Flora of the Alps and the Pyrenees

 

 

Rusty-leaved alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum), covering a mountain slope in the Rosanin Valley, nær Thoma Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Black-veined white (Aporia crataegi), feeding in flowers of alpine sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina), Rossfeld, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Colchicum montanum, growing in bog moss, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Clusius’ gentian (Gentiana clusii), Col du Bous, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The Alps stretches over about 1,200 km across southern Central Europe, from eastern France and Monaco across Switzerland, northern Italy, southern Germany, and Liechtenstein to Austria and northern Slovenia. These mountains were formed over a huge time span, as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. The highest peak is Mont Blanc (4810 m), on the French-Italian border.

The Pyrenees is a mountain range in southern France and northern Spain, extending nearly 500 km from near the Atlantic Ocean eastwards to just north of Cap de Creus on the Mediterranean coast. The highest peak is Aneto (3404 m), in the central part. Most of the way, the main crest of the range constitutes the border between Spain and France, with the small independent state Andorra situated between the two countries.

Both mountain ranges are home to an astounding number of seed plants. No less than c. 4,500 species have been encountered in the Alps, of which c. 360 are endemic, whereas the Pyrenees is home to about 3,500 species, of which c. 200 are endemic. These numbers, however, include all species growing in the lower valleys, many of which are widespread in Europe.

 

When I was young and developed an interest in plant photography, I came across two small German books, depicting plants of the Alps, Alpenblumen – Farbige Wunder (‘Flowers of the Alps – Colourful Wonder’), published by Belser Verlag 1963-1964, and with photographs by Paula Kohlhaupt, born Sendtner (1904-1998).

Her way of taking pictures of plants in their natural surroundings was very inspiring. In many of the pictures, the background was dramatic rock faces or mountain slopes, and if the plant was depicted close-up, she saw to it that the background or other elements would not disturb the motive.

During my first botanical travels to the Alps, in 1968 and 1970, I tried to take pictures in a similar way. As a rule, however, the result was poor, mainly because I would often fail to notice disturbing elements in the pictures. Later, my attempts improved, and the pictures on this page show a selection of my photos from later trips to the Alps, and a single late-summer visit to the Pyrenees.

Below, the plants are presented alfabetically according to family name, genus name, and, finally, specific name. At the bottom of the page, some botanical terms are explained.

 

 

Paula Kohlhaupt. In the lower picture, she is photographing Astragalus alopecurus, 1980. (Photos Xaver Finkenzeller, public domain)

 

 

 

Adoxaceae Moschatel family
An almost worldwide family with 5 genera, containing c. 200 species of trees or shrubs, rarely herbs. In the past, two genera, Sambucus and Viburnum, were placed in the family Sambucaceae, but were then transferred to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). However, genetic studies have caused them to be moved yet another time, to the moschatel family.

 

Sambucus Elder
The number of elder species is disputed, and there may be anywhere between 25 and 50. These trees, shrubs, or shrubby herbs are distributed in temperate and subtropical areas, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, with some members in parts of Australasia and South America.

In the past, this genus was placed in the family Sambucaceae, but was then transferred to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). However, recent genetic studies have caused it to be moved yet another time, to the moschatel family.

The generic name is from the Greek sambuca, the name of an ancient instrument of Asian origin. Presumably, the soft pith was removed from the twigs to make flutes. The name elder is from Anglo-Saxon, aeld, meaning ’fire’ – the hollow stems were used to kindle a fire. The popular names pipe tree and bore tree stem from the habit of removing the pith of elder branches to produce pipes. The same procedure would make pop-guns, which were popular among small boys. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) writes: ”It is needless to write any description of this, since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree for the elder.”

Elders in folklore, and their usage in folk medicine, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Sambucus racemosa Red-berried elder
This species, encompassing 5-7 subspecies, is easily identified by its bright red berries. It is very widely distributed, found in Europe, northern Temperate Asia, eastwards to Japan, and across Canada and northern United States, growing in various habitats, including open forests, along rivers, and in other open areas, generally in moist conditions. It is found up to an elevation of about 2,000 m.

Red-berried elder is a shrub, growing to 6 m tall, the stems having a soft, pithy centre. The leaves are compound, with 5-7 leaflets, to 16 cm long, lanceolate or narrowly ovate, the margin irregularly toothed. When crushed, they emit an unpleasant smell. Inflorescences are flat-topped or slightly conical, terminal clusters of tiny flowers, pink when in bud, white, cream, or yellowish when opened. They are fragrant, much visited by butterflies, and in America by hummingbirds.

The entire plant is poisonous. Previously, it was utilized medicinally by many native American peoples for a variety of ailments, including diarrhoea, colds, cough, and skin problems, and also as an emetic. Raw berries are toxic to people, but are eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings. They can also be eaten by humans when cooked, and were formerly much consumed by American tribes.

 

 

Flowering red-berried elder, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bright red fruits of red elderberry, Gavarnie (top and bottom), and Col du Pourtalet, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Viburnum Viburnum
This huge genus, comprising 150-175 species of shrubs or small trees, is native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with a few species in montane areas of North Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Berries of some species are edible, others are mildly toxic.

In 1991, the well-preserved body of a Stone Age hunter was discovered in a glacier in the Alps. Ötzi the Iceman, as he was dubbed, died about 5,300 years ago, presumably caught in a snowstorm. His arrow shafts were made from wood of viburnum and dogwood (Cornaceae, see below). (Source: K. Spindler 1994. The Man in the Ice)

The generic name is the old Latin name of Viburnum lantana (below).

 

Viburnum lantana Wayfaring tree
This deciduous shrub, to 6 m tall, is native to central, southern and western Europe, North Africa, and the south-western parts of Asia, eastwards to the Caucasus. It is common along waysides, hence its common name.

 

 

Fruiting wayfaring tree, Cirque de Gavarnie (top), and Valle Hecho, both in the Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Alliaceae Onion family
An almost worldwide family, comprising 13 genera with c. 800 species of herbs.

 

Allium Onion
A huge genus of about 660 herbs, distributed mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Asia, with some species in Africa as well as Central and South America. About 30 species grow in the Alps.

The inflorescence of these plants is very distinctive, consisting of a compact globular umbel on an unbranched stem. Initially, the umbel is enclosed in a papery spathe, which splits into lobes, when the stalked flowers unfold.

The generic name is the old Latin name of garlic (A. sativum), which is described in detail on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Allium schoenoprasum Chives
In the wild, this well-known species has a very wide distribution, found in all of Europe, the Middle East eastwards to the western Himalaya, and in all temperate areas of Asia, including Korea and Japan, and in Alaska, Canada, and northern parts of the United States. Elsewhere, it is widely cultivated as a vegetable and spice.

In the Alps, it grows up to an elevation of about 2,800 m.

 

 

Chives, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Allium victorialis Alpine leek
This plant, also known as victory onion, is rather common in the Alps, growing in grassy areas at medium altitudes. Traditionally, the distribution of this species was considered to be very extensive, from Europe and the Caucasus eastwards across Central Asia and the Himalaya to East Asia and Alaska. Today, however, the East Asian and Alaskan populations are regarded as a separate species, Allium ochotense.

The specific name stems from a Medieval German name of the species, Siegwurz (‘root of victory’). Another old German name was Allemannsharnish (’all people’s armour’), referring to the onion, which is wrapped in a thick layer of bracts. In the Middle Ages, this layer was likened to an armour. Alpine leek was carried by soldiers as an amulet, as it was believed that it would protect the bearer from being wounded. It was also utilized by Bohemian mine workers as a charm against ‘unclean spirits’.

 

 

Alpine leek, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. The yellow composites in the upper picture are common cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) Carrot family
A huge worldwide family, containing about 434 genera with c. 3,700 species of herbs.

The inflorescence of this family is unique. In almost all species, the flowers are arranged in terminal umbels, which may be simple, usually with bracts at the base, and each of the stalks, the so-called primary rays, ending in a flower. More commonly, the umbel is compound, consisting of a number of primary rays, each ending in a secondary umbel. Each of these umbels usually has small bracts, bracteoles, at the base, and a number of secondary rays, each ending in a flower. Usually, the secondary umbels together form a flat-topped inflorescence, mostly with white, yellow, pink, or purple flowers, rarely blue or bright red. The flowers have five petals and stamens. This also accounts for the sepals, if they are present. They are usually missing, however.

The family name is derived from the name of honey bees, genus Apis, referring to the fact that many plants of the family are much visited by bees and other nectar-sucking insects, in particular hovering flies.

 

Angelica
A genus of about 60 species of tall plants, some reaching a height of 3 m. They are native to temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with a core area in eastern Asia.

The generic name is derived from the Latin angelicus (‘angelic’), originally from the Greek angelos (‘messenger’), alluding to the healing power of garden angelica (Angelica archangelica). One Middle Age legend has it that an angel had a dream that this herb would cure the plague. According to another legend, angels – or even Archangel Gabriel himself – brought the knowledge of this herb to humans.

 

Angelica sylvestris Wild angelica
This handsome species, growing to about 2.5 m tall, is native to all of Europe, including Iceland, to Asia Minor, and eastwards across Siberia and northern parts of Central Asia to Mongolia. It has also been introduced to eastern North America, where it has spread vigorously and is now considered an invasive weed. It is common in the lower parts of the Alps and the Pyrenees.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘of woods’. However, it is more commonly growing in open areas, including fields, hedgerows, and marshes.

 

 

Wild angelica, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Astrantia Masterwort
These plants, numbering about 10 species, may be identified by their umbrella-shaped inflorescence, subtended by numerous white or reddish bracts. They are distributed in the southern half of Europe, eastwards across Turkey to the Caucasus.

The generic name is derived from the Latin aster (‘star’), alluding to the open, star-shaped bracts of the inflorescence. The common name is derived from the Latin magister (‘chief, teacher, leader’), alluding to the medicinal usage of the genus. This name also refers to another umbellifer, Peucedanum ostruthium (below), which was once likewise much utilized in traditional medicine.

 

Astrantia bavarica Bavarian masterwort
A small plant, to 30 cm tall, with palmate basal leaves with five pointed, toothed lobes. The stem leaves are few and small, often with only 1-3 lobes. The inflorescences are small, with numerous white bracts, resembling a composite plant (Asteraceae).

This species is native to the eastern half of the Alps, where it grows in woodlands, shrubberies, clearings, and along streams, usually on calcareous soils. It is found up to an elevation of about 2,300 m.

 

 

Bavarian masterwort, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bavarian masterwort, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Astrantia major Great masterwort
This pretty plant, with numerous star-like, pinkish or white inflorescences to 3 cm across, grows to about 60 cm tall. The basal leaves are long-stalked, with 3-7 toothed lobes, to 15 cm long. Stem leaves are smaller, sessile, lanceolate, usually with 3 lobes.

This species is native from the Pyrenees eastwards across the Alps, the Carpathians, and the Balkans to Turkey and the Caucasus. It was introduced to the British Isles in the 16th Century and has become naturalized in several areas. Its natural habitat include montane meadows and other grasslands, forest clearings, and streamsides, usually on calcareous soils. It has a wide altitudinal distribution, found from the lower valleys up to about 2,300 m.

 

 

Great masterwort, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great masterwort, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great masterwort, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great masterwort, Stechelberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Astrantia minor Lesser masterwort
This species differs from great masterwort by its smaller size, to 30 cm tall, and by the basal leaves, which have 7 narrow, strongly toothed lobes. It grows in forest clearings, shrubberies, and along streams, preferably on acid soils, at elevations between 1,850 and 2,600 m.

This plant is distributed in the south-western Alps, the northern Apennines, the Pyrenees, and in the northern Iberian provinces of Catalunya and Huesca.

 

 

Lesser masterwort, Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Bupleurum Hare’s-ear, thoroughwax
A large genus of herbs or shrubs, comprising about 190 species, varying from tiny plants a few cm tall, to stately plants, almost 3 m high. The bracteoles are sometimes large and may attract pollinators. Almost all of these plants are native to the Palaearctic Northern Hemisphere, with one species in North America and one in southern Africa.

The name hare’s-ear refers to Bupleurum rotundifolium, whose leaves resemble a hare’s ears, whereas thoroughwax is a corruption of a German name of these plants, Durchwachs (‘growing through’), alluding to the stem of some species, which appears to grow through the leaves.

The roots of several species of hare’s-ear are an important ingredient in the traditional Chinese medicine chai hu, utilized for a huge number of ailments, including respiratory problems, dizziness, menstrual irregularity, cough, fever, and influenza. The name literally means ‘kindling of the barbarians’. Presumably, some Chinese observed the ‘barbarians’ using dried hare’s-ear stems as kindling.

 

Bupleurum ranunculoides
Stem to 30 cm tall, smooth, bluish-green, mostly unbranched, lower leaves lanceolate-linear, to 8 cm long, upper leaves broader and much shorter, with heart-shaped base, often clasping the stem. The umbel has 5-7 rays, bracts 5, yellowish-green, usually broadly elliptic, pointed. Flowers yellow, sometimes tinged with red.

This species is widespread in montane areas, from the Pyrenees eastwards to Poland, the Czech Republic, and the northern parts of the Balkans. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of at least 2,100 m.

 

 

Bupleurum ranunculoides, Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Chaerophyllum Chervil
A genus of about 35 species, native to Europe, North Africa, Asia, and North America.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek khairephyllon, from khairo (‘to be glad’) and phyllon (‘leaf’), the classical name of garden chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), a culinary herb, which is much used in Mediterrenean kitchens. Botanically speaking, however, the word chervil also applies to members of the genus Chaerophyllum.

 

Chaerophyllum hirsutum Hairy chervil
Stem to 1.2 m tall, rounded, smooth or slightly hairy, faintly grooved. Leaves broadly triangular in outline, twice or thrice pinnate, dark green, mostly hairy, but sometimes smooth. Lower leaves are long-stalked, upper ones sessile. Bracts few or absent, bracteoles numerous, lanceolate, white-edged, unevenly toothed. Flowers white or sometimes pink, with an unpleasant smell, which attracts certain beetles and flies.

This plant is partial to humid areas, including wet meadows and along streams, but it may also grow in drier grasslands, especially at higher altitudes. It is distributed in central European mountains, including the Harz, Thuringia, Saxony, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Apennines, and the Carpathians, and also in montane areas of the Balkans. It occurs eastwards to Ukraine. It grows up to an altitude of about 2,000 m.

 

 

Hairy chervil, growing beneath the waterfall Fontanon di Goriude, Dolomiters, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Grafia golaka
The sole member of the genus, restricted to calcareous areas of north-eastern Italy, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Stem smooth, leaves bluish-green, 3 or 4 times pinnate, ultimate segments lanceolate or ovate, almost rhombic, toothed, upper leaves much smaller. Bracts few, thread-like, bracteoles numerous, likewise thread-like. Flowers white.

Some authorities include this species in the genus Pleurospermum (below).

 

 

Grafia golaka, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Eryngium Eryngo, sea holly
This genus, comprising about 250 species, has an almost cosmopolitan distribution, with a core area in South America. Most species are quite spiny, especially the bracts surrounding the inflorescence.

 

Eryngium bourgatii Mediterranean sea holly
This plant, growing to about 45 cm tall, has dissected, pale green, spiny leaves, purplish-violet stems, and bluish, spherical flowerheads with pointed, spiny bracts. It was named in honour of a French physician named Bourgat who collected plants in the Pyrenees in the company of Antoine Gouan (1733-1821), who described the species in 1766. A native of Montpellier, Gouan was a pioneer of the Linnaean binominal taxonomy in France. In 1762, he published a plant catalog of the botanical garden at Montpellier, titled Hortus regius monspeliensis.

 

 

Eryngium bourgatii, Ibon de Piedrafita (top), and Alto Gallego, both Aragon, Spain. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Eryngium campestre Field eryngo
The entire plant, to 75 cm tall, is pale green or whitish-green, with pinnately divided, stiff leaves and ovoid umbels. It grows in dry areas, on calcareous soil. It is distributed around the Mediterranean, northwards to southern England and Germany, eastwards to Ukraine. Formerly, it was utilized medicinally.

 

 

Field eryngo, Valle Hecho, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Heracleum Hogweed, cow-parsnip
This large genus, comprising about 148 species, is distributed throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, and is also found in montane areas in subtropical regions, as far south as Ethiopia and the Himalaya.

The fruit of these plants is characteristic, strongly compressed and ribbed, the lateral ribs with a broad wing. Inside the fruit are club-shaped resin canals, clearly visible against the light.

The generic name was applied in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), alluding to the immensely strong Ancient Greek mythological hero Herakles (Hercules), undoubtedly referring to the profuse growth of many of these plants.

The common name hogweed is variously interpreted, either referring to pigs being fond of eating common hogweed (below), or as a derogatory term, a plant only fit for pigs. Cow-parsnip, used from about 1548, presumably alludes to the plant being eaten by cattle.

 

Heracleum sphondylium Common hogweed
The hollow stem, to about 1.2 m tall, is bristly-hairy, branched, with bag-like bracts at each node. The leaves, to 50 cm long, are once or twice pinnate, hairy, the large segments strongly serrated. Inflorescence flat-topped, to 25 cm across, flowers white or pinkish, outher petals larger than inner ones. The flowers are much visited by hover flies, beetles, and butterflies.

This plant, divided into about 16 subspecies, is distributed throughout Europe, eastwards to western Siberia, and also in Morocco, Turkey, and the Caucasus. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of about 2,700 m.

The specific name was derived from Ancient Greek spondylos (‘vertebrate’), alluding to the segmented stem.

 

 

Common hogweed, ssp. elegans, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Laserpitium Laserwort, sermountain
A genus of 10 species, distributed in all of Europe, except Iceland and the British Isles.

Why the names Laserpitium and laserwort have been applied to this genus is not clear. They are derived from the Latin lacarpicium, the name of a resinous gum with culinary and medical uses, which, in Ancient Rome, was extracted from various genera of Apiaceae, including giant fennel (Ferula) and Silphium, derived from silphion, the Greek word for laserwort. One of the usages was as a contraceptive.

 

Laserpitium halleri Haller’s sermountain
Stem to 60 cm tall, leaves bright green or greyish-green, carrot-like, twice or thrice pinnate. Inflorescences white, sometimes with a yellowish tinge, dense, with up to 40 rays, bracts long, toothed. Fruit to 9 mm long, with broadly winged ribs.

This plant is restricted to the southern part of the Alps, from France eastwards to Austria, growing on warm, dry, calciferous slopes.

The specific name was given in honour of Swiss physiologist, naturalist and poet Victor Albrecht von Haller Sr. (1708-1777), professor of botany in Göttingen and often referred to as ‘the father of modern physiology’. He was among the first botanists to realize the importance of herbaria to study variation in plants, and, consequently, he included material from different localities and habitats, and in various phases of development.

The genus Halleria, comprising attractive shrubs from southern Africa, was named in his honour by Linnaeus.

 

 

Haller’s sermountain, Tschamut, near Sedrun, Tavetsch Valley, Graubünden, Switzerland. Betony-leaved rampion (Phyteuma betonicifolium) is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Laserpitium latifolium Broad-leaved sermountain
This stout plant may grow to 1.5 m tall, with a greyish-green, round, slightly grooved stem, which is often branched. The leaves are pinnate, bright green or bluish-green, with rather large, ovate or heart-shaped segments, which are usually toothed, but may be almost entire. The inflorescence is white, to 30 cm across, with up to 40 rays. The fruit is oblong and flattened, with broad wings, to 1 cm long.

It is widespread in Europe, only absent from Iceland, the British Isles, the Netherlands, and Greece.

 

 

Broad-leaved sermountain, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Leaves of broad-leaved sermountain with raindrops, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Laserpitium siler
This species, by some authorities called Siler montanum, may be up to 1 m tall, but is usually much lower. It resembles broad-leaved sermountain (above), but the leaf segments are longer and narrower.

It is distributed in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Apennines, and in mountains on the Balkan Peninsula, growing on slopes at elevations between 800 and 2,300 m.

 

 

Laserpitium siler, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Laserpitium siler, Bluntau Valley, near Golling, Salzburg, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

A species of fritillary, sucking nectar from Laserpitium siler, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park. Most flowering umbellifers are much visited by insects. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Leaves of Laserpitium siler, Valsaparence. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The fruits of Laserpitium siler are winged. – Between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Peucedanum
This genus, containing about 50 species, is distributed in almost all of Europe and Asia, southwards to North Africa, India, and the Philippines.

The generic name is from the Greek peukedanos (‘bitter’), alluding to the bitter substances in masterwort (below).

 

Peucedanum ostruthium Masterwort
This aromatic plant, with a fragrance similar to carrot and celery, has a stem to 1 m tall, erect, rounded, grooved, smooth except under the umbels, where it is hairy. Lower leaves are dark green, shiny, stalked, to 30 cm long and 35 cm wide, twice or thrice pinnate, lobes elliptic to lanceolate, pointed, to 10 cm long and 7 cm wide, strongly serrated, with bristles on the teeth. Upper leaves are much smaller, often only once pinnate. Inflorescences are terminal or lateral, large, flat umbels with up to 50 rays, petals white or pink. Bracts and bracteoles are absent. Some populations do not propagate through seeds, but solely through underground runners, forming large stands.

This plant is native to mountains of central and southern Europe, including the Alps, the northern Apennines, the Carpathians, the French Massif Central, and mountains in the Iberian Peninsula. However, due to its medicinal properties it has been widely introduced elsewhere. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of 2,200 m. Its habitats include meadows, grazing grounds, steep slopes, and avalanche gullies.

The common name alludes the multiple usage of this plant. In former days, the root was believed to possess wonderful properties, called remedium divinum (‘divine remedy’) and sold in pharmacies under the names Radix ostruthii or Rhizoma imperatoriae. It was utilized for treatment of disorders of intestines, stomach, kidneys, skin, respiratory tract, and cardiovascular system, and to fight infections, fever, flu, and colds. The plant was also used as a flavouring agent in various liqueurs and bitters.

The name masterwort also applies to members of the genus Astrantia (above).

 

 

Masterwort, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Masterwort, Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of the inflorescence, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pimpinella Burnet-saxifrage
This genus, comprising about 150 species, is distributed in the entire Europe, except Iceland, and in the major part of Africa and Asia. Species have also been introduced to the Americas.

The burnet part of the common name alludes to the similarity of the leaves of some species of the genus to those of burnet (Sanguisorba minor), whereas the saxifrage part refers to the the diuretic properties of some species, similar to certain species of saxifrage (Saxifraga).

 

Pimpinella major Greater burnet-saxifrage
This plant, also called hollowstem burnet-saxifrage, may grow to 1.3 m tall, but is usually lower. As the alternative name implies, the stem is hollow, hairless, deeply grooved, mostly glabrous, usually branched. The leaves are dark green, glossy, pinnate, segments strongly toothed and sometimes lobed. Basal leaves are long-stalked. The inflorescence is to 6 cm across, ranging in colour from white to pink or rose, with 10-16 rays. The fruit is ovoid, to 3 mm long.

This species grows in forest clearings, shrubberies, meadows and pastures, and along roads, preferably on nutritious and calcareous soils, from the lower valleys up to an altitude of about 2,300 m. It is widespread, from Europe eastwards to the Caucasus.

Formerly, it was used in traditional Austrian medicine for treatment of respiratory problems, fever, infections, colds, and flu.

 

 

Greater burnet-saxifrage, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Greater burnet-saxifrage with raindrops, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pleurospermum
This genus is distinguished by the very large and conspicuous bracts and bracteoles, the latter usually with a broad white margin. About 50 species are distributed from eastern Europe eastwards to northern and central Asia. The stronghold of the genus is the Himalaya and western China.

