leontopodium tends to turn green in flatter areas and in dark locations. Therefore, ask for varieties that produce flowers even at lower altitudes.
In addition to self-seeding in autumn, edelweiss is mainly propagated by division. After two years after pruning, cut off part of the plant in autumn and put it back in a new place as similar as possible to the old one. It is also possible to grow edelweiss from seeds yourself. Seed the edelweiss seeds in growing trays in March. Do not cover and also do not pour on it! The shoots should be pricked at a distance of about 20 centimeters so that they can continue to grow vigorously. From May onwards, the young plants may be set out in the garden.
Diseases and pests
The Alpine Edelweiss is extremely robust and has no significant natural enemies. In case of waterlogging, however, root rot threatens, then the plant must be transplanted.
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I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.