Leontopodium nivale

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Alpen Edelweiß, Leontopodium alpinum 2.JPG
Close-up of flower.
Scientific classification edit
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.c

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. Its leaves and flowers are covered with dense hairs, which appear 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, Mongolia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Italy. 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]

The edelweiss has been used in traditional folk medicine in the Alps for centuries. Extracts from different parts of plants have been used to treat abdominal pain, respiratory diseases, heart disease and against diarrhea. That is why it was also known as the bellyache flower for a long time. It was also used by the mountain people as a durable flower ("eternal flower") in dry bouquets. The cosmetics industry became aware of the plant and its extracts a few years ago.[15]

Symbolic uses[edit]

No.5, Dianthus silvestris, and Gnaphalium leontopodium, (Edelweiss), chromolithograph by Helga von Cramm, with hymn by F. R. Havergal, 1877.
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth

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

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 went on a mountain hike to the Pasterzen Glacier on the Großglockner with his wife Sisi. 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.[16]

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 jewelry made of precious metal and diamonds was designed in the years after 1850 by the then court and chamber jeweler Alexander Emanuel Köchert.[17]

Austro-Hungarian alpine troops with the edelweiss on their uniform

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. The Alpen-Edelweiss was assigned as a badge by Emperor Franz Joseph to troops (three regiments) of the Austro-Hungarian Army intended for use in the mountains. It was worn on the collar of the uniform skirt.[18]

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."[19] This idea at the time was becoming part of the popular mythology of early alpinism.[20] 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.

Together with the alpine gentian, the edelweiss is also a symbol of lonely peaks and pure air in the Alps today. These plants are celebrated with songs and many souvenirs related to them are sold.[21][better source needed]

Before 1914[edit]

Kaiserjäger - Sergeant (Oberjäger)
  • The edelweiss was established in 1907 as the sign of the Imperial-Royal Mountain Troops by Emperor Franz Joseph I. These original three Regiments wore their edelweiss on the collar of their uniform. 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.[22]
  • 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" (k.u.k. XIV. Corps) of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, an "Edelweiss Division" was 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. In 1915, World War I, the edelweiss was granted to the German alpine troops for their bravery.[23] Today, it is still the insignia of the Austrian, French, Slovenian, Polish, Romanian, and German alpine troops.
  • 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.

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[24]
  • The soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army named a position right next to the Valparola Pass as the "Edelweiss position" during World War I.[25]
  • 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, 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.
  • Operation "Edelweiss" was a project of the US Office of Strategic Services to get information about Hitler's Alpine Fortress in 1945.

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. ^ Alexandra Grass "Edelweiß ist Heilpflanze des Jahres 2019 (German: Edelweiss is Medicinal Plant of the Year 2019)" In: Wiener Zeitung 24.01.2019.
  16. ^ Ernst Moriz Kronfeld, Das Edelweiß, Hugo Heller & Cie., Vienna 1910 - In: Georg Weindl: Die ewige Liebe zum Edelweiß. In: Almanach – 3 Zinnen Dolomiten, Nr. 50, 2019, p 68.
  17. ^ Michaela Ernst: Sisi-Stern: Das berühmteste Schmuckstück aus Österreich. In: profil. 10. April 2014.
  18. ^ Hermann Hinterstoisser: Das Edelweiß – Alpenblume mit Symbolkraft. In: Truppendienst, 2012, Nr. 5/329. Das Edelweiß
  19. ^ Berthold Auerbach (1869). Edelweiss: A story. Roberts Brothers. p. 77.
  20. ^ "Chamois hunting". New monthly magazine and universal register. 1853. p. 166.
  21. ^ Justina Schreiber. "Edelweiß und Enzian". BR Bayern 2, 25 December 2011.
  22. ^ Hermann Hinterstoisser: Das Edelweiß – Alpenblume mit Symbolkraft. In: Truppendienst (Austrian Army), 2012, Nr. 5/329.
  23. ^ Hermann Hinterstoisser: Das Edelweiß – Alpenblume mit Symbolkraft. In: Truppendienst (Austrian Army), 2012, Nr. 5/329.
  24. ^ (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.
  25. ^ Valparolapass: Die Edelweißstellung schloss die offene Flanke der Österreicher (German: The edelweiss position closed the open flank of the Austrians)
  26. ^ https://www.alpinafriulana.it/cultura/il-nuovo-logo-della-saf-evoluzione-di-un-simbolo/
  27. ^ https://www.vilkovaikai.lt/ivadiniai-tekstai/vilko-vaikai/
  28. ^ NOTE: DAV on this pin means Deutscher Alpenverein not Disabled American Veterans for which such pins may be confused (reference only).
  29. ^ NOTE: CIECM meaning Centre d' Instruction et d' Entraînement au Combat en Montagne (reference only).