The generic name is derived from the Greek pleuron (‘ribbed’) and sperma (‘seed’), alluding to the winged fruits of the genus.

 

Pleurospermum austriacum
The stem is stout, hollow, ridged, branched above, smooth or downy, sometimes to 2 m tall, but usually below 1 m. Lower leaves twice or thrice pinnate, triangular-ovate in outline, lobes to 10 cm long, lanceolate or ovate, coarsely toothed along the margin. Bracts and bracteoles numerous, deflexed, long and narrow, mostly entire, sometimes shallowly lobed, bracteoles with a narrow white membrane. Flowers white.

This species, which grows in open forests, grasslands, and grazing grounds, is partial to calcareous soils. It is distributed in the Alps and the Carpathians, and on the Balkan Peninsula, with isolated populations in the Swabian Jura, Franconia, and Thuringia, and also in Sweden. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of c. 1,850 m.

 

 

Pleurospermum austriacum, Rossfeld, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Asparagaceae Asparagus family
Today, this worldwide family includes 114 genera with a total of c. 2,900 species. A large number of genera, which were formerly placed in various other families, have recently been moved to this family.

 

Anthericum
A genus of about 8 species, occurring in Europe from Sweden southwards to the Mediterranean and Turkey, and also in North Africa, and from Eritrea and Yemen southwards to Tanzania.

The generic name is derived from the Greek antherikos (‘straw’), alluding to the narrow leaves.

Previously, these plants were placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), but were then moved to a separate family, Anthericaceae, which is today regarded as a part of Agavoideae, a subfamily of the asparagus family.

 

Anthericum liliago St. Bernard’s lily
This pretty plant is native to mainland Europe, from Sweden southwards to Spain, Greece, and Turkey, growing in open forest, dry grasslands, and in rocky areas. It grows to about 90 cm tall, with numerous grasslike leaves, to 40 cm long, and racemes of 6-10 rather small, white, star-shaped flowers.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘lily-like’, naturally alluding to the flowers.

 

 

St. Bernard’s lily, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Anthericum ramosum Branched St. Bernard’s lily
This plant, to about 70 cm tall, is similar to St. Bernard’s lily (above), but its flowering spikes are branched, reflected in the specific name, derived from the Latin ramus (‘branch’) and osus (‘prone to’). The grass-like leaves are to 50 cm long and 6 mm wide, generally shorter than the flower stalk.

This species is distributed in the major part of Europe, southwards to the Mediterranean, eastwards to European Russia and Turkey. It mainly grows in sunny areas and on calcareous soils, in grasslands and forest edges, and on drier slopes. In the Alps, it may be found up to an altitude of about 1,900 m.

 

 

Branched St. Bernard’s lily, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Paradisea Paradise lily
The pretty paradise lilies constitute a small genus of only 2 species, restricted to mountains of southern Europe. Earlier, they were placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), later in Anthericaceae, which is today regarded as a part of Agavoideae, a subfamily of the asparagus family.

 

Paradisea liliastrum St. Bruno’s lily
Native to the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Jura Mountains, the Apennines, and mountains on the Balkan Peninsula, this beautiful plant is found at elevations between 1,000 and 2,300 m. It grows to about 90 cm tall, with grass-like leaves and pure white, trumpet-shaped flowers, to 6 cm long, with prominent yellow anthers.

The common name refers to St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order of monks in the 11th Century, in the French Alps.

Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica, 5 volumes dealing with herbal medicine, included this species among his medicinal plants.

 

 

St. Bruno’s lily, Obersteinberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aspleniaceae
Today, this fern family contains only two genera, Asplenium and Hymenasplenium. In former days, several other genera were included, but they have now been moved to other families. These plants are distributed almost worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica and the high Arctic, growing in soil, on rocks, or as epiphytes. A few are aquatic.

 

Asplenium Spleenwort, bird’s-nest ferns
This huge genus, comprising about 700 species, is found in almost all parts of the world. They differ in size from tiny plants to the huge epiphytic bird’s-nest ferns, some of which grow to more than 1 m across, with fronds up to 1.5 m long.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek asplenon, the classical name of spleenworts, ultimately from splen (‘spleen’), alluding to its usage to cure anthrax in livestock.

 

Asplenium ruta-muraria Wall-rue
This small fern grows exclusively on limestone and other calcareous rocks, including walls of old buildings. The fronds are green or bluish-green, much divided, up to 12 cm long. The sporangia clusters are blackish-brown, situated on the underside of the leaflets.

It is a very widespread plant, found in all of Europe, eastwards across most of Siberia, in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Himalaya, and China. In Central Asia, it grows up to elevations of c. 3,300 m.

The specific and common names refer to the fact that it often grows on walls, and to the likeness of its leaves to those of common rue (Ruta graveolens).

 

 

Wall-rue, growing in a stone fence, Trenta Valley, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wall-rue, growing on a wall, Petersberg Castle, Friesach, Steiermark, Austria. The underside of the leaves are covered by sporangies. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Asplenium trichomanes Maidenhair spleenwort
A small plant, forming tufts from a short, scaly rhizome. The evergreen fronds are narrow, usually to 20 cm long, sometimes to 30 cm, gradually tapering towards the tip, pinnately divided into small, rounded or slightly elongated, yellowish-green to dark green leaflets. The rachis (stem of the frond) is brownish-black. Sporangia clusters small, 1-3.5 mm long, on the underside of the leaflets.

This plant is very widely distributed, found in scattered locations in most parts of the world, growing in rocky habitats and on walls, from sea-level up to about 3,000 m. It is fairly common in the Pyrenees and the Alps.

This species and its near relatives were much utilized in traditional herbal medicine. Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.) and Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) both distinguished between a pale and a black adianton. They were variously called polytrichon (‘many hairs’), kallitrichon (‘fair hair’), trichomanes (‘fine hair’), and capillus veneris (‘venus hair’). They were supposed to possess general anti-toxic properties, used as a diuretic, to expel kidney stones, to cure pulmonary problems, jaundice, spleen diseases, and skin ailments, and to promote hair growth.

The specific name is explained above.

 

 

Maidenhair spleenwort, growing on a stone fence near Gollinger waterfall, Salzburg, Austria, photographed in rainy weather. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Maidenhair spleenwort, growing on a wall, Petersberg Castle, Friesach, Steiermark, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Maidenhair spleenwort, growing in a crack in a rock, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Asteraceae (Compositae) Daisy family
This worldwide family is one of the largest, comprising about 1,620 genera with c. 24,000 species of herbs or shrubs, rarely climbers or trees. The inflorescence consists of many individual flowers, called florets, which are grouped densely together to form a flower-like structure, the flowerhead, technically called the capitulum. The central disk florets are symmetric, and the corolla is fused into a tube. The outer ray florets are asymmetric, the corolla having one large lobe, which is often erroneously called a petal. In some species, ray florets, or sometimes disk florets, are absent.

 

Achillea Yarrow, milfoil, sneezewort
A large genus of about 200 species, found mainly in Europe and temperate areas of Asia. No less than 22 species occur in the Alps.

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) informs us that during the Trojan War the Greek hero Achilles used yarrow to stop bleeding on wounded soldiers. Hence, the name Achillea was applied to the genus by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also named Carl von Linné. It was already mentioned as a medical herb in De simplicium medicamentorum facultatibus, written by Greek-Roman physician, surgeon, and philosopher Aelius Galenus (c. 129-210 A.D.), also known as Claudius Galenus or Galen of Pergamon.

Various plants, including yarrow, were found in a 50-60,000-year-old Neanderthal grave in Iraq, perhaps indicating that these plants were used medicinally. (Source: G.P. Shipley & K. Kindscher 2016. Evidence for the Paleoethnobotany of the Neanderthal: A Review of the Literature. hindawi.com/journals/scientifica/2016/8927654)

The name yarrow is a corruption of gearwe, an ancient Anglo-Saxon name for common yarrow (below).

 

Achillea atrata Black yarrow
This plant, also known as dark-stemmed sneezewort, is named for its blackish stem. It may also be identified by the pinnately divided leaves, resembling those of common yarrow (below), but less divided. It is native to high mountains in the Alps, growing on calcareous soil.

 

 

Black yarrow, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Achillea clavennae Silvery yarrow
This plant, which grows to 25 cm tall, is easily identified by its greyish, silvery-hairy leaves, which are generally less deeply divided than those of A. atrata. It is common in the eastern and southern Alps, and also occurs in the Balkan Peninsula.

The specific name was given in honour of Italian pharmacist Nicholas Clavena (died 1617), who was the author of Historia Alsinthii Umbelliferi, from 1610.

 

 

Silvery yarrow, photographed at Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy (top), and in the Grossglockner area, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Achillea erba-rotta Simple-leaved milfoil, musk milfoil
This prostrate plant, growing to 18 cm tall, is found in meadows and rocky areas at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 m, from the French Alps eastwards to Austria. A very variable species, especially when it comes to leaf form, which may be almost entire in subspecies erba-rotta, deeply divided in ssp. moschata.

According to one source, the specific name is derived from the Latin herba (‘herb’) and rota (‘wheel’), alluding to the circular inflorescence. This seems somewhat dubious, as almost all composites have circular inflorescences. An alternative interpretation may be that rotta is Italian, meaning ‘broken’, perhaps referring to the foliage.

 

 

Simple-leaved milfoil, ssp. erba-rotta, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Achillea macrophylla Large-leaved yarrow
As its specific and common names imply, this plant, growing to almost 1 m tall, may be identified by its large leaves, which resemble those of various umbellifers, including wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris). It is native to the Alps and the northern part of the Apennines.

 

 

Large-leaved yarrow, Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Achillea millefolium Common yarrow
A widespread plant, to 90 cm tall, found in temperate areas of Eurasia and North America, mainly growing in disturbed areas, along roads and ditches, and in fallow fields. It was introduced as a fodder plant to Australia and New Zealand, where it has become naturalized in several areas. In montane areas of south-eastern Australia, it is regarded as an invasive weed.

The greyish-green leaves are very finely dissected, aromatic, to 10 cm long. Flowerheads are numerous, sometimes up to 50, borne in a flat or slightly domed cluster to 30 cm across. Ray florets are white, much larger than the tiny yellowish or cream-coloured disc florets. The entire flowerhead is only to 8 mm across.

The specific name is derived from the many fine segments of the leaves, hence its popular names milfoil and thousand-weed. In parts of south-western United States, it is called plumajillo (Spanish for ‘little feather’), likewise alluding to the leaves.

The role of this species in folklore and traditional medicine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Common yarrow, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Achillea oxyloba Alpine sneezewort
Alpine sneezewort may be identified by the rather large rayflorets and the dark-green, deeply divided leaves. It is native to the eastern and southern Alps, the Apennines, the Carpathians, Romania, and western Russia.

 

 

Alpine sneezewort, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Adenostyles
A small genus of 6 species, occurring in temperate areas in Europe and Asia Minor.

The generic name is derived from the Greek aden (‘gland’) and stylos (‘style’), referring to the glandular styles of the genus.

 

Adenostyles alliariae Common adenostyles
Also named hedge-leaved adenostyles, this species is native to the major part of southern Europe, from Spain eastwards across the Alps to the Carpathians, the Balkans, and Turkey. It is very common in the Alps, growing at altitudes between 1,300 and 2,400 m, in shrubberies, meadows, and rocky areas.

This plant may readily be identified by the large, kidney- or heart-shaped, toothed basal leaves, measuring up to 14 cm across and 9 cm in length. Stem leaves are much smaller, eared, gradually getting smaller up the stem. The flowerheads are numerous, densely clustered towards the apex of the stem. They contain only disc florets, to 8 mm long, purplish-blue or pinkish.

You often come across a growth of common adenostyles, whose leaves have been almost completely eaten by larvae of Oreina cacaliae, a metallic, bluish or greenish beetle, which belongs to the family broad-shouldered leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae). This species is partial to common adenostyle, as well as alpine butterbur (Petasites paradoxus) (below).

 

 

Common adenostyles, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common adenostyles, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This leaf of common adenostyles has been almost completely eaten by larvae of Oreina cacaliae, Grossglockner area, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Anthemis Dog-fennel, mayweed, chamomile
This genus, comprising about 100 species, is native to countries around the Mediterranean, and from south-western Asia eastwards to Iran and Turkmenistan. A number of species have become naturalized in various parts of the world.

The generic name is derived from the Greek anthemon, which simply means ‘flower’. The common name dog-fennel, dating back to the 15th Century, refers to the bad smell of stinking chamomile (A. cotula).

 

Anthemis triumfetti
This species, by some authorities named Cota triumfetti, is widely distributed, from the Iberian Peninsula and France eastwards across the Alps and the Balkans to Ukraine, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, and Turkmenistan.

The plant is named in honour of Italian botanist Giovanni Battista Triumfetti (1658-1708), who was director of the botanical garden in Rome.

 

 

Anthemis triumfetti, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aposeris foetida
This plant, which somewhat resembles a dandelion, is the sole member of the genus. The specific name, meaning ‘smelly’, alludes to an unpleasant smell from its white, milky sap.

The leaves, to about 10 cm long, are clustered in a basal rosette. They are deeply pinnate, with very characteristic, trapezoidal to diamond-shaped lobes, the terminal lobe roughly triangular in outline. The flowerheads, to 4 cm across, are solitary at the end of a thin, leafless stem, to 20 cm tall. The involucral bracts are blackish, often powdery. Disc florets are absent, ray florets bright yellow, strap-like.

This plant grows in shady montane forests, up to an altitude of about 2,200 m, from Spain eastwards across the Alps to the Balkan Peninsula, the Carpathians, and Ukraine, and thence northwards to Poland and Belarus.

 

 

Aposeris foetida, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Arnica Arnica
A genus of about 30 species, primarily found in temperate regions of western North America, with a few species in temperate and subarctic areas of Eurasia.

The generic name may be derived from the Greek arni (‘lamb’), alluding to the soft, hairy leaves of these plants. Arnica leaves were formerly utilized as a substitute for tobacco, hence the popular name mountain tobacco.

 

Arnica montana Common arnica
This handsome plant is distributed in much of Europe, from Scandinavia and Finland southwards to Spain, the Pyrenees, the Alps, and Romania, and thence eastwards to the European part of Russia. It is common in the Alps, found up to an altitude of almost 3,000 m.

Arnica has been utilized medicinally for hundreds of years. This subject is dealt with in depth on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

Common names of this species include wolf’s bane and leopard’s bane, referring to its great toxicity.

 

 

Common arnica, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Morning dew in grass with common arnica and red clover (Trifolium pratense), Passo delle Erbe (Börz Würzjoch), Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Artemisia Mugwort, wormwood, sagebrush
These plants constitute a huge, worldwide genus, comprising between 200 and 400 species. The genus is named for Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness and wild animals, hunting, childbirth and virginity, protector of young girls, and also bringer and reliever of disease in women. In his Herbarium, Roman philosopher and scholar Lucius Apuleius (c. 124-170 A.D.) writes: “Of these worts that we name Artemisia, it is said that Diana found them and delivered their powers and leechdom to Chiron the Centaur, who first from these worts set forth a leechdom, and he named these worts from the Greek name of Diana, Artemis.”

The role of Artemisia species in folklore and traditional medicine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Artemisia vallesiaca Valais mugwort
This plant is restricted to the Swiss canton of Valais, north-western Italy, and south-eastern France. It is a shrubby herb, to 45 cm tall, with silvery-white leaves, to 4 cm long, divided into linear segments. Flowerheads are small, yellowish, in arching spikes.

Its distinctive fragrance is due to an essential oil, containing camphor, camphene, eucalyptol, and borneol. In Switzerland and Italy, it has been utilized as an ingredient in vermouth for hundreds of years. Today, it is quite rare due to overcollection.

 

 

Valais mugwort, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aster Aster
This huge genus has given name to the composite family. The ray florets of the major part of these attractive plants are bluish or lilac, whereas the disc florets are various shades of yellow or orange. A few species have white ray florets. Comprising about 152 species, the genus is almost worldwide.

The generic name is Ancient Greek, meaning ‘star’, alluding to the spreading ray florets.

In former days, a large number of North American composites were included in this genus. However, following comprehensive research, the New World species have been transferred to the genera Almutaster, Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oligoneuron, Oreostemma, Sericocarpus, and Symphyotrichum.

 

Aster alpinus Alpine aster
This species is very variable, occurring in at least 10 subspecies. It has a huge distribution area, found in the major part of central and southern Europe, eastwards to Central and East Asia, and also in western North America. In Europe, an isolated population occurs in the Harz Mountains, northern Germany, probably an Ice Age relic.

This plant is partial to dry, calcareous soils. In the Alps, it is found from the lowlands up to an altitude of 3,100 m.

 

 

Alpine aster, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine aster, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Aster bellidiastrum Daisy star, false aster
This plant, by some authorities called Bellidiastrum michelii, forms clumps, stem to 20 cm tall, hairy, leaves all basal, spatulate or elliptic, broadly toothed, to 6 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, apex rounded. Flowerheads are single, to 4 cm across, ray florets white or pinkish, disc florets bright yellow.

It is found in montane areas of central and southern Europe, mainly in open places or forest clearings, up to an elevation of c. 2,800 m.

The specific name is derived from Bellis, the generic name of the common daisy, and aster (‘star’), referring to the likeness of the flowers to those of the common daisy. The obsolete specific name michelii was given in honour of Italian botanist Pier Antonio Micheli (1679-1737), professor of botany in Pisa, curator of the Orto Botanico di Firenze, author of Nova plantarum genera iuxta Tournefortii methodum disposita. He was a leading authority on cryptogams (plants reproducing by spores), and discovered the spores of mushrooms.

 

 

Daisy star, Rinnbach, Pongau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Buphthalmum
This small genus, with 2 or 3 species, is found in western, central, and southern Europe.

 

Buphthalmum salicifolium Willow-leaved ox-eye daisy
The stem of this perennial herb is erect, purplish-red, branched, to 70 cm tall, with a single flowerhead at the end of stem and branches, with orange-yellow disc florets and numerous yellow, strap-shaped ray florets, to 1.6 cm long and 2.5 mm wide, with 2-4 teeth at the tip. The leaves are alternately arranged, varying in shape and size, mostly lanceolate, entire or finely toothed, lower leaves stalked, upper ones sessile.

This plant is partial to limestone grasslands and dry forests at medium elevations, up to an altitude of at least 2,000 m. It is widely distributed in montane areas of Central Europe and the Balkan Peninsula.

 

 

Willow-leaved ox-eye daisy, Mazzin, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Willow-leaved ox-eye daisy, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Carduus Plumeless thistles
This genus of spiny herbs, comprising about 95 species, is widespread in Asia, Europe, and tropical Africa. These plants are very similar to thistles of the genus Cirsium (below), but differ in having simple seed hairs that do not form a plume.

The generic name is the classical Latin word for thistle, probably derived from the Sanskrit kasati (‘to scratch’), alluding to the spines.

 

Carduus defloratus Alpine thistle
This plant is very variable, especially regarding the shape of the leaves, and it has been divided into at least 8 subspecies, of which some may be separate species.

The stem is usually to 50 cm tall, sometimes up to 90 cm, slightly arching, branched, smooth or sometimes winged with thorns, upper part mostly without leaves, thorns, and wings. Leaves are very variable, hairless, sessile, blade entire or pinnate, sometimes toothed.

This species differs from other members of the genus in having only a single purplish-red flowerhead, to 3 cm across, at the end of each branch. Initially, it is erect, later often nodding. Involucral bracts are spreading, unlike the rather similar Cirsium tuberosum.

It is partial to rocky limestone areas, from the lower valleys up to an altitude of about 3,000 m, distributed from the Pyrenees via the Alps to the northern Balkan Peninsula and the Carpathians.

 

 

Alpine thistle, a subspecies with spiny wings on the stem, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine thistle, subspecies glaucus, which has very few spines, Trenta Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Carduus nutans Musk thistle, nodding thistle
This plant is native to parts of Eurasia and North Africa, but has spread to many other areas of the world. It grows in open areas, preferably on disturbed ground, such as fallow fields, pastures, landslides, abandoned plots, and along roads. It is found from the lowlands up to an elevation of about 2,500 m, preferably on neutral or acidic soils.

In the early 19th Century, it was introduced to North America, where it quickly became a nuisance in agricultural areas. It is declared a noxious weed in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In colder regions, this plant is a biennial, requiring 2 years to complete a reproductive cycle, overwintering as a rosette. It may grow to about 1.5 m tall, often with branched stems. The leaves are large, often growing to 60 cm long, bipinnately lobed, with a smooth, waxy surface and sharp, yellow-brown or whitish spines at the tips of the lobes. The flowerheads are large, terminal, to 7 cm across, with hundreds of purplish-red disc florets. The flowerhead is surrounded by very large and sharp bracts.

 

 

Musk thistle, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Carduus personata
This species occurs in mountains of central Europe, in the Alps, the Apennines, the Carpathians, the Sudetes, and also in the Balkans. It mainly grows in moist and nutritious soils, including meadows, humid woodlands, and along streams, preferably in partial shade. In the Alps, it may be found at altitudes between 500 and 2,300 m.

The spines of this plant are rather soft. It has a sturdy stem, varying in height between 40 cm and 1.6 m, widely branched towards the apex, winged, with fine spines along the edge of the ribs. The leaves are all stem leaves, ovate or lanceolate, soft and curly, with fine spines along the margin, the lower ones to 35 cm long and 20 cm wide, gradually getting smaller up the stem.

The flowerheads are densely clustered at the apex of stem and branches, 2-5 together, to 2.5 cm across, disc florets violet-purple, ray florets absent.

The specific name is derived from the Latin personatus (‘masked’), presumably alluding to the very dark bracts.

 

 

Carduus personata, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Carlina Carline thistles
This genus, comprising about 30 species, is distributed from Madeira and the Canary Islands eastwards across Europe and northern Africa to Siberia and north-western China.

To protect their pollen, these plants close the flowerhead in wet weather, used in folklore to predict forthcoming rain.

The generic name was given in honour of Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Spain, and Lord of the Netherlands, Karl V (1500-1558), called Charlemagne or Charles the Great. As legend has it, he used the root of Carlina acaulis (below) to cure disease among his soldiers.

 

Carlina acanthifolia Acanthus-leaved thistle
The straw-coloured flowerheads of this spectacular plant may grow to 20 cm across, centered in a profusion of spiny leaves, to 50 cm long, which somewhat resemble those of spiny acanthus (Acanthus spinosus). The plant is usually stemless, but sometimes with a short stem up to 20 cm.

Divided into 4 subspecies, it is distributed from the Pyrenees eastwards to the Balkans, and thence northwards to Poland and Ukraine. The nominate subspecies is quite common in the Pyrenees.

 

 

Acanthus-leaved thistle, Col du Pourtalet, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Acanthus-leaved thistle, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Acanthus-leaved thistle with a closed flowerhead, Valle Tena, near El Formigal, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Carlina acaulis Stemless carline thistle, dwarf carline thistle
This is another stemless, spiny plant with the pinnately divided, spiny leaves growing in a rosette to 30 cm in diameter, having a flowerhead in the centre, to 10 cm across, with silvery-white ray florets, surrounding the yellowish-brown disc florets.

This plant is distributed in the major part of central and southern Europe, eastwards to Belarus and Ukraine, with an isolated population in the Caucasus. It grows in dry grasslands, preferably on calcareous soil, from the valleys up to an altitude of about 2,800 m.

