Alpine Flowers

The following flower descriptions have been written by our former President, Allan Hartley, for publication in the AAC(UK) Newsletter.


Alpenrose [Rostblattrige Alpenrose]

Alpine Aster [Aster alpinus]

Alpine Moon Daisy [Leucanthemopsis alpina]

Alpine Ragwort [Senecio alpinus Alpen-Greiskraut/Kreuzkraut]

Arnika [Arnika montana]

Bearded Bellflower [Campanula barbata]  

Black Vanilla Orchid [Nigritella nigra]

Butterball globe flower [Trollius europaeus]

Dwarf Alpine Soldanella [Soldanella]

Dwarf mountain pine [Pinus mugu]

Field Scabious and Bladder Campion [Knautia arvensis and Silene vulgaris]

House Leek [Sempervivum]

Meadow cranesbill [Geranium pratense]

Mossy Saxifrage [Saxifraga bryoides]

Mountain Aven [Dryas octopetala Silberwurz]

Mountain vetch [Anthyllis vulneraria]

Orange Hawkweed [Pilosella aurantiaca]

Rosette Garland or Fairy Garland Flower [Daphne striata]

Round Headed Rampion [Phyteuma orbiculare]

Silver thistle, dwarf carline thistle [Carlina acaulis]

Spring Gentian [Gentiana Verna]

Spotted Gentian (Gentiana puntcata)     

Sticky Primrose [Primula glutinosa]

Valerian [Valeriana officinalis Baldrian]


Alpen Rose or rusty-leaved Alpenrose

Rostblattrige Alpenrose  Rhododendron ferrugineum

Photo taken in Obergurgl at 2,000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

This evergreen shrub grows just above the tree line at 1,600 – 2,200m on the acid soils associated with pine.  It is found in the Alps, Pyrenees, Switzerland and northern Apennines and will be in much evidence on alpine trails throughout the summer but particularly in June.   Part of the Rhododendron genus, it can grow up to 1m tall and produces colourful clusters of small flowers which vary from pink to bright red.  The underside of the leaves are covered in rust-coloured spots,  hence the German name Rostblattrige and the Latin name ferrugineum.  The shrub has flourished in areas which are now subject to less grazing.

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Alpine Aster

Aster alpinus   Alpenaster

Photo taken on Nordkette, Innsbruck at 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

The Aster alpinus has a solitary flower but is often found in groups.   The large rosette is usually violet but may also be pink, dark purple or off-white with central yellow florets.  It grows to about 15 – 30 cm and usually flowers in late spring or early summer.  It likes sandy clay pasture and dry sunny scree slopes, and is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

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Arnika montana

Photo taken on the Penkenjoch, Zillertal – Copyright Allan Hartley

Arnika has tall stems 20-26cm high usually with a single flower head which is yellow and about 5cm in diameter.  It can grow in nutrient poor meadows up to nearly 3000m. This plant has medicinal uses but can be poisonous if large quantities are ingested.  The roots contain derivatives of thymol.  In the Tyrol it is used as an anti-inflammatory lotion.  Collect the flower heads and dry them.  Stuff the flower heads into a bottle of schnapps (the cure all for all illnesses)  and expose to sunlight for two weeks.  Then place in darkness for three months.  It can then be used for general aches and pains, sore feet, muscles, etc.  The longer it is stored the better it gets.

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Alpine Moon Daisy

Leucanthemopsis alpina       Alpen-Margerite

Alpine Moon Daisy Leucanthemopsis, Photo taken at 2350m near Rudolfshütte, Hohe Tauern by Allan Hartley – Copyright Allan Hartley

Native to to the mountain regions of France, the Apennine Peninsula, Central Europe, eastern Central Europe, the Balkan Peninsula and East Europe.  The alpine moon daisy belongs to the aster family and is a perennial.  It grows 5 – 10cm high with a rosette of simple leaves, each rosette bearing one flower.  The flowers are white with a vivid yellow core.  They like gravelly, stony ground or gritty loam which is relatively dry and tolerate temperatures down to -23°C.  There are several German names including Alpen-Margerite, Alpen Wuchenblume and Zwerg-Margerite.

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Alpine Ragwort

Senecio alpinus Alpen-Greiskraut/Kreuzkraut

Photographed near Langenfeld, Ötztal Alps at 1200m by Allan Hartley – Copyright Allan Hartley

Alpine ragwort belongs to the daisy family.  It likes rocky ground, streamsides and wood margins at altitudes up to 2000m (and even up to 2030m near the summit of the Kanzelwand in the Allgäu Alps).  It flowers July to September with single yellow flowers on a long stem and is pollinated by flies and moths.  The alkaloids it contains can be poisonous to cattle and horses which avoid eating it because of its bitter taste.  Traditionally it has been used medicinally but there are serious safety concerns. 

