What You Need to Know About the Edelweiss Flower


When you hear Edelweiss, if you’re anything like me, it conjures up an image of Christopher Plummer and his guitar singing a sweet melody about it in “The Sound of Music.” And the more you learn about the Edelweiss flower, the more you’ll realize how appropriate that song was.

You’re singing it in your head now. Aren’t you?

The national flowers of Switzerland, these daisy cousins are white, but the flowers aren’t. Surprised? We were. And that’s just the beginning of the Edelweiss flower mysteries.

History of the Edelweiss Flower

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Before we get into what color the Edelweiss flower actually is, let’s find out where this little perennial first made its appearance.

Discovered in 1819 by German naturalist, Georg Car Reinwardt, botanist Carl Heinrich Schutz studied it further and given the name Leontopodium nivale. That is the Latin translation of the Greek word for lion’s paw.

And if you’ve ever really looked at an Edelweiss flower, you know why this name is appropriate.

Edelweiss literally translates from German to noble and white. It grows on an incline between 1,500 and 3,000 meters in the Alps of its homeland: Switzerland. And that height is roughly 4,921 to 9,842 feet for those unfamiliar with the metric system.

Although it’s Switzerland’s official flower, both Austria and Germany use the Edelweiss flower and its toughness as a meaningful symbol for their nations.

Love and danger

Love is a strong motivator and always has been. So, when people discovered the Edelweiss flower growing on ice-covered ledges and the sides of dangerous mountains, of course, they took it as a challenge.

To show their love for the woman of their dreams, men would scale the dangerous peaks of the Alps to obtain the mysterious and hardy plant. If they brought the Edelweiss flower down successfully for their intended, it was proof of true love. But not all were so lucky.

Many men died in their pursuit, which arguably showed their love just the same.

Badge of pride

Men might not scale the mountain much these days to obtain this snow flower, but it still carries a symbol of strength and love. Don’t be surprised to see it in German weddings, pinned on lapels, drawn on cards, and all over German souvenirs.

The Edelweiss flower has been a favorite of kings and noblemen since its discovery, and that sentiment continues to this day.

The Truth About the Edelweiss Flower

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From afar, the Edelweiss flower looks like a small, white, star-shaped flower with a yellow center. It almost looks like an ornament you would hang from a Christmas tree. But Edelweiss isn’t as it appears to be.

Beauty is in the eye

If you listened to the Edelweiss melody in the movie, you might believe the Edelweiss flower is small and white, clean and bright. While it’s true that it might look happy, the Edelweiss flower isn’t actually white, it’s yellow. And it’s not just one flower, but a group of 2 to 10 tiny flowers in the center of their white protectors.

The white part of Edelweiss is not the flower, but fuzzy modified leaves that create a double star. The Edelweiss flower itself is small and yellow and doesn’t live very long.

Edelweiss flower leaves

The white leaves of the Edelweiss flower are essential to its life. And they’re not smooth like you would suspect. The leaves are thick with little white hairs. So, you can see how fitting the lion’s paw reference is.

In fact, these furry leaves are the reason the Edelweiss flower can survive in the Alps. The structure of their modified leaves retains moisture for the plant and forms a barrier against the wind and rain at these high altitudes.

The white star-shaped leaves are called bract which is botany talk for a modified leaf associated with a flower. And that would be the little yellow Edelweiss flower.

A tough nut

As you can imagine just from where they bloom and grow, the Edelweiss plant is extremely hardy. As mentioned, the Edelweiss flower — not so much.

Also known as snow flower, Edelweiss thrives in rough terrain. It’s a perennial flowering plant that blooms every year for 3 to 10 years. Although it shares a family with the daisy and the sunflower, you can hardly see the resemblance.

They grow in clumps 6 to 12 inches tall and wide and bloom in early summer, and they slowly spread along the ground. If you try to grow Edelweiss flowers yourself, and you don’t live on the side of a cliff in the Alps, you can grow these tough little plants down to zone 4 in the United States.

Survival of the fittest

You might wonder how a seemingly delicate and small plant can survive such a harsh environment on mountain peaks, cliffs, and sheets of ice. The answer is simply: they’ve adapted.

Like all other plants and animals that survive, their structure has changed to fit their environment. Not only have they learned to survive in difficult conditions, but they also flourish.

Growing Edelweiss Flowers

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Well, you don’t likely live in the Alps, but you might like to experience these flowers first hand. After all, who doesn’t like a challenge?

As we said, these perennial plants are hardy to zone 4. That means they’ll come back year after year.

When choosing where to grow your Edelweiss flowers, pick a sunny spot with excellent drainage. Remember, these plants thrive in the mountains on the sides of cliffs and crevasses, so that’s what you’re trying to mimic.

They need a soil that runs from a bit alkaline to medium acidity. If you’re going to grow them in containers, mix equal parts of peat moss, sand, and compost. That would still be a great combination even if you’re planting them straight in the ground.

If you want to start your Edelweiss flowers from seed, you’re going to need some patience. Try storing the seeds in the freezer for three months for stratification before attempting to germinate them.

Caring for Edelweiss flowers

Other than getting the soil just right, the most important thing you can do to grow your own Edelweiss is to give them the right amount of water.

This plant doesn’t do well in soggy soil. It’s used to harsh conditions of wind and freezing temperatures, so they need a lot of drainage. Once your Edelweiss is established, you won’t even need to water it, except for when it’s extremely dry. And even then, moisten — don’t drown.

When winter comes, don’t water it at all. Mother nature knows what to do. If you happen to live in an area with cool summers, Edelweiss will even seed itself, and you can enjoy watching it duplicate.

Other Fun Facts About Edelweiss

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If your only exposure to Edelweiss is “The Sound of Music,” we probably surprised you with facts about the actual plant and the Edelweiss flower itself. But we’re not done.

Here are some more interesting facts you might not know:

  • During WWI, the Edelweiss flower was awarded to German alpine troops for bravery
  • Songwriters wrote the song, “Edelweiss” specifically for “The Sound of Music”
  • Edelweiss’ image was on the one schilling coin from 1959 to 2001
  • There’s an Austrian beer named Edelweiss
  • There is a legal limit to the number of Edelweiss flowers you can pick (should you venture into the Alps)
  • People use the plant for sunblock and anti-aging skin care
  • Edelweiss is the emblem for the professional Polish ice hockey team MMKS Podhale Nowy Targ

As you can see, the flower is everywhere in that area of the world. And not only that but in the United States too. The U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion 10th Special Forces Group Airborne Soldiers commonly wear the Edelweiss flower symbol on their uniforms.

Every Morning You Greet Me

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This blossom of snow is certainly a unique and tough flower. While we wouldn’t encourage you to scale a mountain to get it, there’s nothing wrong with growing it in your own yard. Or at least giving it a try.

But like we said, the Edelweiss flower is in more places than you realize, so keep an eye out for its image. The places you’ll find it might shock you.

Have you ever seen an Edelweiss flower in person? Were you surprised to learn that the flower isn’t even white? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Kim Russell

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