The rhizome contains a number of essential oils and was formerly used as a diuretic and to treat colds. Young buds of the flowerheads can be cooked and eaten, similar to artichokes (Cynara cardunculus), which earned it the nickname hunter’s bread.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘stemless’, from a (‘without’) and caulis (‘stem’).

 

 

Stemless carline thistle, St. Martin, Navarra, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Stemless carline thistle, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Centaurea Centaury, knapweed
A huge genus, counting between 350 and 600 species. These plants have many common English names, including centaury, knapweed, starthistle, and cornflower, the latter usually referring to two blue-flowered species, C. cyanus and C. montana. Another name is basketflower, which refers to the Plectocephalus group – possibly a distinct genus. These plants are restricted to the Northern Hemisphere, their core area being the Mediterranean and the Near East.

These plants do not have ray florets, but are characterized by most species possessing two types of disc florets, the outer ones much larger, fringed, sterile, acting as attractors to pollinators.

The generic name is derived from the Greek kentauros (‘centaur’), referring to Chiron the Centaur. According to Greek mythology, Chiron once had a festering wound on his foot, made by an arrow dipped in blood of Hydra, a many-headed serpentine monster with a poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly. Chiron cured himself by dressing the wound with a member of this genus.

 

Centaurea montana Mountain cornflower
Also called perennial cornflower, bachelor’s button, montane knapweed, or mountain bluet, this species usually grows in low clumps, but may occasionally reach a height of 70 cm. The dark green, lanceolate to ovate leaves are to 15 cm long, sessile, hairy, usually entire. Flowerheads are normally solitary, sometimes up to 3 together, to 5 cm across, involucral bracts blackish along the margin, tip spreading. Florets are usually bright blue, but may sometimes be pinkish or purple.

This plant, which grows in grasslands and other open areas, is native to highlands of central and southern Europe, from Belgium, France, and Spain eastwards to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria, and thence southwards to the Balkan Peninsula, growing at altitudes between 500 and 2,200 m. It is common in the Alps. It is widely cultivated elsewhere and has escaped in many countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and the United States.

The rather similar cornflower (C. cyanus) may be distinguished by having many flowerheads on each branch.

 

 

Mountain cornflower, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain cornflower, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain cornflower with raindrops, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Centaurea nervosa Plumed knapweed
This species is native to the southern Alps, in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia, eastwards to the Carpathians. Its preferred habitat is grasslands on calcareous soil, at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,500 m.

The stem is erect, unbranched, bristly-hairy, to 50 cm tall, leaves many, to 11 cm long and 5 cm wide, lanceolate-triangular, sparsely toothed or entire, hairy, clasping the stem. Flowerheads large, solitary, to 6 cm across, the dark involucre covered in pale, featherlike, stiff hairs. Florets pink.

The specific name was given in reference to the protruding nerves on the leaves, whereas the popular name plumed knapweed refers to the much-divided outer florets.

 

 

Plumed knapweed, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. Greater yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus major) and common cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Centaurea scabiosa Greater knapweed
Stem to 1.2 m tall, grooved, hairy, branched above the middle, leaves alternate, stalked, to about 10 cm long, dark green, usually pinnately lobed, lobes narrow. Flowerheads usually purplish-red, sometimes pink, solitary at the end of stem and branches, to 4 cm across, involucral bracts ovate, dark-edged, with fuzzy bristles along the margin.

This plant thrives in drier grasslands, along roads, and in fallow fields, preferably on calcareous soils. It is distributed in almost all of Europe and thence eastwards across the major part of Siberia to Central Asia. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,200 m.

The specific name refers to an old belief that the leaves of this plant could treat scabies.

 

 

Greater knapweed, Stechelberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Centaurea stoebe Spotted knapweed, panicled knapweed
There is some confusion regarding the taxonomy of this species. Two forms exist, previously regarded as different species by some taxonomists. Today, a diploid form of the plant is named C. stoebe spp. stoebe, formerly known as C. maculosa, whereas a tetraploid form, now named C. stoebe ssp. micranthos, was previously known as C. biebersteinii.

In its first year, this biennial, or sometimes perennial, grows a basal leaf rosette, the following year producing a much-branched, slender stem, erect or ascending, hairy, to 1 m tall. Stem leaves are alternate, to 5 cm long, pinnately divided into very fine segments. Leaves get gradually smaller and less lobed up the stem. Flowerheads are egg-shaped, solitary at the end of stem and branches, to 2.5 cm long and 1.5 cm across, florets pink or purplish-pink, involucral bracts ovate, with a dark tip and fuzzy bristles along the margin. The dark tips lends a spotted appearance to the involucre, which gave rise to one of the English names of the plant.

This species grows in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, fallow fields, pastures, along roads and railroads, and in other disturbed areas. It is native to eastern Europe and south-western Asia, but has become naturalized in numerous other areas, especially in drier areas of North America, where it is considered a serious pest, covering huge areas.

 

 

Spotted knapweed, ssp. micranthos, growing on a wall, Petersberg Castle, Friesach, Steiermark, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cicerbita Blue sow-thistle
This genus, comprising c. 10 species, is distributed in Asia and Europe. Previously, it contained many more species, some of which have been transferred to the genera Lactuca (lettuce) and Melanoseris. The genetics of the genus are still being researched, and at some point in the future, the remaining 10 species may also be moved to other genera.

The generic name is Italian, meaning ‘chicory-like’, referring to the likeness of the flowerheads to those of chicory (below).

 

Cicerbita alpina Alpine sow-thistle
This plant, also known as Lactuca alpina, is distributed from northern Scandinavia, Finland, and north-western Russia southwards to the Pyrenees, Italy, and the Balkans, and thence eastwards to Ukraine. A relict population is found in Scotland. In the southern part of its range, it is restricted to mountains.

In Finland, a popular name of this species is ‘bear-hay’, as bears (Ursus arctos) are often observed eating the juicy plant. Moose (Alces alces) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) also relish it. The Sami have been known to eat it raw, or boiled in reindeer milk. (Source: luontoportti.com/suomi/en/kukkakasvit/alpine-sowthistle)

In Italy, alpine sow-thistle is also eaten as a vegetable. The young shoots are boiled and served in olive oil or tomato sauce, and the former is sold under the name insalata dell’orso (‘bear salad’). (Source: F. Scartezzini et al. 2012. Domestication of alpine blue-sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina (L.) Wallr.): six year trial results. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 59(3): 465-471)

 

 

Alpine sow-thistle, Umbal Valley, near Virgen Valley, Tirol, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of alpine sow-thistle, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cichorium
A genus of 7 species, distributed in Europe, Asia, and the northern half of Africa.

 

Cichorium intybus Chicory
This species is native to all of Europe, except Iceland, and is also found in North Africa, and in Asia eastwards to central Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. It is widely cultivated elsewhere and has become naturalized in the Americas, Australia, South Africa, China, and many other places.

 

 

Fallow field with vegetation of chicory, Rio Asabon, Sierra de la Pena, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cirsium Thistle
A large genus of spiny herbs with about 250-300 species, distributed across Eurasia, in North Africa, and in Central and North America.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek kirsion, the name of a thistle-like plant.

 

Cirsium acaule Stemless thistle, dwarf thistle
Plant with a rosette of deep green, spiny leaves, to 15 cm long, and usually a solitary purplish-red flowerhead, to 4 cm across, borne from the centre of the rosette. As its name implies, this species is stemless, but may occasionally be up to 20 cm tall. It is widespread in the major part of Europe, eastwards to the Baltic states and Romania, growing in grasslands with short vegetation, mainly on calcareous soil.

 

 

Stemless thistle, together with Merendera montana, Col du Pourtalet, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Fruiting stemless thistle, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cirsium eriophorum Woolly thistle
A stout biennial herb, to 1.5 m tall, densely woolly on the stem, with sharp yellow spines on the pinnate leaves, the lower ones reaching a length of up to 80 cm. The large, nearly spherical flowerheads, to 7 cm across, are covered in a dense layer of woolly hairs, with short spines hidden among the wool. There are numerous purplish-red disc florets, whereas ray florets are absent. The inflorescences are much visited by bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths.

This plant is widespread in Europe, found from the British Isles, Germany, and Poland southwards to the Mediterranean and Turkey, growing in open habitats, including grasslands, shrubberies, woodlands, and disturbed areas.

The young leaves may be eaten raw, and young stems are also edible after being soaked in water to remove their bitterness. The flower buds can be cooked, similar to artichokes (Cynara cardunculus), and an edible oil is extracted from the seeds.

 

 

Woolly thistle, Valle Tena, near El Formigal (upper 2), and Ibon de Piedrafita, both Aragon, Spain. The bottom picture shows a closed flowerhead. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cirsium erisithales Yellow melancholy thistle
This slender plant may reach a height of 1.5 m, with erect, almost hairless stems and few pinnately divided, unarmed leaves with toothed lobes. The nodding flowerheads are pale yellow or lemon-coloured, to 3 cm across, terminal, mostly solitary, but sometimes in groups up to 5.

It is widespread in southern and eastern Europe, found from the French Massif Central across the Alps eastwards to the Tatra Mountains, the Dinaric Alps, Greece, Ukraine, and European Russia. In the Alps, it is found at altitudes between 400 and 2,000 m.

The epithet melancholy alludes to the nodding flowerheads, which, apart from the colour, resemble those of the melancholy thistle (below).

 

 

Yellow melancholy thistle, Forni di Sopra, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow melancholy thistle, near Bistrica, northern Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow melancholy thistle in front of the waterfall Fontanon di Goriude, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cirsium helenioides Melancholy thistle
This species was previously known as C. heterophyllum, alluding to the leaves being of various shape. It is a spineless plant, growing to 1.2 m tall, often forming runners. The stem is grooved, downy, sometimes branched, leaves green and smooth above, with a thick layer of white felt beneath, basal leaves stalked, lanceolate, to 40 cm long and 8 cm wide, with soft prickles along the margin. Upper leaves are stalkless, clasping the stem with heart-shaped ears. Flowerheads conical, to 5 cm long and 3 cm wide, disc florets purplish-red, involucral bracts smooth, sometimes spreading.

This plant grows in grasslands, shrubberies, open woodland, and along roads and streams. It is native from northern Europe, including Scotland, eastwards across the major part of Siberia to Kazakhstan, Sinkiang, and Mongolia. It also occurs in montane areas of central and southern Europe, and in the Caucasus, and also a few places in Iceland and southern Greenland.

Formerly, this species was considered a possible cure for sadness. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says that it, being drank in wine “expels superfluous melancholy out of the body and makes a man as merry as a cricket,” adding “Dioscorides* saith, the root borne about one doth the like, and removes all diseases of melancholy: Modern writers laugh at him: Let them laugh that win: my opinion is, that it is the best remedy against all melancholy diseases that grows.”

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘like Helenium‘, alluding to the likeness of some leaf forms to those of the basal leaves of elecampane (Inula helenium), see Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

*Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist, author of De Materia Medica, 5 volumes dealing with herbal medicine.

 

 

Melancholy thistle, Arabba, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Melancholy thistle is much visited by bees, hover flies, and butterflies. – Stubai Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cirsium oleraceum Cabbage thistle
This perennial grows to 1.5 m tall, stems erect, unbranched or with few branches, pale green, leaves likewise pale green, soft, lower ones ovate in outline, deeply lobed, lobes pointed, with weak spines at the tip. Upper leaves often undivided, heart-shaped, clasping the stem.

Flowerheads are terminal, to 4 cm across, 2-6 densely clustered, surrounded or even sometimes covered by large yellowish bracts. Florets pale yellow, sometimes tinged pink.

The cabbage thistle thrives in wet meadows, along streams, and in humid forests, often forming large stands with the help of underground stems. It is native from western Europe eastwards to western Siberia. In montane areas it is restricted to the lower areas, occasionally found up to an altitude of about 2,000 m.

The specific name is derived from the Latin holus, genitive holeris (‘vegetable’), alluding to the young stems and leaves being edible. The common name also refers to this usage. In Japan, it is still being cultivated as a vegetable.

 

 

Cabbage thistle, Stechelberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. In the background wood scabious (Knautia dipsacifolia). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cirsium spinosissimum Spiniest thistle
The specific name of this plant, which may grow to 80 cm tall, means ‘very spiny indeed’ – a most descriptive name, as stem, leaves, and involucral bracts are covered with sharp, yellowish spines. The flowerheads, with dirty-brownish disc florets, are clustered at the apex, surrounded by pale yellow, very spiny bracts.

It is found in the entire Alps and the northern part of the Balkans, growing in dry, rocky areas at altitudes between 1,100 and 3,000 m.

Previously, young shoots were cooked as spinach or used in soup, and they were also used as pig feed.

A quite similar species, Bertoloni’s thistle (C. bertolonii), is found in the Apennines. It was previously regarded as a subspecies of spiniest thistle.

 

 

A large growth of spiniest thistle, near Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Spiniest thistle, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Spiniest thistle, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Spiniest thistle, Passo Falzárego, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Crepis Hawk’s-beard
This huge genus, comprising about 200 species, is distributed in the Northern Hemisphere and Africa, with the core area around the Mediterranean. The generic name is derived from the Greek krepis (‘slipper’ or ‘sandal’), according to some authorities referring to the shape of the fruit.

 

Crepis aurea Golden hawk’s-beard
In my opinion, this is the most beautiful member of the genus. It grows to about 30 cm tall, with a rosette of ovate to lanceolate, toothed, smooth, bright green leaves, to 10 cm long, and slender, hairy or smooth, sometimes branched stems, each stem and branch bearing a single orange or yellow-orange flowerhead.

It is widely distributed in European mountains, in the Jura, the Alps, the Apennines, the Abruzzos, and the Balkans, and is also found in Asia Minor. In the Alps, it grows in meadows and pastures, preferably on acid soil, at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,900 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘golden’, of course alluding to the flowerheads.

 

 

Golden hawk’s-beard, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Golden hawk’s-beard, Turracher Höhe, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Crepis staticifolia
Formerly, this species was placed in the genera Hieracium (below) and Tolpis, but genetic research indicates that it is closer to Crepis. (Source: S.J. Park et al. 2001. Phylogenetic relationships of Tolpis (Asteraceae: Lactuceae) based on ndh F sequence data. Plant Systematics and Evolution 226(1):23-33)

This plant may grow to 50 cm tall, stem erect, branched above, leaves almost all basal, linear or linear-lanceolate, entire or with a few teeth, narrowed towards the base. The few stem leaves are linear, entire. Flowerheads are solitary at the end of stem and branches, involucre egg-shaped, to 1.1 cm long, bracts brownish-black, mealy, pressed against the involucre. Florets sulfur-yellow. It reproduces vegetatively through underground stems.

The main area of distribution is the Alps, but it also occurs in the French Jura, in Hungary, and on the Balkan Peninsula. It thrives on calcareous soils, often growing in sand or gravel, and among rocks. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of about 2,500 m.

 

 

Crepis staticifolia, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Crepis staticifolia, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. To the left common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. fuchsii). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Crepis staticifolia, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. In the background alpine gypsophila (Gypsophila repens). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Doronicum Leopard’s bane
These plants, comprising about 38 species, are characterized by their large yellow flowerheads. They are native to the entire Europe, eastwards to central Siberia, southwards to North Africa, the Middle East, the Himalaya, and central China.

The generic name is derived from the Arabic name of these plants, darawnaj or darawnij. The common name was taken from one species, D. pardalianches, derived from the Greek pardalis (‘leopard’) and ankhein (‘to strangle’). According to Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), juice from a Doronicum species was rubbed on meat in the belief that it would cause leopards, which ate it, to die from asphyxiation.

 

Doronicum austriacum Austrian leopard’s bane
This species is native to the British Isles, central and southern Europe, and Turkey. It is a clump-forming perennial to 1.2 m tall, basal leaves to 13 cm long and 7 cm wide, finely toothed along the margin, stem leaves numerous, similar to the basal leaves, but gradually getting smaller up the stem. The large flowerheads, to 8 cm across, are clustrered at the end of the stem and numerous branches. They have long, narrow, strap-like, bright yellow ray florets, and dirty-yellow disc florets.

 

 

Austrian leopard’s bane, Oberwölz, near Sankt Peter am Kammersberg, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Austrian leopard’s bane, growing in a forest near Koprivnik, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Doronicum columnae Heart-leaved leopard’s bane
Like Austrian leopard’s bane a clump-forming plant, but lower and more slender, to 60 cm tall, and usually with unbranched stem. The basal leaves are ovate, kidney-shaped, or heart-shaped, strongly serrated, stem leaves few, heart-shaped, clasping the stem. Flowerheads terminal, solitary, to 6 cm in diameter.

This species grows in humid and often shady areas among limestone rocks, at altitudes from 500 m up to 2,100 m. It is distributed in the eastern Alps and the Carpathians, on the Balkan Peninsula, and in Italy.

 

 

Heart-leaved leopard’s bane, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Doronicum grandiflorum Large-flowered leopard’s bane
This plant forms dense clumps, stems leafy, to 40 cm tall, but usually much lower, leaves ovate to lanceolate, glandular, clasping the stem, margin wavy, with a few large teeth. Flowerheads to 6 cm across.

It is mainly found on eroded mountain slopes in areas of limestone, growing among rubble and gravel. It is native to the Alps, the Pyrenees, and mountains on the Balkan Peninsula and in Corsica, growing at altitudes between 1,400 and 3,400 m.

 

 

Large-flowered leopard’s bane, Cabane de Prarochet, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Echinops Globe-thistle
Most members of this genus, comprising about 120 species, are native to Europe and northern Asia, with some species present on mountains in tropical Africa.

These plants are characterized by their thistle-like appearance, but are easily identified by the spherical flowerhead, which resembles a spiny ball. This inflorescence gave rise to the generic name, derived from the Greek ekhinos (‘hedgehog’) and ops (‘head’).

 

Echinops ritro Southern globethistle
This thistle-like plant often forms dense growths, stems silvery-white, to 1 m tall, with numerous spiny, deeply divided leaves, green on the upperside, covered in greyish felt beneath. Basal leaves may grow to 20 cm long, stem leaves shorter. The globular flowerheads, to 4.5 cm across, have bright blue to steel-blue florets.

It is native to central and southern Europe, eastwards to central Siberia and Mongolia, southwards to Spain, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

 

 

Southern globethistle, Rio Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hieracium Hawkweed
This genus has apomictic (asexual) reproduction, which has resulted in a huge number of ‘species’, maybe more than 9,000. These plants are found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

The generic name is derived from the Greek hierakion, a diminutive of hierax (‘hawk’). According to an ancient legend, hawks were able to hone their eye sight with the milky juice of these plants. Alternatively, the name may refer to the tip of the ray florets, which resemble hawk wings.

 

Hieracium villosum Shaggy hawkweed
This plant is easily identified by its dense layer of hairs on stem and leaves, an adaptation to reduce evaporation in its habitat, which is dry grasslands and among rocks. It is usually densely tufted, but may occasionally grow to 30 cm tall. Stems sometimes branched. Leaves mostly basal, oblong or somewhat heart-shaped, to 8.5 cm long, stem leaves shorter. Flowerheads usually solitary at end of stem or branches, sometimes 2-3 together.

It is distributed in mountains of southern Europe, including the Jura Mountains, the Alps, the Apennines, the Dinaric Alps, and the Carpathians, at altitudes from 1,100 to 2,700 m.

 

 

Numerous raindrops are clinging to the hairy stem and leaves of this shaggy hawkweed, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hypochaeris Cat’s-ear
This genus is distributed in temperate areas of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. The number of species is disputed, varying from about 64 to 100, depending on authority.

The generic name is probably derived from the Greek hypo (‘under’) and choeris (‘young pig’), alluding to the fact that pigs enjoy eating the root of common cat’s-ear (H. radicata). The English name refers to the leaves of this species, which are covered in rough hairs.

 

Hypochaeris uniflora Large cat’s-ear
As its popular name implies, this is a stout plant, growing to 60 cm tall. The solitary stem, occasionally 2, is covered in a dense layer of hairs, and is conspicuously thicker beneath the solitary flowerhead, to 7 cm across. Most leaves are basal, gathered in a rosette, elliptic, oblong, or weakly ovate, to 2 cm wide and sometimes up to 22 cm long, but usually shorter, with small teeth along the margin. Stem leaves are few, often reduced to scales. The bracts surrounding the flowerhead are dark-brown, densely woolly. Corolla yellow, ray florets numerous, strap-shaped.

This species is partial to meadows and pastures, mainly on siliceous soil, found at altitudes between 1,300 and 2,600 m. It is distributed from the western Alps eastwards to the Balkans, the Carpathians, the Tatra Mountains, and Ukraine.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘one-flowered’, referring to the solitary flowerhead.

 

 

Large cat’s-ear, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. Alpine bistort (Polygonum viviparum) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are also present. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Jacobaea Ragwort
A genus of about 66 species, found in all of Europe and most parts of Asia, in North Africa, and in northern parts of North America. These plants were formerly included in the genus Senecio (below), but following genetic studies, they have been moved to a separate genus.

The name ragwort was given in allusion to the ragged foliage of many members of the genus.

 

Jacobaea vulgaris Common ragwort, tansy ragwort
This biennial or perennial, previously known as Senecio jacobaea, is native to the entire Europe, southwards to North Africa and Turkey, and thence eastwards to the Ural Mountains and Central Asia. It has also been introduced accidentally to many other places and is often considered a troublesome weed, mainly due to its toxicity to cattle and horses. It usually grows in dry grasslands and other open places.

The stem is erect, green or reddish, usually smooth, much branched, sometimes reaching a height of 2 m, but usually lower. The leaves, to 20 cm long and 6 cm wide, are pinnately lobed, the lobes toothed along the margin. The very numerous flowerheads, to 2.5 cm across, have 10-15 yellow, strap-shaped ray florets and many orange disc florets. The flowers are much visited by bees, hover flies, and butterflies.

Popular names of this species include stinking willie and mare’s fart, alluding to the unpleasant smell of the leaves.

 

 

Common ragwort, Ibon de Piedrafita, Pyrenees, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lactuca Lettuce
The number of species in this genus is unsettled. Many former members have been moved to other genera, and the genus is still being revised. It may have 50-70 members, mainly distributed in temperate areas of Asia, Europe, and North America.

The generic name was the classical Latin name of the garden lettuce (L. sativa), derived from lactis (‘milk’), alluding to the milky sap of this plant.

 

Lactuca perennis Mountain lettuce, blue lettuce
This species is widespread across most of central and southern Europe, from Spain and France eastwards to Ukraine, and from Germany and the Baltic states southwards to Italy and Greece. It is partial to sunny areas on calcareous soils, including dry meadows, roadsides, fallow fields, and river banks, growing up to an altitude of c. 2,000 m.

The stem is to 60 cm tall, erect, branched above, smooth, leaves mostly basal, bluish-green, stalked, pinnate, segments linear to lanceolate, lobed or toothed. Stem leaves gradually get smaller up the stem, less divided and clasping. Flowerheads, to 4 cm across, contain only ray florets, blue or purple, rarely white.

 

 

Mountain lettuce, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leontopodium Edelweiss
This genus contains about 58 species, most of which grow in Asia, with a few species extending to Europe.

The generic name was applied by Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858), from the Greek leon (‘lion’) and podion (‘small foot’), presumably in allusion to the fuzzy involucral bracts, which somewhat resemble a lion’s paw.

 

Leontopodium alpinum Common edelweiss
This species, by some authorities regarded as a subspecies of the mainly Asiatic L. nivale, is widely distributed, found in rocky meadows in limestone mountains, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians and the Tatra Mountains, and thence southwards to the Balkans. It grows at elevations between 1,800 and 3,000 m.