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Bearded Bellflower

 Campanula barbata Bärtige Glockenblume

Photo taken in Radurschltal valley (2100m), Ötztal – Copyright Allan Hartley

The Bearded Bellflower is a perennial belonging to the Campanula genus.  It gets its name from the bell-shaped flowers (pale blue to deep blue) which are hairy inside, blooming from June to August.  It can reach a height of 20 – 30cm and the flowers rise on a long stem from a leaf rosette of grey-green leaves.  It is only found in Norway, the European Alps and Central Europe at a height of 1100 – 2600m and likes open mountain meadows.

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Black Vanilla Orchid

Nigritella nigra

Photo taken at Obergurgl (1800m), Ötztal – Copyright Allan Hartley

A relative of the orchid family growing up to 150mm tall, it is characterised by its dark red flower that gives off a strong smell of vanilla. It thrives on moist sunny slopes, at low altitude in Scandinavia but from 1000 – 2800m further south.   Nigritella is  deciduous, surviving the winter through corms.   Long lanceolate green leaves grow at the bottom of the stem with some small leaves at the stop of the stem.   Endangered and fully protected.  

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Butterball globe flower

Trollius europaeus

Photo taken in the Stubai Alpson Kreuzjoch 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

This tall, erect perennial is a member of the Ranunculaceae family and can grow up to 70cm tall.  Unlike meadow buttercup the deeply incised palmate leaves are smooth rather than downy.  The bright yellow flower, up to 5cm in diameter with 5 to 15 sepals, remain closed so that the flower resembles a ball of butter.  The flowers bloom between June and August with seeds ripening between July and September; these are distributed in the dung of grazing animals which appear to be unaffected by the seed toxins.  Native to northern and central Europe, the globe flower prefers the alkaline soils of damp meadows, marshy gullies and lake margins which provide sunny but sheltered positions.

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Dwarf Alpine Soldanella


Taken on Kreuzjoch (Stubai Alps) at 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

One of the primula (Primulaceae) family, the genus Soldanella includes about 15 species of flowering plants native to European mountains.  The Soldanella alpina grows up to 3000m in damp snow beds and is one of the last flowers to appear when the snow melts.   It is a tiny, delicate flower just 50mm high, usually with two flowers per stem.  The name Soldanella dates from the 16th century and comes from Italian soldo which was a medieval coin, so Soldanella means little coins.

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Dwarf mountain pine

Pinus mugu

Photo taken on Kreuzjoch, Stubai Alps, at 2210m – Copyright Allan Hartley

The Dwarf mountain pine has many different names as it is found in many countries from the Pyrenees to Central Europe:  creeping pine, scrub mountain pine or Swiss mountain pine.  The Dwarf mountain pine is common on the border zone where the forest starts to give way to the upper alpine zone, usually between 1000 – 2200m.  In the north it can grow at 200m and in the Pyrenees and Bulgaria up to 2700m.  The cones and buds can be dried, boiled and mixed with sugar to form pine syrup.  It likes alkaline ground and limestone.  Normally considered as a shrub 2-3m high, it can develop into a much larger tree, sometimes confused with the Arolla pine (PInus cembra).

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Field Scabious and Bladder Campion

Knautia arvensis and Silene vulgaris

Photo taken in an open meadow near Fulpmes. Stubaital – Copyright Allan Hartley

Field scabious is a perennial plant that grows between 25 and 100 cm.  It prefers grassy places and dry soils and flowers between June and October.    When in flower it attracts large numbers of bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies.   Species of scabious were used to treat scabies, and may other afflictions of the skin including sores caused by the bubonic plague.  The word scabies comes from the Latin word for “scratch” (scabere).   Another name for this plant is Gipsy Rose.

Bladder campion is a member of the Pink Family.   It is native to Europe  but is widespread in North America where it is considered a weed.   It is a medium height perennial with distinctly waxy grey-green foliage with white flowers and a bladder-like calyx, and flowers between May to August.    It is usually found on well drained soils which have been disturbed, like rough pasture, road verges and the edge of arable fields.   The young shoots and leaves are used as food in many parts of Europe, especially in Spain, Crete and Cyprus where it is now sold in the market.

