Flowers that grow on mountains

Top 10 mountain flowers to discover

This flower signifies deep love and devotion whereby men harvest the flower on daring steeps and fatal climbs to prove love and to show occasions of devotion. It’s synonymous with the alpine terrain, and those of the Alps find it a flower of purity that instills a great sense of patriotism with its meanings. This flower is a regional/national symbol in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Its short life span and remote habitation have inspired the folklore of the Alps inhabitants to signify the Edelweiss with national prestige. It is Switzerland’s national flower.
What Does the Edelweiss Flower Mean
The Edelweiss is a flower that means notoriety in its complete essence. It’s prized where it naturally grows and is created to be a symbol by its local region because it’s only obtained by a few when it lies waiting in its natural habitat. It, therefore, captivates the symbolic qualities of adventure and great sacrifice.
Etymological Meaning of the Edelweiss Flower
When speaking of the etymology of the Edelweiss flower, we’ll inevitably come by the name meaning of Leontopodium alpinum that is characterized as a German mountain flower and what mountains symbolizes. The Edelweiss flower is also a part of the daisy and sunflower family with non-toxic properties in its makeup, that is why it has been used as a treatment in respiratory and abdominal diseases from times immemorial. This flower has tomentose, a wooly appearance of white hairs on its leaf and flower which creates the flower’s hairy and silvery character. It grows to heights of 16 inches and develops its flower into a double-star formation between the months of July and September. These patterns make it highly recognizable as a birth flower.
The Edelweiss Flower’s Color Meanings
Though subtle in appearance, the Edelweiss color has symbolic meaning as much as the entire flower itself has. The actual German translation of the word, “Edelweiss,” literarily means noble and white. Surely, this is a brief color meaning as a description. The flower’s sense of nobility is the most profound in the Edelweiss entire symbolic meaning. Roughly 50 daredevils die each year in the vain pursuit to capture this variety of a blooming daisy.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics of the Edelweiss Flower
Snow flower is the common attributed name that the Edelweiss flower will go by. Its love for high altitudes gives it access to increased levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This is a perennial plant that flourishes in calcareous gorges for a lively stint of 3 to 10 years.
There is a collection of medical uses that the Edelweiss flower finds itself useful for. Collectively, the flower is great in mediating the presence of normal aging, abdominal pain, aerophagia, amnesia, Alzheimer’s disease, allergic reactions and alcoholism. This flower could also have been given to soothe the body of diphtheria or tuberculosis. Of all these ailments, an upset stomach is more commonly remedied with the Edelweiss flower.
When taken as a tea, Edelweiss gives relief and it is in general a gesture of good faith from someone who brought it to you during your sickness.
Interesting Facts About the Edelweiss Flower
There are currently legal limitations that ban picking this flower in most of the regions where it’s now left to grow wild.
The plant is said to have anti-aging chemical properties.
The popular song, that you were likely to have heard in “The Sound of Music” is not a national tune; it was written specifically for the movie.

Holtasoley – The national flower of Iceland

Holtasoley (Dryas octopetala) is Iceland’s national flower.

Commonly known as Mountain Avens, Holtasoley is found in all regions of Iceland growing mainly on gravelly mountain slopes and moorland. According to an old book on herbs, I found in the local library, its name changes to Hárbrúða or Hairy Doll once it has matured and gone to seed. It’s also known as rjúpnalauf or ptarmigan leaf because the northern grouse like to feast on its leathery leaves during the winter months. Apart from being an important food source for ptarmigans, the plant has an interesting history. Long before it was voted national flower of Iceland (in October 2004) it was used as a herb for its medicinal properties: mainly as an astringent and to reduce inflammation. The leaves were also dried and used as both a substitute for tobacco and tea. Perhaps the most surprising thing I read about the history of Holtasóley – given its status as a national flower – is that it was once known as “Thief’s Root“. This was because it grew in abundance in places where thieves were hung. Maybe, and I’m just taking a wild guess here, it was also named so because thieves might have been caught rummaging for their ill-gotten gains underneath these lovely little mountain blossoms. According to folklore, Holtasoley has the power to attract money from the earth, but what you have to do to get it is quite frankly sinful, immoral and wicked. To get rich à la Holtasoley, one must first steal money from a poor widow while she’s attending mass and then bury it underneath the so-called Thief’s Root where it was supposed to double the value of the money. Not a particularly romantic story about the national flower of Iceland, but it might just explain why thieves were hung where Holtasoley grows.