This plant is easily identified by the densely woolly bracts, forming a two-layered star around the flowerhead, which has only 5-6 yellow florets. The stems are very short, usually below 10 cm, occasionally to 20 cm. The spatulate leaves, to 3 cm long and 5 mm wide, are silvery-green, woolly, but much less so than the bracts.

Despite being rather non-descript, this species is one of the most beloved flowers of the Alps and the Balkans, being a national symbol of several countries: Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

In German, edelweiss means ‘noble white one’, and in the 19th Century it became a symbol of purity. Some even claimed that collecting this plant demanded great courage, which, of course, is pure nonsense, as it grows in alpine meadows and on slopes, and is thus very easy to collect. In his novel Edelweiss, from 1861, German novelist Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) ridiculously exaggerates this difficulty by claiming that “the possession of one is a proof of unusual daring.”

This species was formerly used as a traditional remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases.

 

 

Common edelweiss, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leucanthemum Ox-eye daisy
A genus of about 50 species, distributed in the entire Europe, southwards to the Mediterranean and Iran, eastwards across Siberia and the northern part of Central Asia to the Pacific coast. A number of species are cultivated as ornamental plants.

The generic name is derived from the Greek leukos (‘white’) and anthemon (‘flower’), alluding to the white ray florets of the genus. The disc florets are yellow. Previously, these plants were placed in the genus Chrysanthemum.

 

Leucanthemum adustum Hairy ox-eye daisy, saw-leaved ox-eye daisy
Tufted, rarely more than 30 cm tall, stem usually leafless in the upper third. Leaves somewhat fleshy, usually with 6-20 pointed teeth on each side, upper ones with a rounded or narrowed base. Involucral bracts have blackish-brown margins. Flowerheads are much like L. vulgare (below), but smaller, with shorter ray florets.

This plant, which mostly grows in rocky areas, is distributed in montane areas of central and southern Europe.

 

 

Hairy ox-eye daisy, Oeschinen See, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Hairy ox-eye daisy, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Leucanthemum vulgare Common ox-eye daisy
This plant, previously known as Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, is widespread, having about the same distribution as the genus. It has been introduced to many other countries as an ornamental and has often escaped to form naturalized populations.

The stem grows to about 1 m tall, basal leaves stalked, up to 25 cm long and 7 cm wide, spatulate to obovate, toothed along the margin, stem leaves sessile, much smaller, to 7.5 cm long, also toothed, base usually deeply lobed or fringed with slender segments. Flowerhead to 7.5 cm across, usually solitary on long terminal stalks. The white ray florets are 15-30 in number, strap-shaped, to 2.4 cm long, apex usually with 3 small teeth. Disc florets yellow, very numerous, sometimes up to 500, forming a slightly domed centre.

 

 

Common oxeye daisy with raindrops, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Petasites Butterbur
These plants, comprising c. 18 species, have with thick underground rhizomes and large rhubarb-like leaves. They are native to the major part of Europe and Asia, and northern North America. Most species are found in moist areas, such as riverbanks, meadows, and marshes.

The generic name is derived from the Greek petasos, meaning ’broad-brimmed hat’, which, like the common name umbrella plant, refers to the large leaves of many species, sometimes growing to 1 m across. The name butterbur supposedly stems from the habit of using the large leaves to wrap butter in during hot weather, while another popular name, lagwort, refers to the late appearance of the leaves, which do not usually unfold, until the flowers have faded.

The role of these plants in folklore is described on the page Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Petasites albus White butterbur
Early in spring, the flowering stems of this plant reach a height of about 30 cm, which, when fruiting, may be up to 80 cm tall. Inflorescences are dense racemes of flowerheads with white disc florets, ray florets absent. Stem leaves are often reduced to scales. The large basal leaves, which appear after flowering, are rounded in outline, double-toothed, to 40 cm wide.

It prefers to grow in damp soil in deciduous forests, often at springs or along streams, on mountain pastures, and along roads. It occurs in the major part of Europe, in Turkey, and in the Caucasus. In the Alps, it may be found from the lowlands up to an elevation of c. 2,700 m.

 

 

White butterbur, Rinnbach, Pongau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Petasites paradoxus Alpine butterbur
This species is widespread in limestone areas in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Jura Mountains, the Carpathians, and the Balkan Mountains, growing from the valleys up to about 2,700 m.

At flowering, between April and June, stems of this plant reach a height of about 30 cm, and when fruiting, they may be up to 60 cm tall. Inflorescences are dense racemes of flowerheads with reddish-white disc florets, ray florets absent. Stem leaves are often reduced to scales. The large basal leaves, which appear after flowering, are triangular or heart-shaped, toothed along the margin, to 30 cm wide, densely covered in snow-white felt beneath.

 

 

Leaves and fruiting stems of alpine butterbur, Prehodavci, near the Trenta Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Prenanthes Rattlesnake root
Traditionally, this genus contains 10 species, distributed in Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Myanmar, Sumatra, Ethiopia, and Zaire. However, a genetic study from 2009 claims that all species but the one below should be transferred to other genera.

 

Prenanthes purpurea Purple lettuce
The stem of this plant is richly branched, sometimes reaching a height of 1.5 m, but usually much lower. The smooth leaves are oblong-lanceolate, to about 10 cm long and 2 cm wide, lower leaves stalked, toothed or pinnately divided, upper leaves sessile, toothed, not divided, with a heart-shaped base, clasping the stem. Upperside of leaves green, underside greyish or blue-green. Inflorescences are very numerous, borne in loose panicles on thin, branched stalks from the nodes. The flowerheads are very small, bearing only 2-5 reddish-purple ray florets, with protruding styles.

This species is partial to shade, growing in forests, in particular on nutritious soil. It is widespread, occurring from western and central Europe and the Balkans, eastwards to Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Turkey. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,100 m.

 

 

Purple lettuce, Reserve Naturelle de Neouvielle, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Senecio Groundsel, ragwort, butterweed
This huge genus, comprising more than 1,200 species, is found almost worldwide. The majority of these plants are erect herbs, with a few climbing or scrambling species.

The generic name is derived from the Latin senex (‘old man’), alluding to the white seed hairs of the genus.

 

Senecio doronicum
Stem to 50 cm tall, branched, hairy, leaves alternate, oblong, ovate, or lanceolate, strongly toothed, lower ones decurrent (running down the stem), upper ones sessile. Flowerheads solitary or up to 5 together, to 6 cm across, disc florets orange, ray florets 10-20, yellow or orange-yellow.

This plant grows in rocky areas on calcareous soils, up to an elevation of about 2,500 m. It is distributed in central and southern Europe.

The specific name refers to the flowerheads, which resemble those of the genus Doronicum (above).

 

 

Senecio doronicum, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Senecio doronicum, Obersteinberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Senecio pyrenaicus
This plant, also known as S. tournefortii, is endemic to the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada, growing in open pine forests and rocky areas, often near streams. The stem is erect, to 60 cm tall, hairless or slightly hairy, leaves lanceolate, with numerous small teeth along the margin. Flowerheads are in small, stalked clusters at the apex, each to 3.5 cm across, with 10-16 yellow, strap-shaped ray florets and numerous orange disc florets.

 

 

Senecio pyrenaicus, Reserve Naturelle de Neouvielle, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Serratula
A genus with about 32 species, found in almost all of Europe, in North Africa and Turkey, eastwards across Siberia and Central Asia to the Pacific coast, and thence southwards to China and Japan.

The generic name is a diminutive of the Latin serratum (‘sawn’), alluding to the serrated leaves of the species below.

 

Serratula tinctoria Saw-wort
Widespread in almost all of Europe, and also in North Africa and Turkey, but is nowhere common. It is mainly restricted to poor soils in sunny or partially shady places, including, meadows, moors and open forests.

This plant may reach a height of 1 m, but is usually lower. The stem is erect, pale-yellowish green, often tinted purplish, smooth, grooved, branched above, lower leaves stalked, to 25 cm long, ovate to lanceolate, varying from entire to almost pinnate, with narrow, pointed lateral lobes and a long elliptic terminal lobe. Upper leaves smaller, short-stalked or sessile. The leaf margin is sharply serrated. Flowerheads are in terminal, branched clusters, each head to 2 cm across, ray florets absent, disc florets numerous, purplish-red or lilac, rarely white or pink.

In former days, this plant was used medicinally for treatment of ruptures and wounds.

The specific name is derived from the Latin tinctus (‘dyed’), alluding to a yellow dye, which was previously extracted from the leaves of this plant. The popular name alludes to the serrated leaves.

 

 

Saw-wort, Valle Hecho, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Betulaceae Birch family
Today, this family contains six genera of deciduous trees and shrubs, numbering about 167 species. Previously, only two genera, Betula (birches) and Alnus (alders), were included, but the former family Corylaceae (hazels, hornbeams, and allies) is now regarded as a subfamily, Coryloideae, of the birch family.

Most members of the family are native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with some species in tropical mountains and in the Andes.

Male and female flowers are borne in separate inflorescences, males in pendulous catkins and females mostly in upright spikes. The seed is a nut or, in Betula and Alnus, a winged nutlet.

 

Alnus Alder
This genus, comprising about 40 species of shrubs or trees, is distributed throughout the northern temperate zone, with a few species in Central America and the Andes. The fruits are very distinctive, woody, resembling diminutive cones.

 

Alnus alnobetula Green alder
Genetic research has shown that the green alder, formerly known as Alnus viridis, constitutes a central European subspecies of the widespread A. alnobetula, which, divided into about 6 subspecies, is distributed across Siberia, eastwards to Kamchatka and Japan, in the major part of Alaska, Canada, and northernmost United States, and in south-western Greenland. A separate subspecies is restricted to Corsica. In the Alps, it may be encountered from the valleys up to an elevation of c. 2,800 m.

This deciduous shrub, growing to 6 m tall, has smooth, grey bark, turning blackish with age. The ovate leaves, to 8 cm long and 6 cm wide, are shiny-green on the upperside, pale green beneath, with double-serrated margin. Male catkins are pendulous, to 8 cm long, female catkins mostly erect, ovoid, to 1 cm long and 7 mm wide, in clusters of 3-10 on terminal branchlets. Initially, they are green, turning brown when mature late in the autumn.

The green alder may also reproduce vegetatively by rooting branches that touch the ground.

 

 

Green alder with green unripe cones, and brown ripe cones from the previous year, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The shadow of green alder cones is cast on a leaf, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Boraginaceae Forget-me-not family
A huge family, comprising about 156 genera with c. 2,500 species of herbs, rarely shrubs, climbers, or trees. Most species are bristly-hairy. These plants are distributed in temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, with a core area around the Mediterranean.

 

Myosotis Forget-me-not
This genus of about 50 species is found in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and North America.

The origin of the names Myosotis and forget-me-not, and the role of these plants in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Myosotis alpestris Alpine forget-me-not
This circumpolar Arctic-montane species is distributed in mountains of Europe, North Africa, Central and East Asia, and North America, and it also occurs along the arctic coast, from the Kola Peninsula eastwards to Alaska. It is quite common in the Alps, found at altitudes between 1,300 and 3,000 m.

The erect stems may grow to 45 cm tall, but are often much lower, sometimes tufted, covered in soft hairs. Basal and lower stem leaves stalked, narrowly oblanceolate or linear, to 8 cm long and 1.2 cm wide, hairy, upper stem leaves sessile, smaller. Inflorescences are scorpoid cymes, to 15 cm long, corolla blue, to 8 mm across, with white throat, encircled by 5 white or yellow scales.

 

 

Alpine forget-me-not, Hochtor, Grossglockner, Austria. In the upper picture, Silene acaulis (Caryophyllaceae) is also seen, and in the lower picture white musky saxifrage (Saxifraga exarata). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pulmonaria Lungwort
This genus, comprising about 18 species, is native to Europe and western Asia, with one species found eastwards to northern China.

The generic and English names both allude to the former usage of the common lungwort (P. officinalis) to treat lung problems.

 

Pulmonaria montana Mountain lungwort
Stem erect or ascending, to 40 cm tall, sparsely hairy. Leaves alternate, lanceolate, to 6 cm long and 2 cm wide, unspotted, or rarely with light green spots, base half-clasping or slightly decurrent (running down the stem). Inflorescence coiled, dense, softly hairy, flower stalks very short, petals fused, forming a tube, initially reddish, later blue to dark purple.

This plant is restricted to western Europe, found from the Pyrenees and the western Alps northwards to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Rhine Province of Germany. It grows in deciduous forests and forest meadows, and along forest edges.

 

 

Mountain lungwort, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) Cabbage family
A huge family of herbs and some shrubs, with about 330 genera and c. 3,500 species, found in all continents, except Antarctica, mainly in temperate areas. The highest diversity is around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East and Central Asia, and in western North America.

Petals are always 4 in number, arranged cross-wise, which has given rise to the alternative family name Cruciferae, from the Latin crux (‘cross’) and‎ ferae (‘bearing’). The fruit is a carpel, which, at maturity, splits into two valves, either less than 3 times as long as broad (a silicula), or more than 3 times as long as broad (a siliqua).

A very difficult family, in which ripe fruits are often necessary for identification.

 

Biscutella Buckler-mustard
A genus of about 50 species, distributed in central and southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, with a core area around the Mediterranean. The fruit of these yellow-flowered plants is highly distinctive, being divided into two circular parts, resembling a pair of spectacles.

The common name refers to the shape of the fruit, a buckler being a small, round shield, in the past held by a soldier with a handle or strapped to his forearm. The word is derived from Old French (escu) bocler, literally ‘(shield) with a buckle’.

 

Biscutella laevigata Common buckler-mustard
This species is widely distributed in central and southern Europe, from Portugal eastwards to Ukraine and the Balkans. It is very common in the Alps, growing in grassy areas and among rocks, from the lowland up to about 2,800 m altitude.

The stem, branched above, grows to about 40 cm tall, leaves lanceolate, coarsely hairy, to 12 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, either entire with a few teeth along the margin, or pinnate. The leaves are gradually smaller up the stem. The yellow flowers are numerous, in loosely branched, terminal racemes, petals narrowly egg-shaped, to 8 mm long. The fruit, divided into two circular parts, is to 5 mm long and 12 mm wide, each part containing a single seed.

The plant sometimes propagates through root shoots.

 

 

Large growth of common buckler-mustard, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common buckler-mustard, Umbal Valley, near Virgen Valley, Tirol, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cardamine Bittercress, toothwort
This large genus, comprising about 200 species of herbs, is found in a variety of habitats, distributed in most of the world.

The generic name is from Ancient Greek kardamon, the name of a kind of cress.

 

Cardamine amara Large bittercress
In its first year, this perennial sends out runners, having only basal leaves. In spring of the following year, ascending or erect, furrowed, smooth or hairy, heavily leafed stems form, to 70 cm tall, but usually lower. The alternate leaves are stalked, pinnate, with 3-17 leaflets, the terminal leaflet larger than the lateral ones. The flowers are arranged in a terminal, spreading cluster, petals generally white, rarely pink or purple, to 14 mm long, anthers purple. The siliqua is to 4 cm long and 2 mm wide.

This plant is partial to springs and other damp places, preferably with running water, on nutrient-rich soils. It is native to all of Europe, except Iceland, eastwards to western Siberia, southwards to Turkey and the Caucasus. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of at least 2,000 m.

The plant is rich in vitamin C, and in former times it was used as a remedy to prevent scurvy.

 

 

Large bittercress, growing in a spring, Turracher Höhe, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cardamine enneaphyllos Drooping bittercress
A plant to about 30 cm tall, stem leaves 3, whorled beneath the inflorescence, pinnately divided, lobes to 5 cm long, ovate-lanceolate, irregularly double-toothed. Flowers pale yellow or almost white, nodding, petals to 1.6 cm long. Siliques spectacular, to 7.5 cm long and 4 mm wide.

This species, previously known as Dentaria enneaphyllos, grows in deciduous forests and shrubberies on calcareous soils. It is distributed from southern Scotland and Germany southwards to the Mediterranean, and from central France eastwards to Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. In the Alps, it mainly occurs in the valleys.

 

 

Drooping bittercress, showing the characteristic fruits, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Draba Whitlow-grass
A huge genus with about 350 species, primarily found in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in mountains and arctic regions, and also c. 70 species in South America.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek drabe, a kind of cress. The popular name whitlow-grass stems from an old belief that members of this genus were able to cure whitlow, i.e. inflammation at the end of a finger or toe.

 

Draba aizoides Yellow whitlow-grass
This small perennial, growing to 10 cm tall, occasionally to 15 cm, has a basal rosette of linear, stiff, entire leaves, to 2 cm long, fringed with whitish bristles. Stem erect, hairless, leafless, with a terminal inflorescence, petals yellow, often turning paler with age, to about 5 mm long, with a small notch. The silicula is ellipsoid, to 1.3 cm long, ripening in winter.

This plant grows among rocks and gravel in calcareous areas, distributed in montane areas of southern and central Europe, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians, and in several lower mountains of western Europe, including the Vosges, the Jura, the Cévennes, the Belgian Ardennes, and on the Gower Peninsula, Wales. In the Alps, it occurs up to at least 2,500 m altitude.

 

 

Yellow whitlow-grass, Hochtor, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Erucastrum Dog-mustard
A genus of about 25 species, native to the major part of Europe, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, and northern, eastern, and southern Africa. The core area is around the Mediterranean.

 

Erucastrum gallicum Common dog-mustard
This species is native to central and southern Europe, but has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world. It is mainly found in lower mountains, occuring sporadically in the lowlands. It is a colonizer of wastelands and fallow fields, occasionally found along roads and railways.

The stem grows to 60 cm tall, erect, branched, hairy at the base, leaves pinnate, with 4-8 lobes on each side. Inflorescences many-flowered, terminal, petals yellow, to 9 mm long, the stalked siliquas to 5 cm long.

 

 

Common dog-mustard, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Erucastrum nasturtiifolium
The stem, to 80 cm tall, is hairy, branched from the base, leaves dark green, pinnate, with 4-8 narrow lobes on each side, which are again lobed or toothed, often wavy, not unlike leaves of Nasturtium, a fact reflected in the specific name. Inflorescences many-flowered, terminal, petals yellow, to 1.3 cm long, siliquas to 5 cm long.

The natural range of this plant is from the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the northern Balkan Peninsula northwards to northern France and Germany, northwards to central Baden-Württemberg, Franconian Alb, and the Rhine area. It is also found in eastern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine and the European part of Russia, but may be introduced here. In the Alps, it mainly occurs in the foothills, but may be encountered up to an elevation of about 2,000 m. It is partial to moist, nutrient-rich soils, often colonizing sandy or gravelly banks of lakes and rivers.

 

 

Erucastrum nasturtiifolium, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hugueninia tanacetifolia Tansy-leaved rocket
This plant, the only member of the genus, may reach a height of 1 m, stem erect, smooth or slightly hairy, branched above. Leaves are short-stalked, alternate, to 20 cm long, pinnately divided, ovate or lanceolate in outline, with 5-10 pairs of segments, lobes serrated. Infloresences are racemes of small golden-yellow flowers, petals narrowly obovate, to 4 mm long, base wedge-shaped, tip rounded. The silicula is square, club-shaped, to 12 mm long.

This species is native to mountains of the Iberian Peninsula, the Pyrenees, and the south-western Alps, growing on arid and rocky slopes at elevations between 1,500 and 2,500 m.

The generic name honours French botanist and teacher Auguste Huguenin (1780-1860), who lived in Savoie. The specific name means ‘with leaves like tansy’, alluding to the similarity of the leaves to those of the common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).

 

 

Tansy-leaved rocket, Little St. Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Thlaspi Pennycress
A genus with about 75 species, native to temperate Eurasia, especially southern Europe and the Middle East.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek thlaspis, a kind of cress. The popular name was given in allusion to the flat, circular fruits of some of the species, shaped like coins.

 

Thlaspi rotundifolium Round-leaved pennycress
A prostrate, tufted dwarf plant, to 10 cm tall, sometimes with runners, stem smooth, creeping or ascending. Basal leaves in a rosette, broadly ovate or spatulate, often fleshy, sometimes faintly toothed, to 1.8 cm long and 9 mm wide. Stem leaves similar, sessile. Inflorescence a raceme of pink or violet flowers, sweet-scented, petals to 1 cm long and 5 mm wide. The siliqua is to 1.2 cm long and 3 mm wide.

This species is distributed from eastern France across the Alps to the northern part of the Balkans, usually growing on limestone at elevations between 1,600 and 2,800 m.

 

 

Round-leaved pennycress, Sasso Becce, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Campanulaceae Bellflower family
A large, almost cosmopolitan family, containing about 86 genera with more than 2,300 species.

 

Adenophora Ladybells
These plants are very similar to bellflowers (below), but differ by having a cup-shaped ring of nectar glands at the base of the stamens. There are about 62 species, most of which are native to eastern Asia, with only 2 species reaching Europe, one of which is restricted to the Crimean Peninsula.

The generic name is derived from the Greek aden (‘gland’) and phorea (‘to bear’), referring to the nectar glands.

 

Adenophora liliifolia Common ladybells
This perennial, previously known as Campanula rhomboidea, has an erect, branched stem, growing to 1.5 m tall, occasionally taller. Lower stem leaves obovate to elliptic, narrowed into a short stalk. They wither early. Upper stem leaves sessile, lanceolate or ovate-lanceolate, entire or toothed, smooth, green and shiny on the upperside, paler on the underside. Flowers very numerous in a terminal raceme, simple or branched, flowers short-stalked, nodding, bell-shaped or funnel-shaped, to 2 cm long, corolla pale blue, with five broad, rounded or pointed, spreading lobes.

This plant is distributed from central Europe eastwards to central Siberia and the Altai Mountains of Sinkiang and western Mongolia. In central and south-eastern Europe, it occurs in scattered locations, growing in sunny areas along forest margins, in shrubberies, and in grassy areas.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with leaves similar to lilies’.

 

 

Adenophora liliifolia, Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Campanula Bellflower
This genus includes more than 500 species, found in temperate and subtropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with the highest diversity around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. No less than 44 species occur in the Alps.

The generic name and the popular name, as well as the name of the entire family, were applied in allusion to the bell-shaped flowers of this genus, from the Latin campanula (’little bell’), the ‘bell’ consisting of five fused petals with free tips.

 

Campanula barbata Bearded bellflower
The stem is erect, to 40 cm tall, coarsely hairy, basal leaves in a rosette, blade oblong or lanceolate, entire or slightly toothed. Stem leaves few and small, narrow, to 1 cm long. Inflorescence a one-sided raceme, containing 2-12 nodding, broadly bell-shaped flowers, varying in colour from sky-blue to pure white, with long hairs along the edge. Sepals small, pointed.

This species is common throughout the Alps, and also occurs in the Sudetes and the Tatra Mountains, growing in pastures, meadows, and light forest, at altitudes between 800 and 2,700 m. A few small and vulnerable populations are found in southern Norway, possibly relict populations from the latest Ice Age.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘bearded’, like the common name alluding to the long hairs along the edge of the petals.

 

 

Flowers of bearded bellflower come in all shades between sky-blue and pure white. This one with sky-blue flowers was encountered in the Sölk Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Silent rain has left countless drops on this pale blue form of bearded bellflower, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bearded bellflower with very pale blue, almost white flowers, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bearded bellflower with pure white flowers, Plan de Gralba, Val Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula carnica Carnian bellflower
This species, also known as flax-leaved bellflower, is very similar to the widespread harebell (below), but it may be identified by the long, thin sepals, to 1 cm long, which curve backwards, and the very long, thread-like leaves, which are often pendent. The corolla is longer and more slender than that of harebell.

