Edelweiss: the Garden Plant Inspired by a Song!

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Edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale alpinum). Photo: J&Konrad, flickr.com

EDELWEISS
Leontopodium nivale alpinum

Dimensions: 6 to 14 in (10–40 cm) high × 8 to 14 in (20–40 cm) wide
Exposure: ☀️
Soil: well drained, gravelly, slightly moist to somewhat dry, not too rich
Flowering Season: June-July
Multiplication: division, seeds
Uses: flower bed, border, bed, rockery, low wall, container, xerophytic garden, cut flower, dried flower, medicinal plant
Associations: pinks, dwarf grasses, houseleeks, gentians
Hardiness zones: 3–7

There are more than fifty species of Leontopodium (the name means “lion’s paw” because the flower bracts look like claws) distributed throughout the alpine and arctic zones of Eurasia, but only one is commonly cultivated: the alpine edelweiss (L. nivale alpinum, most often sold under its former name, L. alpinum), native to the Alps and other mountains throughout Europe. 

Edelweiss is the German common name and means “noble white”. In Italy, it’s known as “stella alpina”: star of the Alps.

Most of us first heard about the edelweiss in the movie The Sound of Music,. Photo: abcnews.go.com

The plant was popularized by the eponymous song from the musical The Sound of Music, written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, which means more people know the song than have seen the plant, as it remains relatively rare in gardens … and not all of us have scoured the Alps looking for it. 

Despite the popular belief that the edelweiss is the floral emblem of Austria, that isn’t quite true. That role falls to the alpine gentian: Gentiana alpina. It is, however, the official floral emblem of neighboring Switzerland. But Rogers and Hammerstein were really not mistaken in choosing the plant as the theme of their song about Austrian nationalism, as it features on Austrian coinage and stamps and is the insignia of Austria’s alpine troops.

The real flowers (in the center) are rather insignificant, but the fuzzy white bracts that surround them really do give the impression of a “flower of snow”. Photo: seedcorner.com

The plant forms a tuft of erect, outward-arching stems bearing lance-shaped leaves covered with white hairs, giving the leaves a silver-gray appearance. The inflorescence consists of a cluster of five to six small flower heads made up of tiny florets that are woolly white in bud, but creamy yellow when they open. What catches the eye, however, is the collar of white woolly bracts that surrounds the flower head, usually mistaken for the flower’s petals.

It is an absolutely stunning plant when discovered during a hike in the Alps, but sometimes disappointing in cultivation, as the bracts tend to turn grayish rather than white when soaked with rain and are often stained by particles of soil as well. To keep them clean, cover the soil around the plant with a layer of fine gravel … and while you’re at it, you might want to choose dark gravel, as that will bring out the beautiful silvery gray of the foliage and the sparkling whiteness of the bracts.

As a child, I always had the impression that edelweiss was rare and extremely difficult to grow, perhaps nearly impossible to cultivate outside of the Austrian and Swiss Alps. But in fact, it’s reasonably easy: not rudbeckia or coreopsis easy, but something any serious temperate-climate gardener ought to be able to handle. 

Edelweiss is ideal for rock gardens. Photo: http://www.jparkers.co.uk

Edelweiss prefers full sun or only the very lightest shade and perfectly drained soil. You might want to mix about one third fine gravel into your usual soil to replicate alpine conditions. It grows well in alkaline soils, but adapts to moderately acid ones as well. It will tolerate drought once established, although first-year plants are still quite fragile.

The plant is often said to be “short-lived,” but this is especially the case when it’s grown in a regular flower bed in rich, fairly moist soil. (And yes, that can be done.) But if you try to recreate its natural environment, that is, alpine conditions, edelweiss can live for many years. It especially likes cool summers, obviously not something every gardener can provide. It may self-sow to a certain degree when it likes your garden, but not to the point of becoming invasive.

Edelweiss fairly easy to grow from seed (and no, you don’t need to give it a cold treatment), but you can also multiply it by division.

Where to find it? Your local garden center may not carry edelweiss (mine doesn’t), but it’s common enough in specialized alpine nurseries and many seed companies offer seeds. You can even find seeds on eBay and Amazon.