Read more about Iceland’s flowers in Hörður Kristinsson’s book Flowering Plants and Ferns of Iceland.

Holtasóley – Image by Jane Appleton

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Two years before stepping on the moon, Neil Armstrong went salmon fishing in northern Iceland. A picture of him, standing by the river, is exhibited in a regional museum, but the image is so small I first assumed it was just a snapshot of leisure life in the 1960s. Smiling faintly as he holds a fishing rod, the 36-year-old Armstrong could pass for a local—until you consider the baseball cap and fancy aviator shades. And the four layers of clothing.

Other prospective spacemen were around too, living in NASA training camps in Iceland’s interior. It was summer, and the constant daylight obscured their ultimate destination. In the middle of Iceland’s highlands, NASA had found a parallel lunar landscape: no vegetation, no life, no colors, no landmarks. The entire area was essentially a natural gravel field. The would-be astronauts took advantage of it by splitting into teams and playing soccer to unwind after training days, using rocks to mark the goalposts. Walking to the nearest tree would have taken the men days, across the Hólasandur, the black sand desert, and toward the northeastern coast. Even then, the tree, weather-beaten like everything on the eroded North Atlantic island, wasn’t much taller than Armstrong’s fishing rod.

The term “lunar landscape” is popular among today’s tourists when captioning images of boundless Icelandic deserts, shaped by volcanic eruptions, covered in different shades of lava. In the foreground of those photographs, however, is often a peculiar purple alien: the Alaskan lupine. This plant arrived on the landscape not long after the astronauts, and was embraced as an efficient cover for eroded land. But the experiment blew up in Iceland’s face and left a permanent purple mark. Considered an invasive plant today, the lupine threatens not only the existing flora but also the barren volcanic interior, often described with words echoing Buzz Aldrin’s first observation about the scenery on the moon: “magnificent desolation.”

American legend Neil Armstrong trained for the first moon expedition in Iceland, before lupines changed the country’s lunar-like landscape. Photo by Sverrir Pálsson, courtesy of the Exploration Museum

The once-black Hólasandur sand where the astronauts traveled is a purple field today. As the climate changes, the lupine spirals toward places previously protected from the plant by cold temperatures and low rainfall. For some Icelanders, however, this purple flower is welcome. In a very visceral debate, the fight for Iceland’s color has spurred a new form of identity politics. Tensions rose this past summer when communities in eastern Iceland, the faux lunar landscape, called on their residents to join hands and outlaw Iceland’s alpha plant. Even if we all agree lupines are evil invaders that must go, could we actually eradicate them?

Lupinus nootkatensis—known in its native Alaska and British Columbia as the Nootka lupine—is a member of the pea family. In gardening parlance, it’s a nitrogen fixer: it hosts bacteria that gather nitrogen from the air, transferring the gas to its root nodules. Plough under lupines (or peas for that matter) and the nitrogen is released into the soil, providing nourishment for the plants that follow. It’s a pretty and elegant solution to nurturing exhausted soil.

The Alaskan lupine arrived in Iceland in 1945, in a suitcase. What led to its deliberate introduction to the landscape began some 1,000 years before its arrival. When the first settlers disembarked from Viking ships over 1,100 years ago, two-thirds of the island was covered in greenery, and it had only one terrestrial mammal, the Arctic fox. The island’s first humans settled in with a shipload of livestock and adapted the agrarian lifestyle from home, cutting down trees and burning the wood, totally oblivious to the fact that Iceland’s soil forms more slowly and erodes much more quickly than mainland Europe’s.

Those early settlers would have hardly recognized the stark coastline the government hoped to rejuvenate when it formed the national forest service in 1908. By this point, Iceland was ecologically “the most heavily damaged country in Europe,” to quote celebrity polymath and author Jared Diamond. Wind erosion was, grain by grain, blowing the country out to sea.

