Alpine Flowers: A Mountain Walker’s Guide

Above Refuge Bonatti, Tour Du Mont Blanc | Ray Wilkinson
Above Refuge Bonatti, Tour Du Mont Blanc | Ray Wilkinson

The Alps are full of mountain flowers and especially in the summer months, you’ll very likely be rewarded with the sights of many colourful versions. When you’re walking in the Alps, whether in France, Italy, Austria or Switzerland, bring a mobile device like a mobile phone or tablet with you, or print this article so you can look up a little information on the species that you’ll see along the way.

 

Yellow Gentian

Gentiana lutea

When does it flower? June-July

Where can I find the plant? There are many variants of gentians, we especially like the yellow gentian. The plant can grow as old as 70-100 years and the flowering part of the plant dies around July-August. This alpine flower is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe and grows in grassy alpine pastures. Other names by which the plant goes are 'bitter root', 'genciana', or 'bitterwort'. 

 

Alpine Pasque Flower

Pulsatilla alpina

When does it flower?  Very early in the season, May-June, sometimes springing up from under the snow

Where can I find the plant? The alpine pasque flower is native to the mountain ranges of central and southern Europe and you can find the flower in mountains all the way between Spain and up to Croatia. Besides the white one, there is a yellow variant of this mountain flower. Look at rocky areas or in dry stone wall gaps to find the flower.

 

Cotton Grass

Eriophorum

When does it flower? April-June

Where can I find the plant? The leaves of the plant look like grass and its flower looks very similar to a cotton wool ball, hence its name. When you come across peat or acidic soils, open wetland, or moorland on your walk in the Alps, there’s a good chance that you can find a patch of cotton grass.

 

Edelweiss

Leontopodium alpinum

When does it flower? July – September  

Where can I find the plant? Edelweiss is quite a special mountain flower widely used as a symbol for alpinism. Edelweiss normally grows between 1800-3000 metres altitude and in rocky limestone places. The alpine flower is a protected plant in France, Switzerland and Italy among others.

 

Tour de Mont Blanc or Alpine Pass Route? Which alpine walk is for you? Find the answer here >>

 

Harebells

Campanula rotundifolia

When does it flower? July – September

Where can I find the plant? We believe that the harebell is perhaps one of the most attractive of all wildflowers. Look out for the mountain plant on dry grasslands, in the valleys or on heaths.

 

Heartsease

Viola tricolor

When does it flower? April – September

Where can I find the plant? The wild kind of heartsease is quite rare and blooms yellow and white, it appears in a white or purple form and you may know it from your garden at home in the name of wild pansy or love-lies-bleeding. But did you know that it also is a powerful medicinal herb? It can benefit for example people with skin problems, respiratory problems or chest infections.

 

Martagon Lily

Lilium martagon

When does it flower? It only flowers a short period between late June and mid-July

Where can I find the plant? This plant is a Eurasian variety of the lily and it grows as far east as Mongolia. It’s also known as Turk’s cap lily, Lily of Istanbul, Sultan Lily or Dragon Lily. You can only see the Martagon Lily from late June to mid-July and plants can grow as high as 2 metres.

 

Pincushion Saxifrage

Saxifraga eschscholtzii

When does it flower? April - June

Where can I find the plant? Saxifrage is a very common alpine wildflower that appears in as many as 400+ shapes and forms. The plant is also known as saxifrages or rockfoils. Often you can find them on old grassland, especially on chalk or limestone soil.

 

Cobweb Houseleek

Sempervivum arachnoideum

When does it flower? July

Where can I find the plant? You can find the cobweb houseleek (or cobweb sedum) between rocks that are quite moist. They form mats that cover up the rocks and are happy in full sunlight. Especially in the summer months, when it flowers, the colour of this wildflower is pinkish and reddish. 

 

Rosebay Willowherb

Chamaenerion angustifolium

When does it flower? July – September

Where can I find the plant? Usually the Rosebay Willowherb grows in rocky places or woodland clearings. It is common to find the plant in places where the ground was burned.

 

Vanilla Orchid

Nigritella nigra bzw. rubra

When does it flower? July

Where can I find the plant? It is quite likely to find the almost black or purple vanilla orchid in grassy, limestone meadows above the forest limit. The more grassy variant that we saw on one of our walks on the Haute Route is quite a rare variety. What’s special about it? Smell this wildflower and you understand where it got its name!

 

Alpine Crocus

Colchicum alpinum

When does it flower? Around August until October

Where can I find the plant? A native flower to the Alps, you can find the crocus on mountain grassland in France, Switzerland as well as Italy. Besides the obviously pink version in the picture above, you can find paler rosy/pink versions of the flower.


See mountain flowers on one of our alpine walking holidays in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria

alpine, alpine walks, flowers, botany, alps, nature

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