A garden in the clouds – the beauty of Alpine wildflowers

Alpine regions come alive in the summer time, and there’s no better example than Schnynige Platte in the Swiss Alps. Sandra recounts her ascent to a wildflower cornucopia in the clouds.

It’s warm and sunny as we chug up the steep mountain cog railway to Schynige Platte. The air is crisp and the views to the mountains spectacular. Its early July – midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere – and we can hear the clanking bells of large coffee coloured cows as they chew on the verdant alpine pasture. In the distance, haunting horns echo through the mountains as we climb through vegetation, and we are now well above the treeline at 2000 metres.

Important plants on this steep slope: Alpine aster, thistle, villous hawkweed, alpine kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch, hare's ear, clusius' gentian, edelweiss, bird's foot sedge, blue moor grass, common house leek, fescue, bentgrass.

Important plants on this steep slope: Alpine aster, thistle, villous hawkweed, alpine kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch, hare’s ear, clusius’ gentian, edelweiss, bird’s foot sedge, blue moor grass, common house leek, fescue, bentgrass.

Solitary Edelweiss. Photo - By Paul/Shutterstock.com

Solitary Edelweiss. Photo – By Paul/Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to see why Goethe was inspired by this extraordinary alpine area of Switzerland.

People have been intrigued with alpine wildflowers since the Golden Age of Alpinism in the second half of the 19th Century. The world’s first mountaineering club, the Alpine Club, was founded in London in 1857 and a few years later climbers first ascended the major Swiss mountains. Tourism in Switzerland began after these first ascents on major peaks. However, until the 20th century, touring had been exclusively for the rich British bourgeoisie.  Switzerland’s tourism shares its history with the development of transportation and resorts. The first tunnel constructed in the Alps was the Gotthard Rail Tunnel, built in 1881.

Pink alpine asters with white edelweiss are planted at the entrance to the Garden.

Pink alpine asters with white edelweiss are planted at the entrance to the Garden.

Where nutrients are plentiful vegetation may be extremely luxuriant. In one short mountain summer the fleshy stems grow tall, flower and produce seed.

Where nutrients are plentiful vegetation may be extremely luxuriant. In one short mountain summer the fleshy stems grow tall, flower and produce seed. Photo – Wen Billy/Shutterstock.com

Alpine hiking is popular across all of Europe. Here in Schynige Platte, it was 1893 when the cog wheel railway was built to take people up to see the famous trio of mountains, Eiiger, Monch and Jungfrau of the Bernese Oberland and to go hiking in summer to see wildflowers.

They’re profilic – so much so that the Botanical Alpine Garden was formed in 1927 when 8000 square metres of alpine pasture was fenced from grazing cows.

The Alpine Garden is run as a scientific botanical garden with the largest possible number of species and subspecies of alpine flora from Switzerland. Plants are displayed in their natural communities.

The Alpine Garden is run as a scientific botanical garden with the largest possible number of species and subspecies of alpine flora from Switzerland. Plants are displayed in their natural communities.

The meadows of rusty sedge and blue sesleria are magnificent, dotted with edelweiss, martagon lilies and yellow gentians.

The meadows of rusty sedge and blue sesleria are magnificent, dotted with edelweiss, martagon lilies and yellow gentians.

There are around 620 flowering plants to be found here above the treeline. They start to bloom in June and finish October with the climax in July. The garden consists of mostly natural plant communities that were there long before the garden was established. Particular attention is paid to endangered species.

Edelweiss require specific ecological conditions; climate, geology, soil composition, water and nutrient.

Edelweiss require specific ecological conditions; climate, geology, soil composition, water and nutrient. Photo – Krom1975/Shutterstock.com

From the distance, it looks very hostile to vegetation, however, on closer inspection, you can see many little plants that are well adapted to the location growing from small cracks and crevices in the rock. Alpine anemone (Pulsatilla alpine) has deeply divided, hairy leaves and more upright flowers than other species of Pulsatilla, which generally have drooping flowers. The white flowers are produced very early, often opening while still under snow cover. They have prominent yellow stamens. As with all pasque flowers, the flowers have a silky, hairy texture, and are followed by prominent seed heads which persist on the plant for many weeks

From the distance, it looks very hostile to vegetation, however, on closer inspection, you can see many little plants that are well adapted to the location growing from small cracks and crevices in the rock. Alpine anemone (Pulsatilla alpine) has deeply divided, hairy leaves and more upright flowers than other species of Pulsatilla, which generally have drooping flowers. The white flowers are produced very early, often opening while still under snow cover. They have prominent yellow stamens. As with all pasque flowers, the flowers have a silky, hairy texture, and are followed by prominent seed heads which persist on the plant for many weeks. Photo – Julie Kuznetsova/Shutterstock.com

Leontopodium alpinum (edelweiss) is a well-known mountain flower, belonging to the Asteraceae. The plant is unequally distributed and prefers rocky limestone places at about 1800–3000 m altitude.

Leontopodium alpinum (Edelweiss) is a well-known mountain flower, belonging to the Asteraceae. The plant is unequally distributed and prefers rocky limestone places at about 1800–3000 m altitude. Photo – Aleksandr Hunta/Shutterstock.com

Interesting Facts:

  • Altitude here varies from 1950 – 2000m
  • Snow-free period lasts approximately 150 days (early June to end October)
  • Temperature: The average annual temperature is approx +1°C (Interlaken, 570 m altitude: 7.5°C). Average temperature during growing period is a bit warmer – 8 – 9°C (Interlaken: 16.5°C)

We look forward to repeating our successful 2015 Alpine Europe, Austria and Switzerland Itinerary in 2016.

Lush grassy wild grasses in this rusty sedge scree on the steep slopes with loamy soil and sufficient water supply. Snow and turf can freeze together and if the layer is thick enough, it can slip away taking turf with it. Here you can find important species such as Alpine Anemone (Pulsatilla alpine).

Lush grassy wild grasses in this rusty sedge scree on the steep slopes with loamy soil and sufficient water supply. Snow and turf can freeze together and if the layer is thick enough, it can slip away taking turf with it. Here you can find important species such as Alpine Anemone (Pulsatilla alpine).

 

Comments (1)

  1. Wow, how beautiful. I’ve be3n to Switzerland but not done the alpine train trip. Thanks for the update. There are so many beautiful places to visit if only were aware and your postcards remind us of them.

Leave a Comment