An alpine flower, the Edelweiss is instantly recognizable, for its wooly leaves and star-like blooms. They are scattered naturally in the Alps, only growing wild in altitudes between 5,900 and 9,800 feet.
As you might expect, Edelweiss is a very cold hardy plant, tolerant of high winds and tough, rocky soil, all of which it has evolved to adapt to within its natural habitat.
As a slow-growing perennial, you’ll have to wait awhile until it flowers, but the wait is definitely worth it.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Edelweiss
Edelweiss flowers have long been used as a symbol of devotion, so much so that people used to scale the alps just to pick the flowers for their loved ones.
This led to quite a lot of deaths, and eventually, the plants became threatened, as the amount of flowers picked were more than could be reproduced, and in 1878 a law was passed to make them protected.
Classified as both Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale, and Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum it’s part of the sunflower plant family, Asteraceae, and grows naturally in limestone soil.
Traditionally, it’s been cultivated for its medicinal use to treat abdominal and respiratory complaints.
In the wild, the flowers can reach as tall as 20cm or be as short as 3cm, but when cultivated as an ornamental plant (see also Top 21 Ornamental Plants To Grow In Your Garden) in less fierce conditions, it can reach heights of 40cm.
While the wild flowers look fully white at first glance, as you get closer, you’ll notice each flower is made up of about six yellow florets, surrounded by white bracts in two layers.
These striking flowers appear as early as July, well into September. As the season goes on, the white bracts get less elongated and become thicker, the florets in the middle opening out.
How To Grow Edelweiss Flowers
Provided you live somewhere that gets some cold temperatures, Edelweiss flowers are very easy to look after, but like with any plant, you do need to mimic its native conditions to a certain extent.
Now that doesn’t mean dumping a load of ice on your Edelweiss to bring the temperature down, but you do need to provide it with the right soil, and the right amount of light in order to get it to thrive.
Position & Planting
The first thing you need to get right is the soil. It needs to be well-draining soil, full of grit or gravel, which will help drainage, as soggy soil will rot the plant.
The Edelweiss needs a neutral soil in order to thrive, and because it grows naturally in limestone, you could also add this to the soil, if you need to bring the pH level up.
You can place the plant in either full or partial sunlight, but you will get more flowers if it is in as much sun as possible, produced through the later days of spring into the summer months.
The hairs covering the plant help protect it from UV rays, so your edelweiss should be fine in full sunlight without the protection of taller, neighboring plants.
It does well in both containers and in beds, where you can use it as a ground cover, or to brighten up any space.
When to Plant Edelweiss
You can start off seeds in early spring, either indoors or outdoors. When you introduce the small plants to the outside, do it in stages, so you don’t shock the plant, as you would with any plant you plan on planting outside.
Leave it outside for a few hours, and return it to its original place at night, leaving it out a little longer each time, and this way it will acclimatize gently.
As Edelweiss is an alpine, and it’s evolved to withstand hugely low temperatures, planting it in a hot climate is not a good idea. Unfortunately, in hot, dry conditions, it will just die.
If you are lucky enough to live somewhere hot, there are plenty of other plants to choose from which will give your garden just-as-stunning displays, with plenty of symbolism to match.
In terms of USDA hardiness zones, 4 to 7 is ideal, as this plant requires cold temperatures and strong winds in order to grow properly.
When to Water Edelweiss
The most watering you’ll need to do is when you’re introducing the plant into its new home. Make sure to water it thoroughly, and hold off on watering it again until the soil is dry.
Check before watering by putting a finger into the soil, as deep as you can. If the soil that covers your finger is still wet, it’s not time to water.
You’ll need to keep an eye on it for its first year, watering when needed, as the roots are slow to establish, and need this extra water in order to help them settle into the soil.
Once established, they will take care of themselves, and will only need watering during dry spells. Just make sure that the soil is dry before you do, as Edelweiss is vulnerable to root rot.
Should You Feed Edelweiss?
You don’t need to feed Edelweiss at all.
It’s best to save your fertilizer for more hungry plants, such as tomatoes, dahlias, sweet peas, roses, and fruit crops, as fertilizer can stop the Edelweiss plant from growing properly.
Don’t forget, it’s adapted to some of the harshest conditions in the alps, where the soil isn’t very fertile, so feeding an Edelweiss plant can shock it, or cause it to grow more leaves and no flowers at all.
Edelweiss Frequently Asked Questions
Is Edelweiss a Rare Plant?
The wild version used to be, but thanks to its protection laws, it’s now classified as ‘least concern’. It’s still fairly rare, but it’s no longer on the threatened species list.
There have been cultivated varieties, which, while fairly new, are still more readily available, and you can buy these for your own garden without any trouble.
How do you Propagate Edelweiss?
You can propagate Edelweiss by dividing clumps of the plant. You should only do this every couple of years, not only to help keep the growth vigorous, but also because the plant itself is short-lived.
Do this in spring. To make it easier, dig the area around the plant. This will loosen the soil, and help free up those tough roots. Ease the whole plant from the ground, and place it in a wheelbarrow (see also Garden Tools To Make Your Life Easier).
You can use two garden forks to split it, or your shovel and a pair of garden clippers. It’s a little easier to use the forks, placing both in the middle of the clump, facing away from each other.
Pry the clumps apart, and discard any rotting roots or foliage. Replant the two divisions, one in its original place, the other wherever you’d like to put it, as long as it suits the conditions mentioned above.
Is it Illegal to Pick Edelweiss?
In most countries where it can be naturally found, it is illegal to pick edelweiss flowers.
This has helped stop its extinction, and while it is now no longer threatened, the laws have remained in place to make sure it stays that way.
If you do want to pick edelweiss flowers, you should grow them yourself. It is a plant that’s easily available, and as long as you live somewhere which gets cold temperatures, it should do just fine.
Are Edelweiss Flowers Scented?
Yes, they are fragranced. Edelweiss flowers have a lovely sweet scent, but it’s not hugely strong, and it’s rarely used in perfumery.
The best way to take advantage of its scent is to grow it yourself, around patios, windowsills, and doorways. Edelweiss flowers also make great cut flowers, so you can bring this sweetness indoors, too.