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Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum)

John Cousins (September)

Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) is one of the best-known mountain flowers in Europe and I saw this one last week during one of our IML assessment courses in Switzerland. The flowers are pretty easy to identify and bloom between July and September. Edelweiss prefers rocky limestone places at 2000âÂ.Â.2900 m altitude.

When you investigate the background to a particular flower there are so many aspects but what has caught my eye this time is a fantastic piece of mythology: The story goes that once, long, long ago, the Alps were far taller than they are these days. In those days, atop one of the snowcapped, precipice filled mountains lived an Ice Queen. She was said to be fair as snow and hauntingly beautiful. She was served by faithful gnomes, who lived with her on those slopes.

The Queen would sing melodiously and her sound would lure many a shepherd to lose his way in the mountains and come upon her abode. However beautiful she was, she had a flaw; her heart was frozen cold as if it were made of pure ice. She would play with these hapless shepherds who sought her voice for a while. When she got tired of this play, the gnomes would toss the men off the cliffs to their death. So she lived, through long ages alone except for poor companionship of her slaves.

It so happened that one of these shepherds, following her voice, entered into her abode. There was nothing different about him, this Man, nothing special, nothing noteworthy. But the Ice Queen steadily grew to love this man. She would sing and he would sit awed beside her throne for hours and days to end. They had their love.

But the gnomes grew jealous, fearing that one day the Ice Queen may marry this mortal. Thus they conspired and threw him headlong into the valley below, where his heart burst asunder. Seeing this, for the first and last time, the eyes of the Ice Queen warmed. Her heart melted a little and a single teardrop fell off her eternally beautiful sad cheeks. It is this tear that has become the edelweiss, the most beautiful flower of the Alps.

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