It is restricted to the south-eastern Alps, from the Dolomites to Slovenia, often growing on rocks.

 

 

Carnian bellflower, Fontanon di Goriude, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula cochleariifolia Fairy’s thimble, ear-leaved bellflower
This perennial forms dense clumps of bright green, tiny basal leaves, broadly ovate to rounded, toothed, lower stem leaves lanceolate, toothed, upper ones linear, sometimes with short bristles. The small, nodding, pale blue to purplish-blue flowers, to 1.5 cm long, are terminal, 2-6 in small racemes, on wiry stems to 15 cm tall, rarely taller.

This plant is mainly found in limestone regions, growing in grassy areas and among gravel. It is distributed from the Pyrenees eastwards across the Alps to the Carpathians and the Balkan Peninsula. It is also found in the French Massif Central and in the Black Forest and the Swabian Alb, southern Germany. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an altitude of c. 3,000 m.

Leaves and flowers are edible, raw or cooked, with a pleasant mild flavour.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with leaves like Cochlearia (scurvy-grass). The popular name fairy’s thimble alludes to the small size of the flowers and to their shape.

 

 

Fairy’s thimble, near Säntis, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula glomerata Clustered bellflower
This stout plant grows to 60 cm tall, occasionally taller. The stem is simple, erect, downy, basal leaves stalked, ovate or heart-shaped, stem leaves lanceolate, sessile. The inflorescence is a terminal, dense cluster of 15-20 sessile flowers, corolla blue, dark violet-blue, or purplish-blue, to 3 cm long.

It grows on calcareous soils in open forests, shrubberies, dry grasslands, and sometimes along roads and trails. It is native to northern temperate areas of Eurasia, from almost all of Europe eastwards to the Pacific, southwards to Spain, Turkey, Iran, the Himalaya, northern China, and Japan. It has also become naturalized in North America. In the Alps and the Pyrenees, it usually grows at elevations below 1,500 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘gathered in a group’, referring to the dense inflorescence. An old folk name is Dane’s blood, alluding to the fancy belief that this plant sprouted in places, where Danes had been slain in battle.

 

 

Clustered bellflower, Dixence, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Clustered bellflower, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula latifolia Large bellflower
This handsome plant may grow to 2 m tall, but is usually much lower. Leaves mostly stalkless, toothed, hairy, lower ones ovate with rounded base, to 12 cm long and 6 cm wide, upper ones much smaller, lanceolate. The large, nodding, blue or purplish-blue flowers, to 5 cm long, are borne in the leaf axils, lobes large, spreading, pointed.

This species grows in forests and shrubberies, found in almost all of Europe and western Asia, eastwards to western Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the western Himalaya. In the Alps, it may be found up to elevations around 1,500 m.

 

 

Large bellflower, Prtovč, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula rapunculoides Creeping bellflower, rampion bellflower
This plant grows to 80 cm tall, occasionally to 1.2 m. The stem is simple, erect, slightly downy. The basal leaves are narrowly triangular, with a heart-shaped or rounded base, toothed, to 12 cm long and 2 cm wide, upper stem leaves lanceolate, smaller. The inflorescence is a long, one-sided raceme with numerous short-stalked, drooping flowers, blue or violet-blue, rarely white, lobes slightly hairy, sepals narrow, back-curved, bracts small, pointed, leaf-like.

This species grows in open forests, shrubberies, fields, gardens, and along roads, railways, and hedgerows, preferably in partial shade. It spreads by underground rhizomes, often forming dense stands. Even a small piece of rhizome can spout into a new plant, making it very hard to eradicate, once it has entered a garden.

It is found in all of Europe, except Iceland and the British Isles, southwards to the Mediterranean, Turkey, and Iran, eastwards to central Siberia and Central Asia. It has also been introduced to North America, where it has become an extremely invasive weed. In the Alps, it may be found up to elevations around 2,000 m.

The specific name refers to the similarity of this plant to Campanula rapunculus, the specific name of which is a diminutive of the Latin rapa (turnip), thus ‘little turnip’, referring to the shape of the root.

 

 

Creeping bellflower, Stechelberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula rotundifolia Harebell
This widespread and well-known plant is also known by a number of other names, including bluebell, lady’s thimble, witch’s bells, and witch’s thimbles. It is a slender plant, growing to about 40 cm tall, sometimes to 60 cm. The basal leaves are small, rounded, kidney- or heart-shaped, toothed, long-stalked, withering early. The stem leaves are entirely different, linear or narrowly lanceolate. The inflorescence is a panicle with a few or many flowers, borne on very slender stalks, corolla pale blue or violet-blue, occasionally pink or white, to 2.5 cm long, lobes triangular, curving outwards. Sepals long, pointed.

This species has a circumpolar distribution, growing between latitudes 40°N to about 78°N. It is very common in most parts of Europe, from the Mediterranean northwards to the Arctic, growing mainly on dry, acidic soils. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of about 1,500 m.

English poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) mentions harebell in his play Cymbeline, in which the main character is the early Celtic king Cunobeline, who ruled in Britain about 9-40 A.D.

 

With fairest flowers,
Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose, nor
The azured hare-bell, like thy veins; no, nor
The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
Out-sweeten’d not thy breath.

 

 

Harebell, photographed after a rain shower, Upper Rhone Valley, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula scheuchzeri Scheuchzer’s bellflower
This species is very similar to the widespread harebell (above), but has more funnel-shaped flowers, usually of an intense violet-blue colour, and the lobes are more pointed. The stem leaves are long and grass-like.

This plant is widely distributed in montane areas of Europe, from northern Spain across the Alps and the Apennines to the Carpathians and the Balkans, found up to an altitude of about 3,200 m. In the Black Forest of Germany, it grows as low as 1,000 m.

It was named in honour of Swiss physician and naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733), who was known primarily for his interpretation of fossils as a remnant of the Great Deluge.

 

 

Scheuchzer’s bellflower, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula spicata Spiked bellflower
This stout plant, to 80 cm tall, is easily identified by its dark blue flowers, bell- or funnel-shaped, to 2.5 cm long, arranged in a dense terminal spike. The stem is erect, striated, hairy, basal leaves stalked, narrowly lanceolate, margin toothed and wavy, stem leaves smaller, pointed.

This species grows in montane grasslands and stony areas, found at altitudes between 400 and 2,500 m. It is distributed in the central and southern Alps, the Apennines, the Abruzzo Mountains, and on the Balkan Peninsula.

 

 

Spiked bellflower, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Campanula thyrsoides Yellow bellflower
This is one of the relatively few bellflowers that does not have blue flowers. Instead, they are a very pale yellow, arranged in a very dense spike at the tip of the hairy, unbranched, dark-brown, very leafy stem, which may grow to a height of 1.2 m. Leaves sessile, lanceolate or oblong, entire. The spike may contain up to 200 flowers, petals pale yellow, hairy on the outside, to 2.5 cm long.

This species is native to the Alps, the Dinaric Alps, and mountains on the Balkan Peninsula, growing between 1,000 and 2,900 m altitude.

 

 

Yellow bellflower, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow bellflower, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Jasione
This genus, comprising about 14 species, is distributed in Europe, eastwards to European Russia, in North Africa, and in Turkey.

 

Jasione montana Sheep’s-bit
This plant is distributed in the major part of Europe, eastwards to European Russia, and also in North Africa. It grows on rather poor soils in grasslands, dunes, and heathland, and among rocks.

The branched stem is ascending or erect, to 60 cm long, rarely up to 80 cm. The stem leaves are oblong or lanceolate, margin wavy. The upper part of the stem is without leaves. The numerous flowers are gathered in a dense, hemispherical, terminal head, to 2.5 cm across. The inflorescence resembles that of members of the scabious subfamily (Dipsacoideae), of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), but differs in the five pale blue petals being fused into a tube at the base. Anthers are white, protruding.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘of mountains’. The species, however, is mostly found in the lowlands, restricted to the lower part of mountains.

 

 

Sheep’s-bit, Col de la Madelaine, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Phyteuma Rampion
Counting about 25 species, rampions are distributed in the major part of Europe, eastwards to Ukraine, southwards to Morocco. The flowers of almost all species are various shades of dark blue. No less than 17 species have been encountered in the Alps.

The flowers of this genus are very characteristic, arranged in dense erect panicles, each flower with a narrow, deeply five-lobed corolla, 2 cm or longer, mostly purplish-blue, sometimes pale blue, white, or pink. Initially, the corolla lobes are connected in the upper third, later separated.

The origin of the popular German name of these plants, Rapunzel, is rather obscure. The name was taken from a fairy tale, Rapunzel, published by the Grimm Brothers in 1812, which can be traced back to an Italian tale from 1634, Petrosinella, by Giambattista Basile.

A couple live next to a large vegetable garden, which belongs to a sorceress. When the wife gets pregnant, she notices a vegetable, called rapunzel, in the garden and starts craving for it. She refuses to eat anything else, so her husband climbs the wall around the garden to get some for her. However, during his next visit to the garden, he is caught by the sorceress. She agrees to let him take all the rapunzel he wants, but on the condition that the newborn baby is given to her. Desperate, he agrees.

The sorceress names the newborn girl Rapunzel after the plant that her mother craved. The girl grows up to be a beautiful child with long golden hair, and the sorceress locks her up inside a tower with no door and no stairs, and only one room with one window. When she visits Rapunzel, the sorceress stands beneath the tower, calling out: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” – whereupon she climbs up her long, braided hair.

One day, a prince, who is riding in the forest, hears Rapunzel singing from the tower. As he approaches, he hears the sorceress calling Rapunzel to let down her hair. When the sorceress has left, he calls the same words, and climbs up her hair. Naturally, the two fall in love, and after many adventures they live happily ever after.

So, what exactly has this magical vegetable to do with the genus Phyteuma? Not much, it seems. In the Italian fairy tale Petrosinella, it is parsley (Petroselinum). In the German version, it may be either Campanula rapunculus (mentioned above under Campanula rapunculoides), which has edible leaves, or lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta), which was commonly used in salads in former days. So why the name Rapunzel has been applied to rampions, is not clear. Although some species have edible roots, the wife in the fairy tale was craving for a salad.

Another German name is Teufelskralle (‘Devil’s claw’), referring to the bent-in flowers of some members of this genus.

 

Phyteuma betonicifolium Betony-leaved rampion
As its specific and popular names imply, the leaves of this plant resemble those of purple betony (Stachys officinalis). It is restricted to the Alps, from the eastern to the western part, growing on acidic soils in pastures, meadows, and shrubberies, at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,700 m.

Stem erect, simple, smooth, to 70 cm tall. Basal leaves long-stalked, blade much longer than broad, pointed, blunt-toothed, basis heart-shaped or rounded. Upper leaves small, linear or narrowly lanceolate, sessile. The inflorescence is a dense, ovate-cylindrical spike of pale blue to violet-blue flowers, to 1.2 cm long, with a long style, which usually ends in three stigmas.

 

 

Betony-leaved rampion with purplish flowers, Tavetsch Valley, Graubünden, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Betony-leaved rampion with pale blue flowers, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland (above), and at Mutterbergerklamm, Stubai Valley, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phyteuma hemisphaericum Globe-headed rampion
The English name of this plant is unfortunate, as its flowerhead is less globular than that of round-headed rampion (below). A more suitable name would be hemispherical rampion, a translation of the specific name.

It is a small plant, to 15, sometimes 25 cm tall, branching at the base, often forming dense growths. Stems erect, often dark brown, basal leaves grass-like, linear or spatulate, entire, often bristly, to 2 mm wide. Stem leaves sessile, linear, much shorter than the basal leaves. The hemispherical flowerheads are to 2 cm across, flowers pale to dark blue, back-curved. The hairy style is protruding.

This plant is distributed in montane areas of central and southern Europe, found in northern Spain, the Pyrenees, Auvergne, the French Massif Central, the Jura Mountains, the Alps, and the Apennines. It is partial to acid soils, found from 1,500 to 3,000 m altitude, in some areas found down to 600 m.

 

 

Globe-headed rampion, Great St. Bernhard Pass, on the border between Switzerland and Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phyteuma michelii
Stem erect, to 40 cm tall, basal leaves long-stalked, linear to narrowly lanceolate, toothed, often withering early. Flowers bright blue or bluish-lilac, in cylindrical to ovoid spikes. It is restricted to south-eastern France and north-western Italy, growing in grasslands, rarely among scree, up to an elevation of about 2,300 m.

The specific name was given in honour of Italian botanist Pier Antonio Micheli (1679-1737), professor of botany in Pisa, curator of the Orto Botanico di Firenze, author of Nova plantarum genera iuxta Tournefortii methodum disposita. He was a leading authority on cryptogams (plants reproducing by spores), and discovered the spores of mushrooms.

 

 

Phyteuma michelii, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. A large growth of common bistort (Polygonum bistorta) and a single clump of alpine dock (Rumex alpinus) are also present. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phyteuma orbiculare Round-headed rampion
This plant, which was named due to its almost globular flowerheads, is widespread in Europe, from the Baltic states, Belarus, Poland, Belgium, and England southwards to the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Balkans, and Ukraine. In the northern and eastern parts of the distribution area, it occurs in the lowlands. Further south, it is restricted to mountains. It grows in grasslands and open forests, mostly in sunny places on calcareous soils. In the Alps, it is found at altitudes between 600 and 2,450 m.

The stem is erect, simple, smooth, striated, to 50 cm high. The basal leaves are arranged in a rosette, stalked, ovate to lanceolate, upper stem leaves smaller, lanceolate to linear. The inflorescence is a dense erect panicle, to 3 cm in diameter, with up to 30 flowers, petals sky blue or violet-blue.

In England, this plant is also known by the name The Pride of Sussex, as it is most common in that area.

 

 

Round-headed rampion, Sassolungo, Dolomites, Italy. Several other plants are also seen in the picture, including a very pale, almost white form of red clover (Trifolium pratense), common cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), and a species of plantain (Plantago). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Round-headed rampion, Passo Tre Croci, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Silent rain has left countless drops on this round-headed rampion, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phyteuma ovatum Dark rampion
This species is easily identified by its blackish-purple flowerheads, although at higher altitudes they may be yellowish or white, with a brownish tinge. It grows to 1 m tall, basal leaves long-stalked, heart-shaped, lower stem leaves lanceolate, toothed, upper stem leaves linear or narrowly lanceolate, small. The bracts beneath the cylindric or egg-shaped, spiked inflorescence are as large as the upper leaves, narrowly lanceolate. Before blooming, the up to 1.5 cm long, blackish-purple corolla tube is curved upwards.

This species is found in nutrient-rich meadows, shrubberies, and forests at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,400 m. It is distributed from the Pyrenees eastwards via the French Massif Central and the Alps to the Dinaric Alps in Slovenia.

 

 

Dark rampion, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. Wood geranium (Geranium sylvaticum) is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dark rampion, Passo Tre Croci, Dolomites, Italy. The plant in the background is common adenostyles (Adenostyles alliariae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phyteuma spicatum Spiked rampion
The erect stem, to 80 cm high, is smooth, basal leaves long-stalked, ovate, blunt, toothed, with heart-shaped base, middle and upper stem smaller, lanceolate. The dense, cylindric inflorescence is very long, sometimes to 20 cm, corolla usually greenish to yellowish-white, although subspecies coeruleum, found in the Alps, has bluish flowers. Vegetative propagation sometimes takes place through root shoots.

This species is widely distributed in western Europe, from southern Norway southwards to Spain, and from the British Isles eastwards to the Carpathians. In the northern part of this area, it is mainly restricted to broad-leaved forests, especially beech (Fagus sylvatica), but further south it also grows in mountain meadows up to an altitude of 2,100 m.

Young leaves and root are edible.

 

 

Spiked rampion, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. In the upper picture, a species of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla) is also seen. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Caprifoliaceae Honeysuckle family
Following genetic research, several previously separate families, including Dipsacaceae and Valerianaceae, have now been reduced to subfamilies within the honeysuckle family. Today, this family includes 42 genera with about 860 species, found in most parts of the world.

The family name is derived from Caprifolium, an older synonym for the genus Lonicera, from Proto-Indo-European kapros (‘goat’) and the Latin folium (‘leaf’).

 

Cephalaria Giant scabious
This genus, comprising about 65 species, is native to southern Europe, western and central Asia, and northern and southern Africa.

The flowers are densely clustered in a terminal hemispherical head, resembling composites, family Asteraceae. The generic name is derived from the Greek kephale (‘head’) and the Latin -aria, a suffix.

 

Cephalaria leucantha White giant scabious
This hardy perennial, often forming dense stands, has multiple long stems to 1.5 m tall, leaves pinnately divided with very narrow lobes. Flowerheads hemispherical, corolla white, cream, or pale lemon-coloured.

This species is distributed around the Mediterranean, growing in open areas, such as fallow fields, along roads etc. It is found from sea level up to an elevation of about 1,400 m.

 

 

White giant scabious, Cévennes, southern France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

White giant scabious, Valle Hecho, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Knautia Scabious, widow flower
A genus of about 48 species, native to Europe, North Africa, and Turkey, eastwards to western Siberia and Ukraine. At least 15 species occur in the Alps, of which 7 are endemic.

These plants are usually called scabious, although, strictly speaking, that name is reserved for a related genus, Scabiosa. The generic name was applied by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, in honour of two German brothers, Christoph Knaut (1638-1694) and Christian Knaut (1656-1716), both botanists and physicians. The latter published Compendium Botanicum sive Methodus plantarum genuina, in which he provided a classification system for flowering plants, based on petal number and arrangement.

Previously, these plants were placed in the scabious family (Dipsacaceae), but this family has been reduced to a subfamily, Dipsacoideae, within the honeysuckle family. The flowers are densely clustered in a terminal head, resembling composites, family Asteraceae.

 

Knautia dipsacifolia Wood scabious
From basic leaf rosettes, the wiry, bristly-hairy stem ascends, to 1 m tall, branched from the leaf nodes. Basic leaves narrowed towards the base. Stem leaves dark green, lanceolate, ovate, or elliptic, to 20 cm long, margin toothed. Flowerheads terminal, lilac-pink, pale purple, or bluish-violet, to 4 cm across.

The main distribution area of this species is the Alps and the Pyrenees, at elevations between 400 and 2,100 m. It also occurs in Hungary and the Balkans, and further north in scattered locations in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Its habitat includes grassy areas, forest margins, and open forests.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with leaves like Dipsacus‘ (teasel).

 

 

Wood scabious, Rosanin Valley, near Thomatal, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Knautia longifolia Long-leaved scabious
Much like the wood scabious (above), but leaves very long and narrow, long-pointed.

This plant grows in grasslands, shrubberies, and forest clearings, preferably on calcareous soils. It is distributed in the southern and eastern Alps, the Carpathians, and the Balkan Peninsula.

 

 

Long-leaved scabious, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. Kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) and spiked yellow lousewort (Pedicularis elongata) are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Valeriana Valerian
A large genus with about 300 species, widespread in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Previously, these plants were placed in the family Valerianaceae, which has now been reduced to a subfamily, Valerianoideae, of the honeysuckle family.

The generic name is derived from the Latin valere (‘to be strong, healthy’), alluding to the medicinal properties of many valerian species.

 

Valeriana montana Mountain valerian
A rosette-forming, low plant, usually below 40 cm tall, occasionally with an erect stem to 60 cm. Basal leaves and stem leaves ovate to broadly lanceolate, pointed, entire or weakly toothed, upper leaves sometimes 3-lobed. Inflorescences are domed panicles of small, pink, lilac, or rarely white flowers.

This plant is found in montane areas of southern Europe, in Portugal, Spain, the Pyrenees, the Alps, Sardinia, Corsica, the Italian mainland, the Czech Republic, Poland, all the Balkan countries, and Turkey. It grows exclusively on calcareous soils. In the Alps, it occurs up to at least 2,200 m altitude.

 

 

Mountain valerian, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain valerian, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Valeriana officinalis ssp. versifolia Diverse-leaved valerian
This plant is a subspecies of the widespread common valerian, which is found in almost all of Europe, eastwards across Siberia to the Pacific coast, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan.

Some authorities refer to the subspecies as V. excelsa ssp. versifolia. It is restricted to the Alps, growing in grasslands and shrubberies up to an elevation of at least 2,150 m.

 

 

Diverse-leaved valerian, Little St. Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Diverse-leaved valerian, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Caryophyllaceae Pink or carnation family
A large family with 75-80 genera and ca. 2,000 species. These plants are widespread, but mainly occur in temperate or cooler subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with core areas around the Mediterranean, eastwards to Tibet and the Himalaya. Some species are also found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Oceania.

The family name stems from the common and specific names of a member of the genus Dianthus (see below), the clove pink (D. caryophyllus), which has a clove-like fragrance. The Ancient Greek name of the clove-tree was karyophyllon, derived from karyon (‘nut’) and phyllon (‘leaf’), which was adopted by early botanists in the form Caryophyllus aromatica (today the name of the tree is Syzygium aromaticum).

The family name was linked to this species of pink by French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836), known as the first person to publish a natural classification of flowering plants.

 

Atocion
This small genus, comprising 6 species, was formerly included in the genus Silene (below). These plants are native to Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Middle East as far east as Iran.

 

Atocion rupestre Rock campion
This perennial, previously known as Silene rupestris, is much-branched from ground level, often forming dense stands, stems ascending, to 25 cm long, smooth or slightly hairy, leaves opposite, bluish-green, oblong or lanceolate, pointed, to 2 cm long. The inflorescence is loose, with numerous long-stalked flowers, petals white, rarely pink, notched, to 9 mm long, calyx to 7 mm long, teeth almost half as long as the calyx tube.

This species is limited to Europe, occurring in mountains of central and southern Europe, in the Cantabrian Mountains and the Sierra Nevada of Spain, the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, the Vosges, the Black Forest, the Alps, the northern Apennines, Corsica, the Balkans, and the Carpathians. In Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the north-western part of Russia, it is found northwards almost to the Arctic coast.

In the Alps, it thrives at altitudes between 800 and 2,900 m, preferably on silicate soils.

 

 

Rock campion, Umbal Valley, Virgen Valley, Tirol, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cerastium Mouse-ear chickweed
A huge genus with about 100 species, almost cosmopolitan, mostly in temperate and arctic areas. The calyx has 10 teeth in most species.

The generic name is derived from the Greek keras (‘horn’), alluding to the horn-shaped capsules, which protrude from the calyx.

 

Cerastium arvense Field mouse-ear chickweed
This perennial is widely distributed in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and it also occurs in parts of South America, where it is possibly introduced. In the lowlands, it grows on rather dry and sandy soil in fields, along roads and trails, and in dunes. There are several subspecies, of which at least 3 occur in the Alps, up to an elevation of at least 2,500 m, often growing among rocks or in gravel.

The plant is often prostrate, forming dense clumps, but may also grow erect or ascending stems, to 45 cm high. It is usually hairy, often glandular-hairy above. Leaves are linear, lanceolate or oblong, to 3.5 cm long. The inflorescence is sometimes single-flowered, but usually with 3 or more flowers, to 2 cm across, with 5 green, hairy sepals, to 7 mm long, and 5 white, deeply cut petals, to 1.5 cm long. The capsule is to 1.5 cm long. In rainy or cold weather, the flowers remain closed.