Varieties

Leontopodium nivale alpinum ‘Everest’. Photo: Fleuroselect

Leontopodium nivale alpinum ‘Everest’: dwarf variety. Sometimes blooms the first year from seed. Fleuroselect winner. 7–8cm x 8–10 cm. Zones 3–7.

Leontopodium alpinum ‘Mignon’: more compact than the species. 10–20cm x 20–30 cm. Zonea 3–7.

Only January, Yet Already Time to Sow Seeds?

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It’s only January! Surely it’s too soon to sow seeds? Source: worldartsme.com, rdkate.blogspot.ca & mzayat. com

The new year has barely begun, yet now and over the coming month it’s already time to start certain seeds indoors.

This is a very select group of especially slow-to-mature plants. January is far too early for most seeds (think March or April instead), but you need about four to five months of indoor culture to bring the following plants to the right state of growth for outdoor planting.

  1. Agastache (Agastache foeniculum)
  2. Datura (Datura metel)
  3. Fairy Snapdragon (Chaenorrhinum origanifolium, syn. glaerosum)
  4. Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflora)
  5. Spike dracaena or cabbage palm (Cordyline australis, syn. indivisa)
  6. Tritome (Kniphofia )
  7. Tuberous Begonia (Begonia × tuberhybrida)

No Easy Feat!

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Artificial light is almost essential for seeds started in January. Source: laidbackgardener. blog

Starting seed in January in the Northern Hemisphere is not simple. The days are short, the sun is weak and, in many areas, the weather is gray more often than sunny, meaning light is seriously lacking. Also, temperatures in front of the average windowsill are cool, yet almost all seeds need warmth—and fairly even temperatures—to germinate well. As a result, you pretty much have to start these under artificial lights, such as fluorescent or LED plant lights, and in the warmest part of your home.

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Germinate the seedlings under glass, possibly over a heating pad, as above. Source: www.amazon.fr

Always start winter-sown seeds “under glass” (under some sort of transparent covering) to maintain high humidity and stable temperatures and in a room that is at least moderately warm (72 to 75˚ F/21 to 24˚ C) or place the seed containers on a heating pad (one specifically designed for plants). Use a timer to set the day length of your lamp at 14 hours to simulate the long days of summer and place the containers of freshly sown seeds about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) below the lamp. Now, wait patiently for germination to occur. (One reason that certain seeds need early sowing is that they are slow to germinate.)

Seeds That Require a Cold Treatment

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Many tree, shrub and perennial seeds need a cold treatment before they will germinate. Source: laidbackgardener. blog

January (or December or February) is also a good time to start seeds that need a cold treatment (cold stratification) to germinate well. This group includes most trees and shrubs from cold and temperate climates, but also many perennials and even a few annuals.

These seeds will not germinate until they have received a given number of days of cool, moist conditions, from as little as one or two weeks to four months or more, information you would (hopefully) find on the seed pack.

The number of weeks given is the minimum requirement for that species, but there is no maximum. So, if you keep seeds that need, say, a two-week treatment in the cold for two months, that’s not a problem. That’s nice to know, because the information on the minimum cold treatment for seed X is not always available, especially for seed you harvested yourself. If you don’t know, I suggest giving seeds of perennials a six to eight-week cold treatment: that’s usually enough. For trees and shrubs, I’d recommend three months.

Simply sow these seeds in a container as you would any other, then seal them inside a clear plastic bag and pop them into the refrigerator or cold room for at least the minimum number of weeks. Afterwards, move them to a warm, well-lit spot, on a windowsill or under lights, for germination to start.

100 Seeds That Need a Cold Treatment

Here are 100 plants that germinate best with a cold treatment (there are thousands of others!). Check the seed envelope or the seed supplier’s web site for more information.

