Leontopodium nivale

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Alpen Edelweiß, Leontopodium alpinum 2.JPG
Close-up of flower.
Scientific classification edit
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Leontopodium
L. nivale
Binomial name
Leontopodium nivale
(Ten.) Huet ex Hand.-Mazz.

Leontopodium alpinum Colm. ex Cass.

Leontopodium nivale, commonly called edelweiss (German: Alpen-Edelweiß, English pronunciation /ˈdəlvs/ (About this soundlisten)), is a mountain flower belonging to the daisy or sunflower family Asteraceae. 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 in traditional medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. The dense hair appears to protect the plant from cold, aridity, and ultraviolet radiation.[1] It is a scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas and 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 Romania, Austria, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Switzerland. According to folk tradition, giving this flower to a loved one is a promise of dedication.


The flower's common name derives from the German word "Edelweiß", which is a compound of edel "noble" and weiß "white". In Romania it is known as Floare de colț which means Cliffhanger's flower. The flower is referred to as "Stella Alpina" in the Italian speaking Alps and "Étoile des Alpes" in the French Alps, both names meaning "Star of the Alps".[2]

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.[3] Alternative names include Chatzen-Talpen ("cat's paws"), and the older Wullbluomen ("wool flower", attested in the 16th century).[4][5]

The scientific name is a latinisation of the Greek leontopódion, "lion's paw".[6]


Since 1822, Leontopodium has no longer been considered part of the genus Gnaphalium, but classified alongside it as a distinct genus within the tribe Gnaphalieae.[citation needed] In 2003, Leontopodium alpinum was re-classified as a subspecies of Leontopodium nivale.[citation needed] Thus, the alpine edelweiss is currently recognized as being divided into two subspecies, Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum (Cass.) Greuter and Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale.[7]


The plant's 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 nivale is considered a least concern species by the IUCN.[10] The population of this species declined due to overcollection, but is now protected by laws, ex situ conservation and occurrence in national parks.[10]


Leontopodium nivale is grown in gardens for its interesting inflorescence and silver foliage.[11] The plants are short lived and can be grown from seed.[12]

Chemical constituents[edit]

Compounds of different classes, such as terpenoids, phenylpropanoids, fatty acids and polyacetylenes are reported in various parts of edelweiss plants.[13] Leoligin was reported as the major lignan constituent.[14]

Symbolic uses[edit]

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.

In Berthold Auerbach's novel Edelweiss (1861), the difficulty for an alpinist to acquire an edelweiss flower was exaggerated to the point of claiming: "the possession of one is a proof of unusual daring."[15] This idea at the time was becoming part of the popular mythology of early alpinism.[16] 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 Edelweisse, which signifies Noble Purity."

Before 1914[edit]

  • In the Swiss Army, the highest ranks (brigadier general and higher) have badges in the form of edelweiss flowers, where other military branch badges would have stars
  • The edelweiss was established in 1907 as the sign of the Austrian-Hungarian alpine troops by Emperor Franz Joseph I. These original three Regiments wore their edelweiss on the collar of their uniform. In 1915, World War I, the edelweiss was granted to the German alpine troops for their bravery. Today, it is still the insignia of the Austrian, French, Slovenian, Polish, Romanian, and German alpine troops.

World Wars[edit]

  • The song Stelutis alpinis (Friulian for "alpine edelweiss"), written by Arturo Zardini when he was an evacuee due to World War I, is now considered the unofficial anthem of Friuli[17]
  • The song Es War Ein Edelweiss was written by Herms Niel for soldiers during World War II
  • The edelweiss was a badge of the Edelweiss Pirates: the anti-Nazi youth groups in the Third Reich and was worn on clothes (such as a blouse or a suit).
  • The edelweiss was the symbol of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS Gebirgsjäger, or mountain rangers worn as a metal pin on the left side of the mountain cap, on the band of the service dress cap, and as a patch on the right sleeve. It is still the symbol of the mountain brigade in the German Army.
  • The World War II Luftwaffe unit, Kampfgeschwader 51 (51st Bomber Wing) was known as the Edelweiss Wing.

After 1945[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 71 (1): 011906. arXiv:0710.2695. Bibcode:2005PhRvE..71a1906V. doi:10.1103/physreve.71.011906. PMID 15697629. S2CID 36857838.
  2. ^ William Shepard Walsh (1909). Handy-book of literary curiosities. J.B. Lippincott Co. pp. 268. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  3. ^ Edelweiss reported as common name alongside Alpen-Ruhrkraut in Kittel, Taschenbuch der Flora Deutschlands zum bequemen Gebrauch auf botanischen Excursionen (1837), p. 383.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Schweizerisches Idiotikon 16.1997 Archived 2013-12-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ λέων, πόδιον, πούς. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  7. ^ "Leontopodium nivale (Ten.) Huet ex Hand.-Mazz. — The Plant List". www.theplantlist.org. Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  8. ^ NOTE: Sometimes mistaken for a different species (reference only).
  9. ^ NOTE: Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold (reference only).
  10. ^ a b "Leontopodium alpinum (Edelweiss)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  11. ^ Mineo, Baldassare (1999). Rock garden plants: a color encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber Press. pp. 150. ISBN 978-0-88192-432-9.
  12. ^ McVicar, Jekka (2003). Seeds: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Successfully from Seed. The Lyons Press. pp. 22. ISBN 978-1-58574-874-7.
  13. ^ Tauchen, J. & Kokoska, L. Phytochem Rev (2017) 16: 295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11101-016-9474-0
  14. ^ Wang L, Ladurner A, Latkolik S, Schwaiger S, Linder T, Hošek J, Palme V, Schilcher N, Polanský O, Heiss EH, Stangl H, Mihovilovic MD, Stuppner H, Dirsch VM, Atanasov AG. Leoligin, the Major Lignan from Edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum), Promotes Cholesterol Efflux from THP-1 Macrophages. J Nat Prod. 2016 Jun 24;79(6):1651-7. doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.6b00227.
  15. ^ Berthold Auerbach (1869). Edelweiss: A story. Roberts Brothers. p. 77.
  16. ^ "Chamois hunting". New monthly magazine and universal register. 1853. p. 166.
  17. ^ (in Italian) Screm, Alessio (April 6, 2016). "I friulani scelgono il loro inno: è “Stelutis alpinis” di Zardini" [1]. Messaggero Veneto. Retrieved 2017-03-10.
  18. ^ NOTE: DAV on this pin means Deutscher Alpenverein not Disabled American Veterans for which such pins may be confused (reference only).
  19. ^ NOTE: CIECM meaning Centre d' Instruction et d' Entraînement au Combat en Montagne (reference only).

External links[edit]