 

 

Field mouse-ear chickweed, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cerastium uniflorum One-flowered mouse-ear chickweed
This plant is restricted to the Alps, the Carpathians, and montane areas of the Balkans. It is prostrate, forming dense cushions with many sterile shoots, flowering stems hairy, often glandular-hairy, to 6, sometimes 10 cm tall, flowers solitary on terminal stem and on stems from leaf nodes, to 3 cm across, with white, bi-lobed petals, to 1.5 cm long. The opposite leaves are spatulate to ovate-lanceolate, pale green or yellowish-green, hairy, to 1.5 cm long.

This species thrives best on acid, stony soils and among rubble, occurring at altitudes between 1,900 and 3,400 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘one-flowered’.

 

 

One-flowered chickweed, photographed at an elevation of c. 2400 m, Grossglockner, Austria. The plant with yellow flowers in the upper picture is kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dianthus Pinks, carnations
A genus of about 300 species, native mainly to Europe and Asia, with a few species in northern and southern Africa, and one in Arctic North America.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek dios (‘divine’) and anthos (‘flower’), applied by Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371-287 B.C.). As for the common name, the verb ‘to pink’ dates from the 14th Century, meaning to decorate with a perforated or zigzag pattern. The flowers of many members of the genus Dianthus have numerous fringes on the petals, so they were named pinks. This means that the colour pink derives its name from the colour of the petals of many of these flowers, not the other way around. The term carnation is believed to have been derived from the Latin corona-ae (‘wreath, garland, crown’), as these flowers were often used in Greek and Roman ceremonial wreaths.

 

Dianthus carthusianorum Carthusian pink
A variable plant, growing to 60 cm tall, branched from ground level, leaves narrow-linear, to 7 cm long and 5 mm wide, at the base fused into a sheath, about 1.5 cm long. Flowers terminal, densely clustered, up to 15 together, surrounded by pale brown or dark brown, papery bracts, corolla to 2.5 cm across, dark pink to purple, often with darker, longitudinal streaks and paler centre, tips of petals serrated. The flowers may occasionally be white.

This species is native to Europe, from Spain and France eastwards to the northern Balkans and Ukraine, northwards to Belgium and Poland, occurring in dry, grassy, sunny habitats, at elevations of up to 2,500 m.

The specific name alludes to the landscape of Chartreuse in France, more specifically to the monastery Grande Chartreuse of the Carthusian Order. Apparently, this flower was much grown in the monastery gardens there.

 

 

Carthusian pink, Val d’Arc, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Carthusian pink, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dianthus monspessulanus Fringed pink
This plant grows in arid grasslands, open woods, and heathlands, preferably on well-drained soils in sunny places, up to an altitude of about 2,200 m. It is distributed in southern Europe, from Portugal, Spain, and the Pyrenees eastwards across the southern Alps to the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula.

The stem is erect, branched above, smooth, to 60 cm long. Leaves opposite, simple, linear and sessile, more or less erect, to 10 cm long and 3 mm wide, at the base fused to a sheath. The calyx is a green cylindrical tube, to 2 cm long, with green or reddish teeth. The flowers are usually gathered in clusters of 3–5, petals pink, pale pink, or whitish, to 1,5 cm long, darker near the centre, margins heavily fringed.

 

 

Fringed pink, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dianthus pyrenaicus Pyrenean pink
As its name implies, this species is endemic to the Pyrenees, growing on grassy and rocky slopes. It is much like the previous species, but the stems are only about 30 cm tall, and the pink petals, which have a paler centre, are much less fringed.

 

 

Pyrenean pink, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dianthus sternbergii Sternberg’s fringed pink
This is a tufted plant, to 20 cm tall, often forming dense growths. The bluish-green leaves are linear-lanceolate, to 4 cm long and 2 mm wide, with a protruding median nerve on the underside. The flowers are usually single, calyx green, with broadly lanceolate, terminal teeth with papery margins, and small scaly leaves at the base. Flowers pale pink to whitish, centre greenish with small brownish dots, petals up to 1.8 cm long, margin heavily fringed.

This species is partial to limestone, found from the Dolomites in north-eastern Italy eastwards to southern-most Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia.

It was named in honour of Bohemian theologian, politician, mineralogist, and botanist Kaspar Maria von Sternberg (1761-1838), who is regarded as the founder of modern paleobotany.

 

 

Sternberg’s fringed pink, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dianthus sylvestris Wood pink
A low plant, often forming cushion-like growths, with stems to 30 cm high, simple or branched above, smooth. Leaves dark green, narrowly linear, to 4 cm long and 2 mm broad. Flower colour is very variable, from dark red to pale pink, with blackish or greenish centre, petals to 1.2 cm long, tip toothed. Calyx green, often with reddish base.

This species is widespread in the Alps, growing on sunny slopes and among rocks, at elevations between 1,600 and 2,800 m. According to Kew Botanical Gardens, London, a disjunct population is found in northern Greece and southern Macedonia, which I find most odd. Perhaps it is a different species.

 

 

Wood pink, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wood pink, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gypsophila
A widespread genus with about 150 species, found in all of Europe, North Africa, temperate and subtropical areas of Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.. Turkey has a particularly high diversity, with about 35 endemic species.

The generic name is from the Greek gypsos (‘gypsum’) and philios (‘to love’), alluding to the preference of some of these plants to grow on gypsum-rich soils. A popular name of the genus is baby’s-breath, which, according to some sources, refers to the abundance of small and delicate flowers of a cultivated species, G. paniculata. However, the name may simply refer to the fragrance of some species.

 

Gypsophila repens Creeping gypsophila, alpine gypsophila
A prostrate, mat-forming perennial, often forming dense growths, to 50 cm across. Stems delicate, ascending, smooth, bluish-green, to 25 cm tall. Leaves opposite, bluish-green, narrowly lanceolate, to 2 cm long and 1 cm broad. Inflorescences are loose panicles of fragrant flowers, to 1 cm across, which vary in colour, from white to pink, lilac, or light purple. Petals 5, often notched. The flowers attract an abundance of insects.

This plant is common in the Alps and the Pyreness, growing in grassy areas or among rocks on calcareous or gypsum-containing soils, at altitudes between 1,300 and 3,000 m. It is less common in other montane areas of Europe, including the Apennines, the Tatra Mountains, and the Harz.

 

 

Creeping gypsophila, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Creeping gypsophila, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Creeping gypsophila, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Heliosperma
A genus of about 15 species, all but 2 restricted to the Balkan Peninsula. They were previously included in the genus Silene (below), but are distinguished by the jagged edge of the petals.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek helios (‘sun’) and sperma (‘seed’), referring to the crest of long papillae on the seeds of this genus.

 

Heliosperma alpestre Alpine campion
This species, previously known as Silene alpestris, is native to the south-eastern Alps and Croatia, eastwards to Ukraine, growing in rocky or grassy areas in mountains. Most leaves are basal in a rosette, dark green, linear or lanceolate, to 5 cm long and 5 mm wide, stem leaves similar, but shorter. Stems erect or ascending, green or brownish, branched, smooth or downy, to 30 cm tall. Flowers terminal, to about 2 cm across, petals snow-white, with a jagged, 4-lobed tip, sometimes hairy.

 

 

Alpine campion, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saponaria Soapwort
A genus of about 40 species, distributed from Europe and North Africa eastwards to Central Asia and the Himalaya.

The generic name is derived from the Latin sapo (‘soap’), referring to the usage of common soapwort (S. officinalis) as lather. The role of this plant in folklore and traditional medicine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Saponaria ocymoides Rock soapwort
This species ranges from the mountains of Spain and southern France eastwards via Corsica, Sardinia, the Alps, and the Apennines to the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula, growing in stony places, on dry slopes, and in open forests, preferably on calcareous soils, at altitudes up to about 2,400 m.

This plant is mostly prostrate and much-branched, forming dense growths, but the reddish, woody, and hairy stems may occasionally reach a height of 40 cm. Leaves are ovate to lanceolate, sessile, hairy, to 3 cm long. Inflorescences are terminal clusters of few to many flowers, petals red or pink (rarely white). The brown, very hairy sepals are fused in a tube, to 1 cm long.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘resembling Ocimum‘ (basil), alluding to the shape of the leaves. An English folk name of the plant is tumbling Ted, which refers to its dense, low growth.

 

 

Rock soapwort, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rock soapwort, near Mazzin, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Silene Campion, catchfly
This huge genus, comprising c. 600 species, is found mainly in northern temperate regions, and also in Africa and South America.

The popular name catchfly refers to the strongly glandular-hairy stem and leaves in many species, where small insects often get stuck.

The generic name refers to the Greek woodland god Silenus, a satyr with ears and tail like a horse. He was the tutor of Dionysos, the god of wine. Silenus is often depicted drunk, covered in sticky foam from the wine. His name is derived from the Greek sialon (‘saliva’). The connection to the plant genus is that the female flowers of some species, including red campion (S. dioica), secrete a frothy foam, which aids in capturing pollen from visiting insects.

 

Silene acaulis Moss campion
A low, mat- or cushion-forming plant, usually to about 5 cm tall, occasionally to 12 cm. The leathery leaves are stalkless, opposite, bright green, linear, pointed, entire, hairy along the margin, to 1.2 cm long. Flowers are terminal, solitary, short-stalked, to 2.5 cm across, petals pink or purplish-red, scaly in the throat. Sepals dark brown, fused into a tube.

This species, comprising a number of subspecies, is common and widespread in the Northern Hemisphere. It is circumpolar, further south restricted to mountains, including the Cantabrian Mountains, the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, the Carpathians, the Urals, coastal mountains of western North America, the Rocky Mountains, and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

It grows in windswept, rocky and gravelly areas, usually above treeline, the cushions being an adaptation to preserve heat, when the sun is shining.

The specific name is Latin, meaning stemless. However, the flowers do have a short stem. A popular name is compass plant, alluding to the flowers, which appear first on the southern side of the cushion.

 

 

Moss campion, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Moss campion, Col du Bous, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Moss campion, Hochtor, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Silene nutans Nodding catchfly, Nottingham catchfly
The stem, usually to 50 cm, sometimes to 80 cm tall, is branched from below, erect or ascending, densely hairy, glandular-hairy and sticky above. Most leaves are gathered in a basal rosette, stalked, to 7.5 cm long, spatulate or narrowly elliptic, stem leaves sessile, opposite, linear or lanceolate, entire, all leaves hairy. Flowers are nodding, white, yellowish, or pinkish, to 2.5 cm across, petals 5, deeply bi-lobed. The corolla mouth has a lobed corona. The calyx is fused, narrow, with 10 veins.

The fragrant flowers are closed during the day, opening in the evening to attract moths. The flowering is unique. Each flower blooms for 3 nights, revealing one whorl of stamens on the first night, a second whorl of stamens on the second night, and three styles on the third night, intended as a means to prevent self-fertilisation.

This plant is found in almost all of Europe, eastwards to central Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an altitude of c. 2,500 m.

The name Nottingham catchfly alludes to the fact that this species was once common on the walls of Nottingham Castle. Unfortunately, it no longer grows here.

 

 

A variety of nodding catchfly with pink petals, photographed after a rain shower, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Silene suecica Alpine catchfly
Previously known as Lychnis suecica or Viscaria alpina, this species has a peculiar distribution, found in Greenland and north-eastern Canada, in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and north-western Russia, and in the Alps and the Pyrenees. It grows among rocks, along gravelly streamsides, on sand banks and grassy slopes, and on sea cliffs. It is tolerant to high concentrations of copper and other heavy metals.

The stem of this plant is erect, unbranched, smooth or sparsely downy, to 40 cm tall, often reddish-purple. Lower leaves are stalked, forming a rosette, stem leaves opposite, sessile, blade narrowly lanceolate or oblanceolate, pointed, to 5 cm long and 5 mm wide, with entire margins. Inflorescences are dense terminal clusters, 6-30-flowered, bracts greenish-purple, lanceolate, to 2 cm long. Flowers sessile or short-stalked, to 1 cm across, corolla dark pink with spreading petals, cleft to the middle. Calyx tubular, deep purple or greenish-purple, faintly 10-veined.

 

 

Alpine catchfly, Col de l’Iseran, France. In the background creeping avens (Geum reptans). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Silene vulgaris Bladder campion
An erect, branched, smooth plant, sometimes to 90 cm tall, but often much lower. Leaves are lanceolate to ovate, pale green or blue-green, to 10 cm long and 3 cm wide, pointed. Flowers nodding, few together in several branched clusters. Calyx inflated, ovoid, to 2 cm long, greenish-white or violet-tinged, with brownish veins, lobes triangular. Petals white, deeply lobed, to 1.8 cm across. Capsule globular, to 8 mm across, enclosed in the calyx.

A very widespread plant, growing in grasslands and rocky areas, and on stone fences. It is distributed in almost all of Europe and North Africa, and thence across temperate areas of Asia eastwards to Mongolia and northern China. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of at least 2,000 m, whereas in Central Asia, it may be encountered up to about 4,000 m.

 

 

Bladder campion, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Celastraceae Spindle-tree family
This family contains about 96 genera with c. 1,350 species of trees, shrubs, climbers, or, rarely, herbs, distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, some in temperate areas.

 

Parnassia Grass of Parnassus
About 70 species of herbs, found mainly in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Asia. No less than 49 species are endemic to China.

Initially, these plants were placed in the family Saxifragaceae, later in a separate family, Parnassiaceae. Following genetic research, they have been moved to the spindle-tree family. Some authorities still regard these plants as belonging to Saxifragaceae.

The generic name is derived from Parnassos, a mountain near Delphi, which, in Ancient Greek mythology, was the abode of the Muses. In his Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) mentions the names Grasse of Parnassus and Gramen Parnassi. In fact, the name of these plants dates back to Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), author of De Materia Medica, five volumes dealing with herbal medicine. In this work, the description of this ‘grass’ is quite skimpy: “It has leaves similar to those of ivy, a white fragrant flower, [and a] small fruit which is not useless.” (Source: stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/26399)

In those days, the term ‘grass’ had a much wider meaning than today. It seems that the name Grass of Parnassus was given in allusion to the fact that cattle, grazing on Mount Parnassos, relished these plants, which seems quite strange, as they are poisonous – at least to people, but maybe not to cattle.

 

Parnassia palustris Common grass of Parnassus
Almost all leaves of this small plant, between 2 and 12, are gathered in a basal rosette, although a single one is clasping the stem just above the ground. They are ovate with a heart-shaped base, yellowish-green, entire, hairless, to 6 cm long and 5 cm wide, sometimes with purple spots. The hairless, furrowed stem rises from the leaf rosette, usually to 10 cm tall, but occasionally to 30 cm, bearing a solitary fragrant flower, to 3 cm across, with 5 white petals, broadly ovate to obovate, to 1.5 cm long and 1 cm wide, often streaked with darker veins. The sepals are shorter than the petals, green with purple spots, elliptic, to 8 mm long and 5 mm wide.

This species is very widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, found from arctic and subarctic regions, in America southwards almost to the Mexican border, and in Eurasia southwards to North Africa, Turkey, the Himalaya, Japan, and Taiwan. Towards the southern limits of its distribution area, it is restricted to mountains, in the Alps sometimes encountered up to an altitude of about 3,000 m. Its preferred habitat is wet marshes and meadows, indicated by the specific name, which is Latin for ‘growing in marshes’.

In former days, it was utilized as herbal medicine to treat disorders of the liver, and tea brewed on the leaves was taken for indigestion. Some also claimed that, when added to wine or water, the leaves could dissolve kidney stones.

 

 

Common grass of Parnassus, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common grass of Parnassus, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cistaceae Rock-rose family
A family of shrubs, and some herbs, comprising 9 genera with 170-200 species, distributed primarily in temperate areas of Europe and around the Mediterranean, and also some species in North and South America.

 

Helianthemum Rock-rose
This genus, comprising about 110 species of small shrubs or herbs, is widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, especially around the Mediterranean. New World species, which were formerly placed in this genus, have been transferred to the genus Crocanthemum.

The generic name, derived from the Greek helios (‘sun’) and anthemon (‘flower’), refers to the fact that most members of the genus grow in sunny places.

 

Helianthemum nummularium Common rock-rose
This evergreen dwarf shrub, divided into at least 8 subspecies, is highly variable, especially regarding the extent of hairiness and size of flowers. Stems erect or ascending, to 30 cm long. Leaves short-stalked, opposite, glossy-green above, pale green below, elliptic or ovate, entire, hairy, to 3.5 cm long. Stipules (small leaves at the base of the leaf) are lanceolate, to about 1 cm long.

The inflorescence is mostly a one-sided, few-flowered raceme, flowers to 2 cm across, petals 5, lemon-yellow or golden-yellow, stamens numerous. Sepals lanceolate, very hairy, green, often with reddish-brown edge. The individual flower is short-lived, but throughout the summer the plant produces an abundance of them. They only open in sunshine, at temperatures above 20 degrees.

This plant is distributed in the major part of Europe, and also in Turkey and the Caucasus, growing in heaths, and on dry slopes and rocks. Several subspecies are found in the Alps, some of which grow up to an altitude of at least 2,400 m.

The specific name is from the Latin nummulus (‘little coin’), referring to the flowers, which shine like golden coins in the sunshine.

 

 

Large-flowered common rock-rose, ssp. grandiflorum, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large-flowered common rock-rose, ssp. grandiflorum, Vršič Pass (1611 m), Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large-flowered common rock-rose, ssp. grandiflorum, photographed after a rain shower, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

An unidentified rock-rose, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Colchicaceae
This family is characterized by the presence of colchicine, an alkaloid, which is used medicinally to cure various diseases, including gout. It contains 15 genera with about 285 species of herbs, found in most parts of the globe, especially in the Old World.

 

Colchicum Autumn crocus, naked lady
This genus, comprising about 160 species, is native from Europe southwards to South Africa, to the Arabian Peninsula, and to western and central Asia.

The generic name is derived from the Greek kolkhikon, the classical name of Colchicum speciosum. The common names both refer to the ‘naked’ (leafless) flowers that appear in late summer or autumn, long before the leaves, which emerge in spring. Most species of the quite similar, but unrelated genus Crocus bloom in spring, although a few species flower in the autumn. In this genus, the leaves appear together with the flowers.

 

Colchicum montanum
This species, previously known as Merendera montana, has strap-shaped, linear leaves, to 22 cm long and 1 cm wide, which appear in spring, but wither during the summer. Late in the summer, the flowers appear, solitary, with 6 mauve or pinkish petals, to 6.5 cm long and 1 cm wide. The yellow anthers are large, longer than the filaments.

The whole plant contains the alkaloid colchicine, with the highest concentrations in the leaves, which deters herbivores from eating them.

It is widespread in the Iberian Peninsula, northwards to the Pyrenees, where it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,600 m. It is abundant in pasture lands, flourishing along roads and trails, often in dry and stony places. The highest density is found in highly disturbed areas with large populations of a species of vole, Microtus duodecimcostatus. Research suggests a symbiotic relationship between the two: the voles feed on the much less toxic rhizomes, which activates asexual reproduction processes. This mechanism is not observed in undisturbed pastures. (Source: D. Gómez et al. 2003. Seasonal and spatial variations of alkaloids in Merendera montana in relation to chemical defense and phenology. J. Chemical Ecol. 29 (5): 1117-1126)

 

 

Colchicum montanum, Col du Pourtalet, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Colchicum montanum, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Convolvulaceae Morning-glory family
This large, almost worldwide family contains about 60 genera, comprising close to 2,000 species, most of which are herbaceous vines, but also some erect herbs, shrubs, and trees. The flowers of almost all species are funnel-shaped, with five fused petals, and many are quite showy. The stem of most species twine around other plants, fences, or anything else, hence the scientific family name, from the Latin convolvere, ‘to wind (around)’.

Many members of this family are dealt with in depth on the page Plants: Morning-glories and bindweeds.

 

Cuscuta Dodder
Formerly, this genus, comprising between 100 and 170 species, was treated as a separate family, Cuscutaceae, but has since been moved to the morning-glory family – the only parasitic members of that family. These plants are distributed almost worldwide, with the greatest concentration in the Americas, and some in Asia and Europe. In hot climates, they are perennials, growing more or less continuously, whereas they are annuals in colder areas.

The thin stems, mostly yellow or red, twine around other plants, often completely enveloping them. A dodder seed starts its life like most other seeds by sending roots into the soil, from which grow stems, whose leaves are reduced to scales. When a stem gets into contact with a suitable plant, it wraps itself around it, inserting sucking organs, called haustoria, into the plant, through which the dodder obtains water and nutrients. Its root in the ground then dies.

Their strange appearance taken into consideration, it is hardly surprising that dodders have many folk names, including strangleweed, scaldweed, beggarweed, lady’s laces, wizard’s net, devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, pull-down, angel’s hair, and witch’s hair.

The generic name is derived from the Arabic name of dodders, kusuta, or kuskut, which, in the form Cuscuta, was applied to them by Rufinus, an Italian monk and botanist, who was the author of De virtutibus herbarum, completed c. 1287, which listed nearly a thousand medicinal materials, mostly plants.

Dodders are dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Parasitic plants.

 

Cuscuta epithymum Lesser dodder
This species is native to all of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and northern Asia, eastwards to central Siberia and Sinkiang, but has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world. The commonest host plants are heather (Calluna vulgaris), gorse (Ulex europaeus), and clover species (Trifolium), but, as the specific name implies, it may also be found on thyme (Thymus).

Stems are reddish or yellow, leaves reduced to tiny scales. The small, white or pink petals are fused into a bell-shaped cup, with 5 triangular, spreading lobes at the tip.

 

 

Lesser dodder, Engadin, Graubünden, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lesser dodder, growing on a species of knapweed (Centaurea), Valle Hecho, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cornaceae Dogwood family
An almost cosmopolitan family, comprising 2 genera with about 85 species, of which the majority are trees or shrubs, a few are perennial herbs.

 

Cornus Dogwood
This genus contains between 30 and 60 species, depending on authority. Most are deciduous trees, shrubs, or dwarf shrubs. A few are evergreen. They are native to temperate areas of Eurasia and North America, with China, Japan, and the south-eastern United States as core areas. The fruit is a drupe, which is edible in some species. The taste, however, is quite insipid.

The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘horn’, alluding to the hard wood of the genus. It was the classical name of the species Cornus mas. The prefix dog may imply that the fruits of common dogwood (below) are of little value, due to their bitter taste. Alternatively, it may refer to the former usage of dogwood shoots, which were sharpened and used by farmers as cattle prods, called dags. Skewers were also made from the tough and durable wood.

 

Cornus sanguinea Common dogwood
A deciduous shrub, usually 2-3 m tall, occasionally up to 6 m, with reddish, brownish, or greenish branches and twigs. Leaves are opposite, to 8 cm long and 4 cm wide, ovate or oblong, dark green above, pale green below, coarsely hairy, margin entire. The inflorescence is a cluster, to 5 cm across, flowers to 1 cm in diameter, petals 4, creamy-white. They attract many insects. The fruit is a globose drupe, black, to 8 mm across, containing a single seed.

This plant is partial to sunny places, although it can tolerate some shade. Towards the southern limit of its distribution, it is restricted to mountains.

It is native to the major part of Europe, from Ireland, Scotland, and southern Norway southwards to Spain, southern Italy and Greece, eastwards to western Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. Elsewhere, it is widely cultivated as an ornamental due to its reddish stems, which are quite showy, when the leaves have been shed.

In 1991, the well-preserved body of a Stone Age hunter was discovered in a glacier in the Alps. Ötzi the Iceman, as he was dubbed, died about 5,300 years ago, presumably caught in a snowstorm. His arrow shafts were made from wood of dogwood and viburnum (Adoxaceae). (Source: K. Spindler 1994. The Man in the Ice)

In former days, oil from the fruits was used as lamp fuel. Medicinally, they were utilized as an emetic, whereas the astringent bark was used as a febrifuge.