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House Leek


Photo taken not far from the Dresdner Hütte – Copyright Allan Hartley

The house leek is a member of the Stonecrop family which has water-storing evergreen leaves which grow in rosettes.  The Latin name means ‘forever alive’ and the specimen illustrated is Sempervivum tectorum as they were traditionally grown on house roofs ‘to ward off lightning’ and do not require much water.  The rosettes split off to form new plants but, after several years growth a flower ‘stem’ grows up to 10cm high topped by a pinkish flower which produces small seeds.  There are many different species, sub-species and hybrids within the Sempervivum genus with evocative names like Jupiter’s beard, St Patrick’s cabbage and ‘welcome-home-husband-but-not-if-drunk’!  The juice has been used in herbal medicine as an astringent and treatment for skin and eye diseases.

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Meadow cranesbill

Geranium pratense

Photo taken near Franz Senn Hűtte, Stubai Alps, at 1800m – Copyright Allan Hartley

This is a herbaceous perennial most commonly seen in chalky and well-drained areas.   It is a hardy plant which can survive in temperatures as low as -20˚C.  It grows up to 75cm tall and broad, forming a small bush.  The hairy stems have leaf rosettes with 5 – 7 lobes.  In bloom between June and August, the flowers have five large petals which taper to a point and vary in colour from pale blue to purple-blue with paler veins and a white stigma in the centre, with 10 stamen consisting of pale purple filaments and a dark purple anther.  The seed pods look like birds’ bills and this is what gives the flower its name.  Traditionally it was used to cure or treat cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids and nosebleeds.  It is attractive to butterflies and pollinating insects but particularly to bees.  They in turn attract a large number of wild birds.

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Mossy Saxifrage

Saxifraga bryoides

Photo taken in the Stubai Alps not far from the Dresdner hut – Copyright Allan Hartley

A common perennial and evergreen plant that graces the majority of mountain tracks, it is the mountaineer of plants since it likes rocky and stony places with lots of sunshine.  Found in small groups clinging to rock crevices it’s quite a small plant, just 25mm high, with five white petals arranged in a star shaped formation contrasted with a centre which is dotted with yellow spots.  It flowers in July and August.  In winter the leaves curl together to conserve energy.

Although it is most common in the Arctic tundra, mossy saxifrage occurs between 1900m and 3000m in the Alps, Balkans, the Pyrenees and the Carpathian mountains.  Protected throughout the Alps.

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Mountain Aven

Dryas octopetala Silberwurz

Photo taken on Kreuzjoch (2000m), Stubai Alps – Copyright Allan Hartley

A member of the Rosaceae family, this carpeting shrub usually has 8 petals.  It is widespread throughout mountainous areas, particularly on sunny, limestone outcrops.  It is a common plant throughout the Arctic and European highlands.  It has horizontal rooting branches, leathery leaves and woody stems which produce an attractive white flower.  The style turns into feathery hairs at the top of the fruit and this helps with wind dispersal.  The national flower of Iceland, the leaves can be used as a herbal tea.  Mountain Aven is protected and is one of the 20 species listed under the ÖAV Vielfacht bewegt biodiversity programme.

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Mountain vetch [Anthyllis vulneraria]

Photo taken at Kreuzjoch (2210m), Kalkkögel, Stubai Alps – Copyright Allan Hartley

This modest plant has many names including kidney vetch and woundwort (Wundklee) while the local name is Katzenprankert.  Growing up to 40cm in height, the stem is usually branched with many yellow flower heads while the leaves are slightly hairy on both sides.  It flowers between June and September and forms legumes which ripen between July and October.   It likes dry grasslands and stony limestone ground up to 3000m in altitude.  IN Europe it can be found from Iceland to the Mediterranean.  

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Orange Hawkweed

Pilosella aurantiaca

Photo taken on Penkenjoch, Zillertal, 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

Also known as Fox-and-cubs, Tawny Hawkweed, Devil’s Paintbrush, Grim-the-collier this flower belongs to the Asteraceae family native to alpine regions of central and southern Europe, where it is protected in several regions.   It is a low-growing plant with shallow fibrous roots and a basal rosette of elliptical to lanceolate leaves 5–20 cm long and  1–3 cm broad. The flowering stem is usually leafless or with just one or two small leaves. The stem and leaves are covered with short stiff hairs usually blackish in colour. The stems may reach a height of 60 cm and have 2–25 flowerheads,  each 1–2½ cm diameter, bundled together at the end of short pedicels. All parts of the plant exude a milky juice like dandelions.

It is sometimes confused with Hieracium aurantiacum but Hieracium only reproduce by seed and only have one kind of (sexual) seed.   P . aurantiaca may produce both sexual and asexual seeds and also reprod uces by stolons (like strawberries) and rhizomes.   P . aurantiaca  leaves have  smooth margins while P. Hieracium leaves are dentate or deeply divided.  Orange hawkweed is widely grown as an ornamental garden plant because of the attractive colour of the flowers but seeds can invade roadsides, gravel pits, pastures and meadows.  As a result it is on the noxious plant list as an invasive species in at least 5 American states, British Columbia and Tasmania.