The destruction continued unabated and in the mid-20th century, when other European nations were rebuilding after the Second World War, the Icelandic Forest Service was pondering human-induced destruction of a different kind; Icelanders had so heavily exploited their island home, logging the native birch forests and overgrazing vegetated land, that only 25 percent of the country’s original green cover remained.

The agency sent its director, Hákon Bjarnason, on a three-month mission to Alaska to gather plants and trees that he liked and thought could revegetate Iceland. The arrival date back home, stamped on his passport, November 3, 1945, marks the birth of our lupine saga.

Some communities have begun to eradicate lupines from their surroundings, worried they’re taking over favored berry patches. Photo by Egill Bjarnason

For the first three decades, the plant lived in green spaces near the capital Reykjavík. Árni Bragason, director of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, says it wasn’t until 1976 that the lupine’s seeds were actively collected and released into the wild, tasked with bolstering the country’s feeble soil. Lupines performed admirably and acted like fertilizer factories, purpling the landscape at almost no cost and without the need for special training: seeds could be collected by anyone, tossed into a hole no larger than a shoe’s heel and—abracadabra—the scenery eventually changed. Maybe forever.

Decades later, I had an inkling of what this purple flower had wrought on my compatriots’ psyche. There is a serious divide between Icelanders, and the wedge is the Alaskan lupine.

In 2006, I was standing at the entrance of a grocery store in Selfoss, southern Iceland, with a notebook and the cheapest camera from the Sunnlenska local newspaper. Here, I waited for people to partake in The Question of the Day, a column in which innocent pedestrians are prompted to articulate, for the record, a view on a contemporary issue they usually know next to nothing about and—after guaranteed intellectual embarrassment—have a portrait taken to accompany the answer. Environmental questions were always tough; no sane person visits the grocery store to discuss the death of our planet. But this day, I struck a chord with what seemed like a pretty lightweight query: what do you think about the Alaskan lupine?

Everyone had an opinion. Many of the people I questioned had witnessed lupine creep in real time. Drive the island’s Route 1, which connects the small nation’s cities and towns, in early summer, and it’s like barreling down a road paved straight through lupine fields, as if the flowers came before the road. They didn’t. Over the years, random people have picked up the forest service’s enthusiasm for the plant and haphazardly brought seeds to towns, valleys, and offshore islands. No Icelander has not gazed upon a field of purple. And many are lupine lovers.

Lupines are changing the color of Iceland’s countryside. Photo by Egill Bjarnason

The Facebook group Vinir lúpínunnar, Friends of the Lupine, with about 2,800 members to date, shows the diverse, widespread support for the lupine among Icelanders. Some members extol the virtues of the flower as a reforestation tool: trees planted alongside lupines benefit from the enriched soil. Once large enough, trees steal light from the almost-meter-high flowers, and ideally, over a roughly 25- to 30-year period, the lupines naturally recede once the soil is fertile enough for other things to grow. Other members embrace the lupine for its aesthetics, posting videos and pictures, never mentioning that the plant is foreign flora in Iceland.

The lupine’s friends are particularly enamored with before and after photographs. And, of course, their ardor is exploited. After visiting the group, Facebook bombarded me with ads for lupine herbal tea, sold in 1.5-liter plastic bottles for a mere US $19, which I suppose is a pretty fair price for something that purports to improve “poor blood circulation, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer,” among other things.

The people at the grocery store answering my question fell into either pro- or anti-lupine camps; there was no ambivalence. Most answers, however, were long and emotional, not dispassionately scientific.

The first two people told me anecdotes of lupine magic; how it prevented erosion and blowing sand and made it possible to plant trees. The third said the lupine had destroyed the view from his summer cottage. The fourth claimed to destroy lupine lands in his free time but was hesitant stating this publicly. Almost everyone predicted two different futures: one with lupines versus one without lupines. The fifth person, however, gave a long rant that I trimmed down to a single question, “Why didn’t anyone stop this?”