 

 

Raindrops hang like pearls on autumn leaves and fruits of common dogwood, Valle Tena, Aragon, Spain. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Crassulaceae Stonecrop family
This family, which includes c. 35 genera with about 1,400 species, is characterized by plants with succulent leaves – an adaptation to growing in dry areas with little water. They are found worldwide, with the greatest diversity in the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa.

 

Petrosedum
Members of this genus, comprising about 14 species, were previously included in the genus Sedum (below), but differ mainly in the leaves being densely clustered, longer, and less fleshy than in Sedum species. They are native to Europe, northern Africa, and the Near East, eastwards to the Caucasus.

 

Petrosedum rupestre Reflexed stonecrop
This species, formerly known as Sedum rupestre or S. reflexum, is found in the major part of Europe, and in Turkey. In the Alps it may be encountered up to an altitude of at least 1,200 m.

It has two kinds of stem. Creeping ones are flowerless, with dense masses of blue-green or dark green leaves, resembling foliage of the cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) (see below). They are opposite, fleshy, hairless, linear, cylindric, curved, sharp-pointed, about 1 cm long and 1 mm broad, stalkless above. Flowering stems are ascending, to 30 cm long, with terminal clusters of golden-yellow flowers, to 2 cm across, petals usually 7, occasionally 5 or 9, strap-shaped, pointed, to 7 mm long.

This is a popular ornamental plant, often cultivated around the world. The leaves are occasionally used in salads, with a slightly astringent taste.

 

 

Reflexed stonecrop, Col de la Madelaine, eastern France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Reflexed stonecrop, growing among leaves of ivy (Hedera helix) on a stone wall, Windeck Castle, Schwarzwald, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhodiola Roseroot
This genus contains about 90 species, found across the Northern Hemisphere at high altitudes or in arctic conditions. In the past, these plants were placed in the genus Sedum (below), but they differ from that genus by having a stout rootstock and only 4 petals, versus a slender or no rootstock, and 5 petals, in Sedum species.

 

Rhodiola rosea Common roseroot
This perennial has several stems, growing to 40 cm tall, with bluish-green, fleshy, alternate, oblanceolate or spatulate, sessile, entire or slightly toothed leaves, to 4 cm long and 1 cm wide, often ending in a brownish, weak spine. Inflorescences are terminal, consisting of dense clusters of numerous yellow, greenish-yellow, or sometimes reddish flowers, petals 4, to 3.5 mm long.

It is very widely distributed, found in the major part of Europe, eastwards across Siberia to the Pacific coast, southwards to Sinkiang, northern China, Korea, and Japan, in Alaska, Greenland, and north-eastern Canada and the United States, as far south as North Carolina. In the southern parts of the distribution area, it is restricted to mountains.

This plant has been used in traditional medicine for at least 2,000 years, first mentioned by Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica, 5 volumes dealing with herbal medicine. In the West, it was utilized for treatment of anxiety and depression, in Chinese herbal medicine to increase the blood circulation in cardiovascular conditions or menstrual irregularities, and to treat acute pain caused by blood stagnation. In some places, it is threatened due to overcollecting.

 

 

Common roseroot, Hochtor, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sedum Stonecrop
This genus, counting about 470 species, is mainly distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, but is also found in southern Africa and in South America. Most species are creeping plants, which grow in dry areas, for instance in sand, among scree, or on rocks.

 

Sedum album White stonecrop
This plant is distributed in the major part of Europe, in northern Africa, and from Turkey eastwards to the Caucasus and northern Iran. It is also widely naturalized in eastern and western Canada and the United States. It thrives on thin, dry, sandy soils, on rocks and gravel, and is often found on stone walls.

It is a tufted perennial, forming mat-like, dense growths of green, red, or reddish-brown leaves, alternate, succulent and nearly cylindric, to 2 cm long, with a blunt, rounded tip. Inflorescences are dense, terminal, branched clusters of star-shaped flowers, borne on erect stems to 10 cm tall. Petals white or pale pink with a red central nerve, pointed or blunt, to 4 mm long.

 

 

White stonecrop, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sedum annuum Annual stonecrop
As its names imply, this species is an annual, not forming rosettes. Leaves succulent, alternate, sessile, green or red, linear to oblong-elliptic, to 10 mm long and 2 mm wide, tip blunt. Inflorescences are clusters of 3-15 star-shaped flowers at the end of branched stems, to 10 cm long, petals yellow, narrowly lanceolate, to 5 mm long, tip pointed.

It grows on acid soils, on rocks, stone walls, and along stony roads and streamsides, distributed in northern and southern Europe, and from Turkey eastwards to the Caucasus and northern Iran.

 

 

Annual stonecrop, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. To the left leaves of mountain houseleek (Sempervivum montanum). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sedum dasyphyllum Thick-leaved stonecrop, Corsican stonecrop
The native range of this plant, by some authorities named S. burnatii, is centered around the Mediterranean, with more northerly populations in the Pyrenees, the Alps, central France, and southern Germany, northwards to the Palatinate and the Black Forest. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to elevations around 2,000 m. It mainly grows on dry, stony soils, in sunny locations. It is also a colonizer of ruins and old walls.

It forms dense mats of shrubby, creeping stems with very numerous bluish-green or greyish-green, egg-shaped, fleshy leaves, to 7 mm long, flat above and strongly arched below. The star-shaped flowers are in small clusters at the end of stems, to 15 cm high, petals pointed, white or pale pink above, reddish-purple below with a darker central nerve.

 

 

Thick-leaved stonecrop, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sempervivum Houseleek
Comprising about 40 species, these striking plants occur in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Balkan Mountains, Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Africa. All members of the genus have succulent leaves and can withstand long periods of drought. They very commonly reproduce through runners.

The generic name means ‘forever alive’, from the Latin semper (‘always’) and vivum (‘something alive’), referring to the fleshy, evergreen leaves of these plants. The leek part of the popular name stems from an Anglo-Saxon word, leac, meaning ‘plant’, thus ‘house plant’, referring to an old habit of planting houseleek on straw roofs as a protection against fire, as the large, fleshy leaves certainly do not easily catch fire. Another popular name is hen and chicks, alluding to the numerous runners that spread out from the mother plant.

 

Sempervivum arachnoideum Cobweb houseleek
This species forms dense cushions, to 30 cm across, consisting of numerous individual blue-green, fleshy rosettes with a diameter up to 2 cm. The flowers are clustered at the tip of stems, usually to 10 cm tall, occasionally to 18 cm, covered in tiny, pale green or brownish, fleshy leaves. Petals, 8 to 10 in number, are to about 1 cm long, pale to dark pink, with a darker central nerve.

It is native to the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, the Carpathians, and Corsica, found from the lower vallays up to an elevation of c. 2,900 m. It grows on rocks, among gravel, and in grassy areas.

The popular name, as well as the specific name, derived from the Greek arakhne (‘spider’), allude to the long hairs that usually grow along the margin of the leaves of the central rosettes, not unlike a spider’s web.

 

 

Cobweb houseleek, near Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Cobweb houseleek, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sempervivum grandiflorum Large-flowered houseleek
This plant is easily identified by the large yellow flowers and the bright green stems. It is restricted to a small area in south-western Switzerland and north-western Italy, growing on acidic soils.

 

 

Large-flowered houseleek, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. The violet plant in the upper picture is large self-heal (Prunella grandiflora). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sempervivum montanum Mountain houseleek
This plant is much like cobweb houseleek (above), but the rosettes are without white hairs, the stems are often reddish, and the flowers are larger and a darker red. It is found in rocky areas of the Alps, the Apennines, and the Carpathians, and on Corsica, at altitudes up to about 3,400 m. It is restricted to acid soils.

 

 

Mountain houseleek, Mutterbergerklamm, Stubai Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain houseleek, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain houseleek, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain houseleek, Engstlenalp, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sempervivum tectorum Common houseleek
This is a much larger plant than the other houseleeks of the Alps, forming mats more than 50 cm across, with individual rosettes usually to 10 cm in diameter, sometimes even to 20 cm. Runners are numerous. Flowering stems and inflorescences are much like mountain houseleek, but larger, stems to 60 cm tall, stem leaves to 6 cm long and 1.5 cm wide.

The native distribution area includes the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, the Alps, and the Apennines, growing up to elevations around 2,100 m. It is widely cultivated elsewhere.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘of roofs’, alluding to the widespread planting of the species on house roofs.

 

 

Common houseleek, Col del Cuc, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cyperaceae
A huge, almost worldwide family with about 90 genera, containing over 5,500 species, the sedges (Carex) alone having more than 2,000 species. Superficially, these plants resemble grasses, but are not closely related to them.

 

Eriophorum Cotton-grass
A small genus of about 14 species, distributed throughout arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, being particularly abundant in the Arctic tundra. They are partial to acid bog habitats.

 

Eriophorum gracile Slender cotton-grass
As its name implies, this is a slender plant, with an erect stem to 70 cm tall, rounded below, bluntly triangular above, smooth. Inflorescences are terminal, branched, nodding at maturity, the flowerheads covered in long, white, cottony hairs when in seed. Basal leaf sheaths are brown or reddish, triangular, lower leaves linear, to 30 cm long and 4 mm wide, upper ones much shorter, often only to 5 cm long and 2 mm wide.

This species is found in subarctic and temperate areas of Europe, Asia, and North America, southwards to the Pyrenees, the Balkans, Tibet, northern China, Korea, and the Rocky Mountains. It has a scattered occurrence in the Alps, growing from the lowlands up to altitudes of at least 1,750 m.

 

 

Slender cotton-grass, growing in a forest bog, near Koprivnik, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Eriophorum scheuchzeri White cotton-grass
This species is native to arctic, subarctic, and temperate areas of Europe, Asia, and North America, southwards to the Pyrenees, the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Himalaya, northern China, Japan, and the Rocky Mountains. In the northern parts of its range, at grows down to sea level, but in the southern parts it is restricted to mountains, sometimes found up to elevations of more than 4,000 m.

This plant often forms huge growths, spreading via underground stems. It is restricted to wet habitats like marshes, wet meadows, lake- and streamsides, and wet gravel. The thin stems may grow to 70 cm tall, but are usually much shorter. Lower leaves are up to 12 cm long, whereas upper leaves are reduced to black-tipped sheaths. The inflorescence is a solitary, terminal flowerhead, covered in a dense layer of snow-white, cottony hairs when in seed.

The specific name was given in honour of Swiss physician and naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733), who was known primarily for his interpretation of fossils as a remnant of the Great Deluge.

 

 

White cotton-grass, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cystopteridaceae
A small family with 4 genera and more than 30 species, distributed mainly in temperate areas. In warmer regions, they are restricted to mountains.

 

Cystopteris Bladder-ferns, fragile ferns
This genus contains about 14 species, found in temperate areas worldwide.

 

Cystopteris alpina Alpine bladder-fern
From a basal rosette, the leaves of this fern may grow to 40 cm long and 6 cm wide, deciduous, bright green, ovate-lanceolate, twice pinnately divided into 10-12 pairs of leaflets with lobed margins. Sporangia clusters are situated on the underside of leaves, brown to black, round, in two rows, one on either side of the midrib.

This species has a scattered occurrence, found in lower montane areas of Scandinavia, the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Balkans, Ukraine, Turkey, and the Caucasus. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to altitudes of about 2,400 m. It is restricted to limestone and other calcareous soils in damp environments.

 

 

Alpine bladder-fern, growing in a small cave, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cystopteris fragilis Brittle bladder-fern
Leaves of this species may reach a length of about 45 cm, pinnate or twice-pinnate, leaflets lanceolate or ovate, serrated or notched. Sporangia clusters are situated on the underside of leaves, brown to black, round, in two rows, one on either side of the midrib.

This plant is found almost worldwide, but is absent in hot, tropical climates. It is common and widespread in Europe, growing on damp limestone cliffs and old walls, and in stony areas in forests. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to elevations of about 2,400 m.

Formerly, it was utilized medicinally for various disorders.

 

 

Brittle bladder-fern, growing on an ancient wall, surrounding the Medieval castle Petersberg, Friesach, Steiermark, Austria. The lower picture shows the sporangies on the underside of the leaves. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gymnocarpium Oak ferns
A small genus with about 9 species, distributed in subarctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek gymnos (‘naked’) and karpos (‘fruit’), alluding to the naked sporangia clusters.

 

Gymnocarpium dryopteris Northern oak-fern
This plant is widespread across subarctic and temperate areas of Eurasia and North America, growing in shady forests. It is common in the Alps, found up to altitudes of at least 2,100 m.

It has small, delicate leaves up to 40 cm long, twice pinnate, with rounded lobes on the leaflets. The leafstalk is black. The naked sporangies are on the underside of the leaves.

 

 

Northern oak-fern, photographed after a rain shower, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dryopteridaceae Wood ferns
This huge family, comprising about 1,700 species, is distributed in most parts of the world.

 

Polystichum Shield-ferns
A genus with about 500 species, distributed almost worldwide, with the highest diversity in eastern Asia and about 208 species in China alone. Central and South America are home to about 100 species. In Europe, only 5 species are found.

The common name alludes to the shield-like shape of the membrane, covering the sporangia clusters.

 

Polystichum aculeatum Hard shield-fern
The leaves, usually 3-8 in number, are glossy and dark green above, paler below, stiff, usually drooping, to 90 cm long, lanceolate or linear in outline, base clearly narrowed. Leaf twice-pinnate, leaflets to 11 cm long, pinnules with bristly tips, the pinnule next to the leafstalk much larger than the others. The round sporangia clusters are in two rows, on either side of the midrib.

This species is widespread, found in the major part of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, eastwards to Sinkiang. It grows in forests and rocky areas on humus-rich soils, on calcareous as well as acid substrates. In the Alps, it may be found up to elevations of at least 2,000 m.

 

 

Hard shield-fern, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Polystichum lonchitis Holly fern
This species is much like the hard-shield fern (above), but the pinnules usually point forward, ending in a long spine.

It is native to much of the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to the Mexican border, North Africa, Pakistan, and Japan, growing in shady forests and among rocks. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to elevations of about 2,700 m.

 

 

Holly fern, Vršič Pass, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Holly fern with sporangies, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ericaceae Heath family
A huge family with about 125 genera and c. 4,000 species of trees, shrubs, climbers, or herbs, widely distributed in temperate and subarctic areas, and also at high elevations in tropical regions. The corolla has 4 or 5 fused petals, which form a funnel-, flask-, or bell-shaped flower, usually with short lobes.

 

Erica Heath
A large genus of about 850 species, found in all of Europe, the Near East, and the major part of Africa, the stronghold af the genus being southern Africa with more than 800 species. In Europe, about 20 species occur.

 

Erica vagans Cornish heath
This species has a limited distribution, found in Ireland, south-western England, western and central France, and northern Spain. The common name alludes to the fact that the only population of this species in England is found in Cornwall, whereas the specific name is Latin, meaning ‘wandering’ – in this context probably meaning ‘widely distributed’, which is odd, as it is not very widely distributed.

It is an evergreen dwarf shrub, growing to a height of about 90 cm, leaves linear, pointed, growing in whorls up the stems, dark green above, paler below, to 1 cm long and 2 mm wide, with down-rolled margins. The inflorescence is a dense raceme, to 17 cm long, the individual flowers bell- or urn-shaped, to 8 mm long, petals whitish-pink, pink, or lilac, the dark purple anthers and white filaments protruding. It thrives on sandy or stony, acid soils that are not too dry.

 

 

Cornish heath, Pic de Gabizos, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Kalmia
A genus of about 10 species of evergreen shrubs, of which 9 are native to North America and Cuba, whereas one, K. procumbens (below), is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere.

The generic name was applied by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), in honour of his pupil and friend Pehr Kalm (1716-1779), a Finnish explorer and naturalist, who collected a member of the genus in eastern North America.

 

Kalmia procumbens Alpine azalea
For many years, this species was known as Loiseleuria procumbens, but has now been transferred to the genus Kalmia. It is widely distributed in arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions of Eurasia and North America, with the southern limits in the Pyrenees, the Alps, northern China, and northern United States. Towards the southern limits of the distribution area, it is restricted to high mountains. It mostly grows on exposed rocks.

This dwarf shrub rarely exceeds a height of 10 cm, forming carpet-like growths of creeping branches, densely covered in leaves. Occasionally, it may grow to 40 cm tall. The alternate leaves are short-stalked, leathery, entire, to 8 mm long and 2.5 mm wide, pale green, often with tiny white dots. The short-stalked flowers are solitary or few together, terminal, petals 5, pink to dark red, to 9 mm long, fused at the base, lobes triangular, spreading.

The obsolete generic name was given in honour of French physician and botanist Jean-Louis-Auguste Loiseleur-Deslongchamps (1774-1849).

 

 

Alpine azalea, growing in a crack between lichen-covered rocks, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine azalea, Hochtor, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Wintergreen (Moneses, Pyrola etc.)
Wintergreens were once treated as a distinct family, Pyrolaceae, which is today regarded as a subfamily, Pyroloideae, of the heath family. The name alludes to the evergreen leaves of these plants.

 

Moneses uniflora One-flowered wintergreen
This species, the sole member of the genus Moneses, is an attractive plant, which is mostly indigenous to moist coniferous forests, but may sometimes be encountered in deciduous forests. It is found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, from Scandinavia and the Pyrenees eastwards to Kamchatka, northern China, and Japan, and further east into the northern and western parts of North America. Towards the southern limits of its distribution area, it is restricted to mountains.

The leaves are basal or very low on the stem, short-stalked, ovate, elliptic, or obovate, to 3 cm across, in diameter, with small teeth. The single, nodding, fragrant flower, to 2.5 cm across, is terminal on a stem to 10 cm, sometimes up to 17 cm tall, petals 5, white, spreading, with wavy margin. The style is large, green, anthers are yellow.

The generic name is derived from the Greek monos (‘single’) and hesis (‘delight’), alluding to the attractive, solitary flower. The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘one-flowered’.

 

 

One-flowered wintergreen, Sölk Valley, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pyrola Wintergreen
A genus of about 40 species, found in subarctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with a few species in tropical Central America and Southeast Asia.

The generic name is derived from the Latin pirum (‘pear’) and the diminutive suffix –ola, thus ‘little pear’, alluding to the shape of the leaves.

 

Pyrola minor Lesser wintergreen
The pale to dark green, rounded or ovate, leathery, evergreen, short-stemmed leaves, to 3 cm across, are arranged in a rosette, from which a reddish stem arises, to 25 cm long, bearing a long raceme of up to 15 white or pink, nodding, bell-shaped flowers, petals obovate to broadly elliptic, to 5 mm long and 3.8 mm wide, margins entire.

This plant grows on acid soils in deciduous and coniferous forests, and also in birch bogs. It is distributed in subarctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to the Mediterranean, China, and Japan, in America southwards almost to the Mexican border. In the Alps, it occurs up to elevations of at least 2,300 m.

 

 

Lesser wintergreen, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pyrola rotundifolia Round-leaved wintergreen
Divided into 2 subspecies, this plant is found in temperate areas of Eurasia, from the British Isles eastwards to the Pacific coast, and from Scandinavia and Siberia southwards to the Mediterranean, Iran, northern Indochina, and Japan, growing in shady, deciduous or coniferous forests on acidic soils. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to at least 1,650 m elevation.

It very much resembles the lesser wintergreen (above), but is a larger plant, stem up to 40 cm tall, sometimes with as many as 30 flowers that are larger, with more spreading petals.

 

 

Round-leaved wintergreen, ssp. rotundifolia, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhododendron Rhododendron, alpenrose
A huge, almost worldwide genus with c. 1,025 species of evergreen trees, shrubs, shrublets, or climbers, with the largest concentrations in China, the Himalaya, Malaysia, Borneo, and New Guinea. China is the absolute stronghold of the genus, with no less than c. 571 species, of which 409 are endemic. Only 2 species are native to the Alps, and just a single one to the Pyrenees.

Pictures, depicting rhododendrons from other parts of the world, are presented on the page Plants: Rhododendron.

In Ancient Greek, rhododendron means ‘rose tree’. It seems that to the ancient Greeks, the flowers clusters of certain rhododendron species resembled roses. From a distance, the flower clusters of certain species may indeed resemble roses.

 

Rhododendron ferrugineum Rusty-leaved alpenrose
This species is widely distributed in Europe, found in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Jura Mountains, the northern part of the Apennines, the Carpathians, and the Balkan Peninsula. It often covers large areas of slopes at elevations between 1,600 and 2,800 m, especially on acid soils.

It is a heavily branched, evergreen shrub, to 1.3 m tall, with stout branches, which may be up to 2 cm in diameter. Research has found that individuals with such branches may be almost 100 years old. Leaves are alternate, often clustered at the end of branches, leathery, to 4 cm long and 1 cm wide, lanceolate to narrow-elliptic, margin serrated, tip pointed, dark green and glossy above, young leaves yellowish below, older leaves with a felt-like layer of rusty-brown hairs. Inflorescences are terminal clusters of dark pink to red flowers, each to 8 mm long, petals 5, fused to form a bell-shaped corolla with ovate lobes, tip rounded.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘rust-coloured’. Like the common name it refers to the rusty-coloured layer of hairs covering the underside of the leaves.

 

 

Rusty-leaved alpenrose, covering a mountain slope near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rusty-leaved alpenrose, Sölkpass, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rusty-leaved alpenrose, Grossglockner, Austria. Striped daphne (Daphne striata) is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron hirsutum Hairy alpenrose
As opposed to the rusty-leaved alpenrose (above), this species grows on limestone-rich soils, from Switzerland eastwards across the Alps to the Carpathians. In the latter area it may be introduced. It may be encountered up to elevations around 2,500 m.

It closely resembles rusty-leaved alpenrose, but is easily identified by the ciliate leaves, and the flowers are pale pink. Where the distribution area of the two species occasionally overlaps, hybrids between them are frequent.

 

 

Hairy alpenrose, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of hairy alpenrose, showing the ciliate leaves, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhodothamnus Dwarf alpenrose
Dwarf alpenroses, comprising 2 species, differ in certain characters from rhododendron species, causing them to be placed in a separate genus. One of the species, R. sessilifolius, is restricted to Tiryal Dağı, a small mountain area in the Artvin Province, north-eastern Turkey.

 

Rhodothamnus chamaecistus European dwarf alpenrose
This pretty plant is restricted to the eastern Alps, from eastern Switzerland and the Lake Como area eastwards to the Karawanks, on the border between Austria and Slovenia. It is quite common in the Dolomites of northern Italy. The preferred habitat is on calcareous soils in sunny locations, often among rocks or in gravel. It may be encountered at elevations between 500 and 2,400 m.

It is an evergreen dwarf shrub with ascending branches, to 30 cm long. Leaves are alternate, clustered at the end of branches, leathery, to 1.5 cm long, margin toothed and bristled. Flowers are terminal, in groups up to 4, stalked, to 3 cm across, petals pale pink with red streaks near the throat, only fused at the base, style white with a carmine tip, filaments white, anthers purplish-black.

 

 

Eurasian dwarf alpenrose, Passo di Valparola, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euphorbiaceae Spurge family
This huge, almost worldwide family contains more than 300 genera and close to 9,000 species of herbs, shrubs, or trees, rarely climbers.

 

Euphorbia Spurge
A huge, almost worldwide genus with maybe 2,000 species of herbs, shrubs, or small trees, some succulent and/or spiny, most with a milky sap.