  1. Abies (fir)
  2. Acer (maple, mosts species)
  3. Aconitum (aconite)
  4. Alchemilla (lady’s mantle)
  5. Allium (ornemental onion)
  6. Amelanchier (serviceberry)
  7. Aquilegia (columbine)
  8. Asclepias (milkweed, some species)
  9. Astrantia (masterwort)
  10. Baptisia (false indigo)
  11. Buddleia (butterfly bush)
  12. Caltha (marsh marigold)
  13. Caryopteris (bluebeard)
  14. Cercis canadensis (redbud)
  15. Chelone (turtlehead)
  16. Cimicifuga (bugbane)
  17. Clematis (clematis)
  18. Cornus (dogwood)
  19. Corydalis (fumitory)
  20. Delphinium (delphinium)
  21. Dicentra spectabilis, now Lamprocapnos spectabilis (bleeding heart)
  22. Dictamnus (gas plant)
  23. Dodecatheon (shooting star)
  24. Echinacea (purple coneflower)
  25. Eremurus (foxtail lily)
  26. Eryngium (sea holly)
  27. Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed)
  28. Filipendula (meadowsweet)
  29. Forsythia (forsythia)
  30. Fragaria (strawberry)
  31. Fuchsia (fuchsia)
  32. Gentiana (gentian)
  33. Geranium (perennial geranium, cranesbill)
  34. Goniolimon (German statice)
  35. Helianthemum (rock rose)
  36. Helianthus (perennial sunflower)
  37. Heliopsis (false sunflower)
  38. Helleborus (Christmas rose)
  39. Hemerocallis (daylily)
  40. Heuchera (coral bells)
  41. Hibiscus moscheutos (perennial hibiscus)
  42. Hypericum (St. John’s wort)
  43. Iberis (perennial candytuft)
  44. Ilex* (holly)
  45. Incarvillea (hardy gloxinia)
  46. Iris (iris, many species)
  47. Kirengeshoma (waxbells)
  48. Knautia (knautia)
  49. Lathyrus (perennial sweet pea)
  50. Lavandula (lavender)
  51. Leontopodium (edelweiss)
  52. Lobelia (hardy lobelia)
  53. Lonicera (honeysuckle)
  54. Macleaya (plume poppy)
  55. Magnolia* (magnolia)
  56. Malus (apple, crabapple)
  57. Mazus (creeping mazus)
  58. Mertensia (Virginia bluebells)
  59. Muscari (grape hyacinth)
  60. Myrrhis odorata (sweet cicely)
  61. Nepeta (catmint)
  62. Oenothera (evening Primrose)
  63. Opuntia* (beavertail cactus)
  64. Paeonia* (pivoine)
  65. Penstemon (beard-tongue)
  66. Persicaria (fleeceflower)
  67. Persicaria orientalis, syn. Polygonum orientale (kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate)
  68. Phlox (phlox)
  69. Physalis (Chinese lantern)
  70. Picea (spruce)
  71. Platycodon (balloon flower)
  72. Primula (primrose)
  73. Pulsatilla (pasque flower)
  74. Quercus (red and black oaks)
  75. Ranunculus (buttercup)
  76. Ratibida (prairie coneflower)
  77. Rosa (rose)
  78. Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
  79. Sambucus (elderberry)
  80. Sanguinaria (bloodroot)
  81. Sanguisorba (burnet)
  82. Saponaria (soapwort)
  83. Saxifraga (saxifrage)
  84. Scabiosa (pincushion flower)
  85. Sedum (stonecrop)
  86. Sempervivum (houseleek)
  87. Sidalcea (prairie mallow)
  88. Staphylea* (bladdernut)
  89. Stokesia (Stokes’ aster)
  90. Syringa (lilac)
  91. Thalictrum (meadow-rue)
  92. Tiarella (foamflower)
  93. Tricyrtis (toad-lily)
  94. Trillium* (trillium)
  95. Trollius (globeflower)
  96. Tsuga (hemlock)
  97. Vernonia (ironweed)
  98. Veronica (speedwell)
  99. Viola (violets)
  100. Vitis (grape, some species)
*Some species in this genus require a double cold stratification: that is, two cold treatments separated by warm one, to germinate well. Try two to three months of cold followed by two months of warmth, then again two to three months of cold. When you expose them to warmth after these repeated treatments, most will germinate quite readily.

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