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Rosette Garland or Fairy Garland Flower

Daphne striata

Photo taken in the Tribulaun group – Copyright Allan Hartley

This ground hugging bush grows up to 300mm high. It does not have a flower but four petaloid sepals with a tubular base which grow in a cluster of 8 to 12 ‘flowers’.  These are hermaphrodite with both stamens and ovaries.  It likes chalky and stony grassland at 1200 – 2800m and starts flowering very early in the spring.  Its berries are poisonous. Daphne striata is fully protected and quite rare.        

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Round Headed Rampion

Phyteuma orbiculare

Photo taken on the Kreuzjoch, Stubai Alps, at 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

Belonging to the Campanula family, this striking, complex flower is also known as the Devil’s Claw.   It likes open woods and meadows on sunny calcareous soils at an altitude of 600 -2400m and can be found from the Pyrenees to the Balkans, and also on the chalk grassland of the South Downs in the UK.  The average height is 20 – 50cm.  The violet-coloured flower is in fact an inflorescence comprising 15 – 30 flowers ‘like a sea anemone about to curl around an unlucky fly’.  The flowering period is from May to August and the fruit contains many small seeds.

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Silver thistle, dwarf carline thistle

Carlina acaulis

Taken above the Franz Senn Hütte, 2400m – Copyright Allan Hartley

The flower head consists of a corona of long, silver florets surrounding a yellow-brown disc of florets which contain the pollen. The head closes in wet weather to protect the pollen and, thus, this flower is also known as the weather thistle.  The rhizome was used in herbal medicine as a cold remedy as it contains essential oils and an antibacterial oxide.

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Spring Gentian

Gentiana Verna

Photo taken on the Kreuzjoch, Stubai Alps, at 2000m – Copyright Allan Hartley

This popular charming star shaped flower, with its vivid blue petals,  stands just 50mm tall and is one of the smallest of the gentian family.  It likes to populate south facing,  grassy and chalky slopes up to about 2600m and is one of the first flowers to appear when winter snow disappears.  It is a favourite of bumblebees which pollinate the flowers, but the seeds are often spread by ants.  Fully protected in many alpine countries.   In the UK it is only found in Teesdale and is the county flower of Durham!

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Spotted Gentian

Gentiana punctate / Tüpfel-Enzian and Punktierter Enzian

Photo taken on Gaislachjoch (1800m), near Sölden, Ötztal – Copyright Allan Hartley.

The spotted gentian is a member of the large Gentiana genus, possibly named after the Illyrian king Gentius, who is said to have discovered its medicinal uses. It grows in Central and Southeastern Europe at altitudes 1500−2600m. It is 20−60 cm tall and blooms between July and September.

The leaves and roots have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally and externally as liqueur or tea for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, skin, locomotor system, liver and bile, for paediatric problems, fever, flu, rheumatism and gout. Nowadays it is probably better known as an ingredient of Enzian Schnapps and the roots can be used to produce bitters such as Underberg.

The spotted gentian is one of the species being tracked by the ÖAV biodiversity study “Vielfalt bewegt! Alpenverein”.

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Sticky Primrose

Primula glutinosa

Photo taken on Tribulaun, Stubai  Alps – Copyright Allan Hartley

A delicate plant standing just 80mm high topped with a purple to violet flower head arranged around five notched petals.  It is one of the Primula family and is found on granitic (therefore acidic) rocks in the eastern and central Alps and in Croatia.  The leaves are fleshy with glandular hairs which is what makes it ‘sticky’.  It flowers in late spring and is often the first to colonise unfrozen ground after winter has passed.

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Valeriana officinalis Baldrian

Valerian officinalis Baldrian – Copyright Allan Hartley

Valeriana is a genus of flowering plants in the family Caprifoliaceae.  It contains many species, including the garden valerian, Valeriana officinalis. Some species are native to Europe, others to North America and South America (especially in Ecuador). It likes damp grasslands.

It is a perennial plant growing up to 1.5m tall, flowering in June and July.  The straight hollow stem is topped with a floral umbrella composed of many individual filaments which have a sweet smell, attracting many insects. The purple variety shown is unusual as most valerian flowers are white or pink.  The large, pointed, dark green leaves are hairy on the underside.

Valerian has been used as a medicine for over 2,000 years as a sedative and to relieve anxiety and is used in many common health.

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[Updated 14 October 2020]

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