As you set foot in the Alps, the seemingly infinite array of peaks spread out before you will most likely grab your immediate attention. I’ve been playing the peak identification game on hikes for many years, trying to name as many of the surrounding summits as possible. However, what’s right beneath my feet is something that should not go unnoticed. Bursts of colour from hundreds of wildflower species are one of Tirol’s simplest joys, found above tree line, on Alpine meadows, ridges and peaks. Typically, they bloom from late June through early August. For years, I have wanted to identify at least the most commonly found Alpine flowers of Tirol, but I have been postponing it from hiking season to hiking season. This year, finally, I have created my very own Alpine Wildflower Guide. This is a continuing collective work in progress and I’m happy for comments or feedback. The pictures were mostly taken in East Tirol (Virgental Valley) and in Karwendel Mountain Range.
Edelweiss: As a scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas, the plant has been used as a symbol for Alpinism, for rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps, and as a national symbol of Austria. The plant prefers rocky limestone places at about 1,500 – 3,000 meters altitude. Edelweiss is a protected plant in Austria.
Red Vanilla Orchid: Is a genus of flowering plants from the orchid family (Orchidaceae). It is an extremely rare orchid that grows on nutrient-meager/chalky soils at elevations above 1,500 meters.
Blue Monkshood: Is an herbaceous perennial plant with dark purple to bluish-purple, narrow oblong helmet-shaped flowers. Best grown in organically rich soils, monkshood is found above tree line, at approximately 2,300 meters in elevation, on Alpine meadows.
Bird Vetch: Also known as Cow Vetch, occurs in disturbed habitats, including meadows, fields and the edge of woods. The plant is similar to a pea in its growth habit, sending out tendrils from the tips of its leaves when it contacts another plant and securely fastening itself. Individual plants may reach up to 2 meters.
Rampion: One of my favourite plants, Rampion features prominently in some versions of the fairy tale Rapunzel. It grows on nutrient-meager Alpine pastures.
Mountain Arnica: Is a flowering plant in the Asteraceae family. Mountain Arnica grows in nutrient-poor siliceous meadows or clay soils and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. It is a protected plant in Austria.
Pasque Flower: Is a species of flowering plant belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Its flowers are followed by ornamental, plume-like seedheads (reminiscent of some clematis) in fluffy spherical clusters (pictured).
Bellflower: With their happy nodding heads, Campanula, or bellflower plants, are cheery perennial flowers in the family Campanulaceae. The plant grows in places at about 1,500 – 2,800 meters altitude. Bellflowers bloom heaviest in July and August. Soil conditions can be highly acidic.
Golden Hawk’s Beard: Is a genus of annual and perennial flowering plants of the family Asteraceae. It grows in moist, meadow-like grassy patches at about 1,200 – 2,800 meters altitude and blooms well into September.
Primula: Is a genus of mainly herbaceous flowering plants in the family Primulaceae. The plant grows in nutrient-poor siliceous, boggy meadows at about 1,900 – 2,700 meters altitude and blooms mostly during the spring.
Trumpet Gentian: The classic gentian with glorious, deep blue flowers. It grows in Alpine grassland and rocky places on acidic soil. It flowers in late spring and early summer but can appear throughout the summer and well into autumn.
Dark Columbine: Belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), it has dark purple to black flowers with unusually prominent yellow stamens open from May to August. This lovely, long-lived, true Alpine species grows in high rocky places at elevations of up to 2,000 meters.
Bavarian Gentian: Is a herbaceous perennial species of flowering plant in the Gentian family Gentianaceae. Flowers are deep blue and small, with broad spreading lobes. They bloom from July to August. It grows especially in rocky limestone areas at heights of 1,500 –2,500 meters.
Broad-Leaved Marsh Orchid: Is a genus of flowering plants from the orchid family (Orchidaceae). Its flowering period begins in June and ends at the end of July. It grows at elevations of up to 2,000 meters.
Adenostyles: Is a genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family Asteraceae. The inflorescence consists of dense corymbs hold by hairy peduncles. The small heads are usually composed of 3 to 4 flowers. The preferred habitat of this species is moist and shady places at elevations of up to 3,000 meters.
Yellow Monkshood: Is a yellow flowering plant species of the genus Aconitum in the family Ranunculaceae. Best grown in organically rich soils next to creeks and rivers, monkshood is found above tree line, at approximately 2,300 meters in elevation.
Common Yarrow: Is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae and a very valuable medicinal herb. Yarrow is a hardy perennial with showy flower heads composed of many tiny, tightly-packed flowers. Frequently found in the mildly disturbed dry soil of grasslands and open forests, it grows up to 2,800 meters in elevation.
Purple Gentian: Is a herbaceous perennial species of flowering plant in the Gentian family Gentianaceae. This is the very beautiful pink form of this late summer flower, with heavy, arching sprays of very late trumpet-shaped flowers appearing from June to October. It grows on Alpine pastures and meadows at heights of up to 2,000 meters.
Eyebright: Is a species of herbaceous flowering plants in the family Orobanchaceae. It is an elegant little plant, an annual, common on heaths and other dry pastures, especially on a chalky soil, and flowering from July to October.
Black Yarrow: Or Dark Stemmed Sneezewort, is a group of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. The plant prefers rocky limestone places at up to 2,400 meters altitude.
Wood Cranesbill: Is a species of hardy flowering plant in the Geraniaceae family. Wood Cranesbill is a perennial growing up to one meter tall. It grows on Alpine pastures and meadows at heights of up to 2,500 meters.
Bladder Campion: Also called Maidenstears, is a plant species of the genus Silene of the pink family (Caryophyllaceae). The plant adapts to disturbed sandy areas where there is scant vegetation and blooms from June to September.
Turk’s Cap Lily: Is a species of hardy flowering plant in the lily family (Liliaceae). The perennial plant is up to 150 cm tall and unbranched, except at the inflorescence. The blooming period occurs from early to mid-summer, and lasts about a month.
Globeflower: Is a perennial plant of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It grows in damp ground in shady areas, meadows, woodland and next to creeks at heights of up to 2,700 meters, flowering between June and August.