As members of the pea family, lupines infuse exhausted soil with much-needed nitrogen. Photo by Egill Bjarnason

The regreening of Iceland has become a balancing act: we want to retain the renowned splendor of our naturally occurring volcanic deserts, but we also need to revegetate what we’ve lost. The lovers and the haters each have valid points.

Lupines cover 0.4 percent of Iceland’s land surface, based on aerial footage estimates. That sounds meager, but considering the country’s afforested land cover only amounts to 400 square kilometers, that’s a lot of lupines. And while planted forest cover is predicted to reach about 1.6 percent in 2085 under the current forestation rate, the purple flowers could potentially spread into the double digits, aided by climate change and human activity. “Exponential growth is the nature of invasive species,” says botanist Pawel Wasowicz, who is the lupine expert at the Iceland Institute of Natural History. The growth curve, he estimates, will see a dramatic peak in the next two decades.

Few countries are as vulnerable to global warming as Iceland, according to the Institute of Natural History, as invasive species have enormous potential to edge out existing flora and spread into the highland interior, which is currently too cold and dry for most plants. This naturally occurring lunar-like landscape could, in other words, disappear. In about 30 years, under the current rate of climate change, the lupine could colonize much of the highland, suggests a research paper published in the journal Flora in 2013. Naturalist and former member of parliament Hjörleifur Guttormsson, who is 82 and one of the earliest opponents of the plant, says, “Everything but the glaciers are potential lupine land.”

Its ability to grow in poor soil has allowed lupine to spread rapidly in Iceland. Photos by Egill Bjarnason

“We are at the point of no return,” agrees Bragason. “The best thing we can do is reach a consensus about where the plant should be. That has been hard, too.” In Bragason’s opinion, the ideal lands for lupines are damaged coastal areas with natural borders like mountains and rivers. There, the positive effects can be both short and long term: preventing sandstorms and creating soil for reforestation. Near the Hekla volcano, where frequent eruptions over the centuries have destroyed a vast birch tree forest, the Soil Conservation Agency has successfully resurrected parts of the forest with lupine magic. Using native plants and fertilizers would have been slower and more expensive.

Few regions have the resources to prevent the great lupine land grab. Killing the plant, apparently, is a three- to five-year process. Typing lúpína drepa—lupine kill—into my search engine landed me on blogs peppered with militaristic phrases about the process. The lupine, it seems, makes its enemies among the public when it messes with their neighboring berry land. Armed with grass trimmers, communities in Iceland are joining forces to beat back the invaders. Their method is to cut lupines at the beginning of summer, before the plant forms seeds and when the root is likely to die from trimming. This past summer, three towns in eastern Iceland loaned out grass trimmers to anyone who wished to partake in the killing spree, an event planned as an annual assassination “until the plant is outlawed, at least from our nature reserves,” says Anna Samúelsdóttir, director of environmental policy at the Fjardabyggd municipality, which leads the eradication charge. Her efforts made national news because such coordinated missions, with high participation rates, are a new phenomenon in Iceland.

Which came first: lupines or the road? Photo by Egill Bjarnason

“People see how lupine land grows like a snowball,” Samúelsdóttir says. In fact, over a 15-year period, the plant has spread up to 35-fold in parts of eastern Iceland, mostly on land already vegetated with native flora. “Look down in the middle of a lupine field and you won’t even see the ground, the flower bed is so thick. Crowberries and blueberries and dryas—they’re gone.”

Meanwhile, on the lupine lobby Facebook group, Samúelsdóttir’s move to outlaw the controversial plant was received as a declaration of botanical warfare. “Cut them all they want,” one member wrote, hinting at the kind of guerrilla tactics the lupine activists employ. “I will just visit the same area with a pocket of seeds.” Another suggested eastern Icelanders’ lupine-free ambition was a testament to their xenophobia; they were suspicious of anything foreign born.

Nine of the 12 men who set foot on the moon between 1969 and 1972 first came to Iceland to study the geology, the idea being that it would help them understand the moon’s geology when they visited. NASA had originally drawn the parallel from images taken by a space probe orbiting Earth’s satellite years before; the lunar highlands (seen from afar as the lighter surface regions) looked like Iceland’s desolate interior. On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 landed back on Earth with a geological sample—a slice of the moon. The resemblance to Iceland was superficial.

