High mountain plants were first described by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner in 1555 on his
explorations of the Alps. In later experiments, when European scientists tried planting alpine
plants at lower elevations and lowland plants in high mountains, they discovered that small
mountain plants have unique adaptations that allow them to withstand harsh mountain
environments. As a result of these early scientific studies in the Alps, the specially adapted plants found in mountains and tundra
areas of the world are now called ‘alpines’.
Edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale) is perhaps the most famous European alpine plant. The woolly white leaves and bracts (leaves that look like flower petals) help keep it warm and slow down water loss. Like a wool coat for humans, these adaptations help edelweiss plants survive in high elevations. Look for them in our Gardens where they usually bloom in July and August.