When the Indiana Jones-like forestry director Hákon Bjarnason arrived from his Alaskan endeavors in 1945, fresh off the plane, he told a reporter that with some effort, Iceland could look a lot more like coastal Alaska, with tall trees and lots of blueberry bushes. The two places had a strikingly similar climate. But, again, it turned out the similarities were superficial.

In hindsight, the overconfidence is understandable. In 1945 and the decades that followed, we were on a technological roll, an era in which we thought we could conquer nature, even defy gravity by launching men to the moon. No one could foresee the tenacity of a pretty flower, no one could foresee a purple Iceland.

Mountain Avens – the Genus Dryas

One of the keynote species of the north temperate alpine regions is mountain avens or Dryas. Anyone hiking in the high mountains of North American Rockies, European Alps or Caucasus, Russian Urals and even the slopes of Siberia and Alaska, are likely to encounter this plant. They are a dominant plant of the unique Irish Burrens, as well as the limestone barrens of Newfoundland. Mountain avens even make it well into the Arctic Circle, and in fact, grow as far north as there is land! The genus gets its name from the Greek oak-nymph called ‘Dryas’. The genus name refers to the similarity of the leaves of mountain avens to those of oaks. Mountain avens belong to the rose family. Plants are woody and prostrate forming extensive mats that often root at intervals, lending this plant the effective ability to stabilize mountain slopes and river gravels. In mountainous regions, mountain avens typically grow on limestone substrates, but in the high Arctic they are not so restricted.

Their leaves are indeed shaped like miniature oak-leaves. They may be evergreen or at least semi-evergreen, which enables them to start growth as soon as the winter snows melt. Plants bloom within weeks of the melting snow, producing masses of solitary 1-2″ diameter white, cream or yellow flowers. Their flowers often turn on their stems to follow the sun across the sky. Their flowers are saucer shaped and heat above the ambient air temperature when exposed to the sun. This makes them attractive to insects who like to ‘hang-out’ inside the warm blossoms. From the plant’s perspective, this increases the chances of being pollinated. Developing seeds are plumed (feather-like) and give the attractive seedheads the appearance of a miniature pasque-flower.

There are only three species of Dryas along with two natural hybrids. The most wide-ranging species is the white mountain avens, Dryas octopetala, ranging from Greenland/Iceland, across Eurasia and into Alaska and south to Colorado. It is probably the showiest species and most amenable to cultivation. The flowers are the largest of the mountain avens with white to cream-tinted flowers. Each flower typically has 8 petals (hence ‘octopetala’,) a feature unusual in the rose family where 5 petals is the norm. Typically forms of this plant from Eurasia are larger in stature than their North American counterparts. Dryas octopetala is the National Flower of Iceland.

Details of D. octopetala with pics taken in the Alberta Rockies

This former species is absent from the central and eastern Canadian Arctic where it is replaced by a smaller species called the entire-leaf mountain avens, D. integrifolia. This species has smaller leaves and is semi-evergreen while D. octopetala is evergreen. The flowers are more distinctly cream-coloured. Otherwise, from a distance, the two species look quite similar. This species is the dominant species of the Newfoundland limestone barrens and is the Territorial Flower of Canada’s Northwest Territory. It extends as far south as the White Mountain in New Hampshire.

A collection of pictures of D. integrifolia, all taken in the wilds of Newfoundland

The yellow mountain avens, D. drummondii is only found in North America. This species is most common along the gravelly margins of large mountain and/or Arctic rivers of northwestern North America, from Alaska and the Yukon, south to Montana, Idaho and Oregon. It also occurs, in very limited numbers, upon limestone outcrops of Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland. Presumably this species occurred across North America before the last glaciation but populations in the east were mostly wiped out by the glaciers, surviving on the highest mountain-tops of eastern Canada. The flowers are distinct, being yellow and nodding. The flower buds are covered in black hairs which allow them to warm above the ambient air temperature and thus bloom shortly after the snows melt.

Details of D. drummondii, with pics taken in Glacier National Park, Alberta

There are also two naturally occurring Dryas hybrids. In Alberta exists D. X sundermannii, a hybrid between D. octopetala and D. drummondii, while in Quebec exists D. X wyssiana, the hybrid between D. integrifolia and D. drummondii. Both have the growth habit of D. drummondii with semi-nodding cream flowers reminiscent of the other parent.

Details of the natural hybrid D. X sundermannii; this plant is growing in the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden

Despite being a plant of cold regions, mountain avens can be cultivated in lowland regions where they make wonderful additions to rock garden settings. They require full sun and a well-drained site with alkaline soil. They are even reasonably drought-tolerant once established. Having said this, I expect they would not be happy in the high humidity and heat of southern USA but they are successfully grown in rock garden across northern USA, Canada and throughout Europe. The easiest to cultivate are D. octopetala and D. X sundermannii while the other two and D. X wyssiana are more challenging.

So the next time you are hiking in high mountain areas or if you should get the opportunity to visit the Arctic, look for these distinctive and important members of the local flora.

Top 5 Himalayan Flowers

The Himalayan Flowers

The Himalayan range in Asia has the earth’s biggest peaks. Making up for the daunting as well as the most scenic sights, this mountain range has an elevation of over 23,600 ft. Thanks to its vast and complex topography, the range goes through a zigzag of climates. We have cold, almost desert-like dry conditions on the Tibetan side and on the other hand, we are welcomed with humid subtropical climate. However, we don’t have anything to complain, because many lush, gorgeous and breathtaking fauna and flowers find the Himalayan range to be their ideal habitat!

Primula flower in Himalaya

Primula is among the first flowers to bloom in the valleys of the Himalayas. The flowers bloom in March, and throughout July. The flowers grow in clusters, each flower consists of small, five heart-shaped petals and with a long corolla tube. During the blooming phase, the flowers can be seen all over, in shrubberies, meadows as well as slopes. From a distance, the flowers look like fluttering away in the wind amidst the carpets of other flowers. Primula leaves are oblong and have toothed edges. The texture of the leaves is wavy and wrinkled.

Fragaria in Himalaya

Fragaria is also called the garden strawberry and is widely grown in the Himalayas. Known for its sweet taste and strong fragrance, fragaria flowers grow in banks and forests. The plant grows as a perennial and has trifoliate leaves. The small flowers are white in colour and five petals. The flowers make way for strawberry fruits that are ripened in June. In ancient Europe, strawberry was believed to be the fruit of temptation and evil and capable of turning people into monsters. The leaves of a strawberry plant are used to make herbal tea, which is considered to be an effective remedy to treat diarrhoea, IBS and urinary infections.

Wild Rose in Himalaya

Also known as musk rose, wild rose can be seen all over the place in the Himalayan valleys. Be it cliffs, beddings, hills or boulders, the white or pink flowers make for a pretty sight in the summer, most likely in the month of May. Upon maturation, the flowers give way to red fruits, called rose-hip. The flowers have a strong scent and are pollinated by insects for their nectar. The plant has thorns and even leaves have pointed tops. However, some varieties of the flower don’t have a prickly stem or toothy-edged leaves. The wood of the plant is used to make walking sticks for the elderly. The locales used the flowers to extract perfume and the fruit concoction is used as a cough syrup as it has a high content of vitamin C.

Anemone Bloom in Himalaya

Blue Himalayan anemone also grows in different shades such as white. The white anemone has pink tinge on the reverse and distinctive yellow stamens. The flowers grow on straight and smooth stalks. The plant grows as a perennial and due to the long stalks can be noticed from a distance. The blooming phase for the plants begins in June and continues throughout September. Some of the varieties get into blooming phase in Spring while some don’t start blooming until fall. Since spring brings strong wind, anemone flowers are also called windflowers.

Narilathaor naked woman flower

Part of the internet hoax, narilathaor liyathambara flowers took everyone by surprise. The story doing rounds on the internet was of the flowers that grow only in the Himalayan region and once in 20 years. What’s more surprising is that the flowers take the shape of a naked woman upon maturation. However, there is no scientific data or research to back the claim and only pictures on the social media that couldn’t be verified.

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