The floral structure of these plants, the cyathium, is cup-like, consisting of fused bracts with nectary glands along the margin. These bracts are surrounding a ring of male flowers, each with one stamen, and a single female flower is in the centre. Superficially, this arrangement resembles a single flower. The fruit is a capsule, with 3 valves.

King Juba II (c. 50 B.C. – 19 A.D.) of Numidia (in present-day Algeria and Tunisia) had an interest in plants and often described them, including a thorny, succulent plant from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, whose latex was a powerful laxative. He named this plant Euphorbea in honour of his Greek chief physician, Euphorbus. In 1753, Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), adopted this name, in the form Euphorbia, for the entire genus.

 

Euphorbia cyparissias Cypress spurge
This plant is native to the major part of Europe, eastwards to central Siberia, southwards to the Mediterrenean and Turkey. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to altitudes of about 2,300 m. Its natural habitats include grasslands, dunes, and gravel areas along lakes, rivers, and beaches. However, it thrives in open, disturbed areas, such as roadsides and pastures.

It grows to about 50 cm tall, easily identified by its leafy stem with dense masses of linear leaves, dark green or blue-green, to 4 cm long and 2 mm wide. Bracts initially yellow, at maturity turning reddish or purple. The mature fruit ‘explodes’, spreading seeds up to 5 m away. It also reproduces through root shoots, often forming dense stands.

This plant contains a milky sap, which is toxic, having a strongly irritating effect on the skin, often forming painful blisters.

The specific and popular names allude to the leaves, which resemble the foliage of certain species of cypress trees (Cupressus).

 

 

Cypress spurge with yellow bracts, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mature cypress spurge with reddish bracts, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mature cypress spurge with reddish bracts, Umbal Valley, near Virgen Valley, Tirol, Austria. A species of thyme (Thymus) is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mature cypress spurge with purplish bracts, near Säntis, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fabaceae (Leguminosae) Pea family
This almost worldwide family of herbs, climbers, shrubs, or trees is the third-largest plant family, with about 750 genera and 19,000 species. Only Orchidaceae and Asteraceae are larger.

The leaves are pinnate in most species, but may be trifoliate or palmate. The fruit, the legume, or pod, is usually much longer than broad, splitting open along two seams.

According to the latest revision, this family now includes 6 subfamilies, of which only one, Faboideae (Papilionoideae), is dealt with below. Members of two other subfamilies, Caesalpinioideae (including the former subfamily Mimosoideae), and Cercidoideae, are described on the page Plants: Himalayan flora.

Flowers of the subfamily Faboideae have 5 petals, forming a unique structure. The upper petal, called the standard, is large and often reflexed, covering and protecting stamens and pistil. The two lateral petals, called the wings, are of equal size, surrounding the two bottom petals, which are free at the base, but fused at the tip, forming what is called the keel, as it resembles the keel of a boat. They enclose stamens and pistil.

 

Anthyllis Kidney-vetch
A genus of about 22-32 species of herbs, sometimes shrubby, distributed in Europe, eastwards to the Ural Mountains, southwards to northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iran, with an isolated occurrence in Ethiopian mountains.

The generic name is derived from the Greek anthyllio, diminutive of anthos (‘flower’).

 

Anthyllis vulneraria Common kidney-vetch
A very diverse plant with numerous subspecies and intermediate forms, in Europe alone about 24 subspecies, some of which may be separate species.

This perennial, with ascending or upright stems, varies from dwarf plants 5 cm tall to shrubby herbs that may reach a height of 40 cm. Basal leaves often have only a terminal elliptic leaflet, to 8 cm long, lateral leaflets 1-4 pairs, much reduced in size, or often missing. Stem leaves have 2-7 pairs of leaflets, ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate, lateral ones to 2.5 cm long and 8 mm wide, terminal leaflet to 6 cm long and 2 cm wide, rounded.

The inflorescence is a compact flowerhead with numerous flowers, to 1.9 cm long, golden-yellow in most subspecies, occasionally whitish, orange, or red. The white-haired calyx is inflated, with uneven teeth. The pod is ovoid, hairy, dark, one-seeded.

This plant is distributed in the entire Europe, eastwards to the Ural Mountains, southwards to northern Africa and Iran, with an isolated occurrence in Ethiopian mountains, growing in dry grasslands and coastal dunes, along roads and embankments, and in other disturbed areas, preferably on calcareous soils, from the lowland up to alpine regions.

The specific name is derived from the Latin vulnus (‘wound’), alluding to the former usage of the plant for healing wounds. It was also used for cough.

 

 

Common kidney-vetch, possibly subspecies alpicola, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common kidney-vetch in front of a waterfall, Gadmen, near Innertkirchen, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common kidney-vetch, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Astragalus Milk-vetch
A huge genus, comprising more than 3,000 species of herbs or small shrubs, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. These plants are very variable, from soft-haired herbs to spiny shrublets. The leaves of the vast majority are pinnate, with numerous leaflets. The calyx is tubular, with 5 short teeth or lobes, often of unequal length. The keel of the flower is blunt-tipped, as opposed to members of the genus Oxytropis (below), which are very similar, but whose keel has a beaked tip. The pod is often longitudinally divided into 2 chambers.

 

Astragalus frigidus Yellow alpine milk-vetch
This plant is widely distributed in subarctic and temperate areas of Eurasia, from Scandinavia eastwards to the Pacific, southwards to central Europe, Mongolia, northern China, and Kamchatka. In the southernmost areas, it is restricted to mountains. It is partial to calcareous soils, growing in grassy areas and shrubberies, in the Alps mainly occurring at altitudes between 1,700 and 2,800 m.

Stem erect, usually unbranched, smooth or slightly hairy, to 40 cm tall, leaves pinnate, to 15 cm long, with 3-7 pairs of ovate or elliptical leaflets, to 2.5 cm long, pointed, stipules (small leaves at the base of the leaf) to 2 cm long and 1 cm wide. Inflorescences to 5 cm long, with 5-20 nodding flowers, to 1.5 cm long, calyx yellowish-green or reddish, to 5 mm long, toothed, corolla yellowish-white. Pods initially with a dense cover of black and white hairs, later smooth.

 

 

Yellow alpine milk-vetch, Obersteinberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. Alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris) and leaves of white false helleborine (Veratrum album) are also seen. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Astragalus onobrychis
Usually a prostrate plant, forming dense growths to 30 cm tall, occasionally to 60 cm. Stems ascending, downy, densely leafy, leaves pinnate with 8-12 pairs of hairy, narrow leaflets, to 1.5 cm long. Inflorescences are terminal heads, at first compact, later elongated, with 10-30 reddish-violet or purplish flowers, to 2.4 cm long. The pod is narrowly ovate, to 1 cm long, covered in white hairs.

This species is native from the western Alps eastwards to western Siberia and the Altai Mountains, southwards to the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. It was originally a steppe plant, which has adapted to grassy areas in mountains.

The specific name alludes to the similarity of the flowers to those of the genus Onobrychis (below).

 

 

Astragalus onobrychis, Upper Rhone Valley, Valais, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hedysarum Sweetvetch
This genus contains somewhere between 160 and 200 species of herbs, rarely shrubs, distributed in Eurasia, North Africa, and North America. The pod is broad and flattened, constricted between the seeds and breaking into 1-seeded units at maturity.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek hedysaron (‘axe-weed’), the name of a plant described by Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), author of De Materia Medica, five volumes dealing with herbal medicine. The allusion to this genus is obscure.

 

Hedysarum hedysaroides Alpine sweetvetch
This species is found in subarctic and temperate areas of Eurasia, from Finland eastwards across Siberia to Alaska, in Asia southwards to Mongolia, northern China, and Korea. In central Europe, it occurs from the Pyrenees across the Alps and the Carpathians to Ukraine, growing at elevations between 1,000 and 3,000 m. It mainly grows on acid soils in sunny places, in grassy areas and shrubberies, and among rocks.

Stems are erect or ascending, angular, to 60 cm tall, leaves pinnate, to 15 cm long, with 9-21 lanceolate leaflets, to 3 cm long, stipules (small leaves at the base of the leaf) membranous, brown, fused to above the middle. Inflorescences are one-sided racemes with up to 50 purplish-violet or reddish-violet flowers, corolla to 2 cm long. The pods do not open at maturity, but disintegrate into one-seeded units. The root is edible, raw or cooked.

An alternative common name of this plant is Alpine sainfoin, which is confusing, as the name sainfoin is usually reserved for members of the genus Onobrychis (below).

 

 

Alpine sweetvetch, Obersteinberg, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Laburnum Laburnum
A genus of 2 species of small deciduous trees, native to mountains of southern Europe, from France eastwards to the Balkans. Previously, a third species, L. caramanicum, was included in the genus, but has now been moved to a separate genus, Podocytisus. The seeds of this genus are very poisonous.

Alternative common names for members of the genus are golden rain tree and golden-chain tree, alluding to the numerous pendent, golden-yellow inflorescences.

 

Laburnum alpinum Alpine laburnum
A small deciduous tree, to 6 m tall, leaves trifoliate, leaflets to 5 cm long. Inflorescences are numerous pendulous racemes, to 30 cm long, with an abundance of golden-yellow flowers, to 1.8 cm long. The pod is to 5 cm long, with a narrow wing above.

This plant is distributed from the French Cévennes eastwards to the Balkans, found up to elevations of about 2,000 m.

 

 

Alpine laburnum, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lathyrus Vetchling
A large genus of about 160 species, found almost worldwide in temperate areas, absent from rainforests and Australasia. Most species are climbing herbs, with tendrils at the tip of the leaves, but some are erect shrubs. When the pods are mature, the two halves twist into spirals, hereby spreading the seeds a considerable distance.

 

Lathyrus laevigatus Mountain vetchling
This central European plant, previously known as L. ochraceus, is found from Spain and the Jura Mountains eastwards to European Russia and Ukraine. In the Alps, it occurs up to an elevation of at least 2,100 m. It thrives on sunny slopes in grassy areas or shrubberies, preferably on calcareous soils.

This species forms dense growths, stems erect, angular, quite stiff, more or less hairy, leafy, to 60 cm tall, leaves with 3-5 pairs of elliptic-lanceolate leaflets, sharply pointed. Stipules quite large, lanceolate. Inflorescence is a one-sided, stalked raceme, with 5-20 lemon-yellow flowers, to 2.5 cm long, which turn orange with age. The pod is oblong, brown, smooth, to 7 cm long.

 

 

Mountain vetchling in rainy weather, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, southern Germany. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Onobrychis Sainfoin
This large genus contains anywhere between 150 and 200 species, depending on authority. These plants are distributed in central and southern Europe, northern Africa, and large parts of temperate and subtropical Asia.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek onobrykhis, from onos (‘ass’) and brykho (‘to eat greedily’). Presumably, some Ancient Greek noticed asses greedily eating these plants. Through the ages, they have been much used as fodder, and one species, O. viciifolia, has become naturalized in numerous countries.

The popular name is derived from Old French sain foin (‘healthy hay’). In the 1500s, French scientist Olivier de Serres wrote: “The herb is called sain-foin in France, in Italy herba medica, in Provençe and the Languedoc luzerne. From the inordinate praise the plant has been given, for its medical virtues and for fattening the livestock that graze on it, comes the term sain.”

In most northern European languages, the name of the plant usually derives from esparceto, the Provençal term for the similar-looking and closely related sweetvetches (Hedysarum) (above).

 

Onobrychis montana Mountain sainfoin
This plant is much like the widespread O. viciifolia, but lower, usually below 20 cm tall, sometimes to 30 cm, stems ascending, leaves with 3-8 pairs of narrowly elliptic to lanceolate leaflets. The inflorescence is rather short and dense, flowers reddish-violet, standard with dark red streaks.

It grows on calcareous soils, in meadows and pastures, and among rocks, at elevations between 1,300 and 2,600 m, from the French Alps eastwards to the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus, and thence southwards to Jordan.

 

 

Mountain sainfoin, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain sainfoin, Passo Pordoi, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain sainfoin, beneath Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Oxytropis Locoweed
A large genus of about 300 species, native to Eurasia and North America. The flowers are very similar to Astragalus (above), but the tip of the keel has a beak, whereas that of Astragalus is blunt. Some species of locoweed are notorious for being toxic to grazing animals.

 

Oxytropis campestris Field locoweed
Divided into at least 13 subspecies, this steppe plant has a scattered distribution, found in subarctic areas of Alaska and Canada, in mountains of western United States, southwards to Colorado, in the Kuril Islands and Japan, and in central European mountains, including the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, the Carpathians, and the Balkan Mountains. It also occurs in the British Isles, where it is restricted to 4 locations. In Sweden, it is common on the island of Öland, but is otherwise rare. In the Alps, it may be encountered at elevations between 1,000 and 2,400 m, growing in alkaline grasslands on sunny locations.

A prostrate plant, growing to 15 cm tall, leaves basal, stalked, pinnate, to 20 cm long, with 10-15 pairs of elliptic or lanceolate leaflets, smooth or sparsely hairy, stipules lanceolate, larger than the leaflets. Inflorescences are dense spikes, to 6 cm long, borne on leafless stalks to 20 cm long, each with 5-15 whitish, pale yellow, purplish, or violet flowers, to 2 cm long. The pod is hairy, to 1.8 cm long and 8 mm wide.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘growing in fields’ or ‘growing on plains’.

 

 

Field locoweed, near Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Trifolium Clover
A huge genus with about 250 species, found in temperate and subtropical areas of Eurasia, Africa, and America.

The generic name was the classical Latin word for clover, meaning ‘with 3 leaves’, referring to the trifoliate leaves of the genus. The pod is small, containing a single seed.

 

Trifolium alpestre Purple-globe clover
This species is distributed from the Pyrenees and central France eastwards to the Ural Mountains, and from Denmark southwards to Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of 2,300 m. It thrives on acid soils, growing in light deciduous forests and shrubberies, along forest edges, and in grasslands. It has declined in large parts of the distribution area due to the increased usage of nitrogen fertilizers.

An erect, hairy plant, to 40 cm high, leaves trifoliate, leaflets narrow, oblong or lanceolate, to 8 cm long and 1 cm wide, hairy and with tiny teeth along the margin, veins prominent. Stipules awl-shaped, to 3 cm long. The spherical to egg-shaped inflorescences, to 2.5 cm long, are sessile, subtended by the uppermost leaves. Corolla pinkish-red or reddish-purple, rarely white or pink, to 1.2 cm long. The hairy calyx tube has 20 veins – a unique character for this species.

 

 

Purple-globe clover, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Trifolium alpinum Alpine clover
A prostrate herb, to 20 cm tall, often forming large growths. All leaves are basal, long-stalked, trifoliate, leaflets linear-lanceolate, to 10 cm long, pointed, margin entire. Inflorescence rounded or pyramidal, to 5 cm across, with 3-12 stalked, pink or purplish-red, fragrant flowers, to 2.5 cm long, calyx tube with long, narrow teeth.

This species occurs in the central and southern Alps, the Apennines, the French Massif Central, and the Pyrenees, at altitudes between 1,400 and 3,100 m. The eastern limit of the distribution area roughly follows a line from Arlberg, western Austria, southwards to Lake Garda. It is an important fodder plant for livestock and wild herbivores alike.

 

 

Alpine clover, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine clover, Tschamut, near Sedrun, Tavetsch Valley, Graubünden, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Trifolium badium Brown clover
A prostrate plant, usually below 10 cm tall, stems creeping, ascending, or erect, occasionally to 40 cm long, stem leaves stalked, alternate, trifoliate, leaflets ovate, to 3 cm long and 1.7 cm wide. Inflorescences are compact heads, to 2 cm across, with up to 60 tiny flowers, initially golden-yellow, turning brown with age, starting at the bottom.

This species is widespread, found from Germany and Poland southwards to the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards to Ukraine, the Caucasus, Iraq, and Iran, occurring at elevations between 600 and 3,000 m. It thrives on moist, nutrient-rich soils, growing mainly in grasslands. It is one of the few alpine plants that benefit from the increased uasag of chemical fertilizers.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘chestnut-coloured’.

 

 

Brown clover, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Brown clover, Upper Rhone Valley, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Trifolium montanum Mountain clover
Widely distributed, found in all of Europe, except the British Isles, eastwards to central Siberia, and thence southwards to Iran. It grows in dry grasslands, thriving on warm, humus-rich, calcareous soils. In the Alps, it has been encountered up to elevations of about 2,200 m.

The stem is erect, woolly-haired, branched above, to 50 cm tall. Leaves alternate, long-stalked, trifoliate, leaflets elliptic or lanceolate, to 6 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, with finely toothed margin, underside hairy. Stipules ovate, pointed, whitish with brown streaks, lower part close to the stalk, forming a sheath. Flowerheads are terminal, on long, woolly-hairy stalks, elliptic or ovoid, to 2 cm across, flowers to 9 mm long, corolla white or yellowish-white, after flowering turning brownish.

 

 

Mountain clover, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain clover, Oeschinen See, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Vicia Vetch
A genus of about 140 species, native to temperate and subtropical regions of Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas. In the Tropics, these plants are restricted to mountains.

 

Vicia sylvatica Wood vetch
A perennial herb, climbing with the help of branched tendrils at the end of the leaves. Stems are usually 1-2 m long, occasionally to 4 m, much-branched. Leaves alternate, pinnate, with 4-12 pairs of leaflets, stipules crescent-shaped, deeply split into long awn-like lobes, though sometimes with entire margins. Inflorescences are one-sided racemes with up to 30 flowers, each to 2 cm long, corolla white with numerous violet or purple veins on the standard, rarely pure white or purple.

This plant is widespread in Eurasia, found in most of Europe, apart from the southernmost areas, eastwards to central Siberia. It is widespread in the Alps, growing in light forests and shrubberies, and along forest edges and roadsides, up to elevations of about 2,300 m.

 

 

Wood vetch, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wood vetch, Dolomites, Italy. In the background Monte Cristallo (3216 m). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gentianaceae Gentian family
An almost worldwide family, comprising about 87 genera with c. 1,650 species, mostly herbs, but some shrubs, climbers, or small trees.

 

Gentiana Gentian
A large genus, comprising about 360 species, distributed almost worldwide, in Europe, north-western Africa, Asia, the Americas, eastern Australia, and New Zealand. Altogether 40 species are found in the Alps. Previously, the genus contained about 635 species, but many authorities have split out a number of species to the genera Gentianopsis (below) and Gentianella.

The flowers of most species are various shades of blue, others are purple, violet, mauve, yellow, white, or, rarely, red. The four or five petals are usually fused, being trumpet-, funnel-, or bell-shaped.

The generic name was derived from King Gentius, who ruled in Ancient Illyria 181-168 B.C., and who allegedly discovered the medicinal value of the great yellow gentian (see below).

Some Asian gentian species are presented on the page Plants: Himalayan flora.

 

Gentiana acaulis Trumpet gentian, stemless gentian
This low plant, to 10 cm tall, forms mats measuring up to 50 cm across. Leaves mostly in a basal rosette, lanceolate, elliptic, or obovate, evergreen, to 3.5 cm long. The trumpet-shaped flowers, to 6 cm long, are terminal on stalks to 6 cm long, with one or two pairs of leaves. Corolla is bright blue with olive-green, broad, longitudinal patches inside, lobes sharply pointed.

This species is native to central and southern Europe, from the Pyrenees, the Cevennes, and the Jura Mountains eastwards to the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Balkans, growing on acid soils. In the Alps and the Pyrenees, it may be encountered at altitudes between 800 and 3,000 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘stemless’. It was the first gentian to be featured in the Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, in 1788.

Clusius’ gentian (below) is very similar and has a similar distribution, but is partial to limestone, and does not have green blotches inside the corolla.

 

 

Trumpet gentian, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana brachyphylla Short-leaved gentian
A very low, mat-forming plant, usually below 10 cm tall, rarely up to 15 cm. Leaves tiny, bluish-green, rhombic or elliptic, widest at the middle, with a blunt or pointed tip. Flowers sky-blue, to 1.5 cm long, tube with a diameter to 4 mm, calyx tubular, green with narrow blackish ribs.

This species has a wide distribution in southern Europe, from the Spanish Sierra Nevada and the Pyrenees eastwards across the Alps to the Carpathians, found at altitudes between 1,800 and 4,200 m, making it the highest-occurring gentian species in the Alps.

Short-leaved gentian very much resembles round-leaved gentian (below), but differs by its green calyx, where only the ribs are dark, whereas the entire calyx is dark in round-leaved gentian.

 

 

Short-leaved gentian, Grossglockner, Austria. Purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) is also seen in the picture. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana clusii Clusius’ gentian
This plant is very similar to trumpet gentian (above), and has a similar distribution, but it is partial to limestone, and does not have green blotches inside the corolla. It is distributed in montane areas of southern Europe, in the Pyrenees, the Jura Mountains, the Black Mountains, the Alps, the Apennines, and the Carpathians.

The specific name was given in memory of Charles de l’Écluse (1526-1609), also called Carolus Clusius, a Flemish physician and botanist, who was among the first to study the Alpine flora.

 

 

Clusius’ gentian, Col du Bous, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Clusius’ gentian, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana cruciata Cross-leaved gentian
This species is named for its leaves, which are arranged cross-wise, two-and-two, up the stout, erect stem, which may reach a height of 40 cm. The leathery leaves are ovate or lanceolate, entire, to 10, rarely 15 cm long and 3 cm wide. The violet-blue, trumpet- or bell-shaped flowers, to 2.5 cm long, are clustered in the upper leaf axils. They only have 4 petals (most other gentians have 5).

It is widespread in central and southern Europe, from Holland, France, and Spain eastwards to western Siberia, Turkey, and Iran, usually growing at altitudes between 200 and 1,600 m, occasionally higher. In Bulgaria, it has been found up to 2,900 m. It prefers dry, calcareous soils in shrubberies and grasslands.

Due to the cross-wise arrangement of the leaves, this plant was much sought after during the Middle Ages, being a symbol of Jesus on the Cross. A Hungarian legend relates that when the plague broke out among the soldiers of King László (c. 1040-1095), he dreamed that an angel ordered him to shoot an arrow in the air. The herb, on which the arrow fell, would be able to heal the sick soldiers. As it turned out, the arrow fell on cross-leaved gentian, giving rise to the Hungarian name of this plant, Szent Lászlo Kiraly füre (‘Herb of King St. Ladislaus’).

Cross-leaved gentian is the host of an endangered butterfly, the mountain Alcon blue (Phengaris rebeli, formerly Maculinea rebeli), of the family Lycaenidae. Females lay their eggs on the leaves, and when the larvae emerge, they feed on the flowers and seeds. When they reach the fourth larval stage, they drop to the ground, where they emit a fragrance, which make ants of the species Myrmica schencki pick them up and bring them to their nest, in which they are reared by the ants. (Source: V. Oškinis 2012. Relationship between the butterfly Phengaris rebeli and its larval host plant Gentiana cruciata in a Lithuanian population. Ekologija 58 (3): 369-373)

 

 

Cross-leaved gentian, Ibon de Piedrafita, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Cross-leaved gentian, Engadin, Graubünden, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana lutea Great yellow gentian
This majestic plant flowers for the first time, when it is about 10 years old, and the root may live for up to 60 years. The stem is erect, to 2 m tall, basal leaves are clustered in a rosette, stem leaves are opposite, cross-wise, ovate or elliptic, to 30 cm long and 15 cm wide, lower ones short-stalked, upper ones sessile, blade with 5-7 strong nerves. The numerous inflorescences, each with 3-13 flowers, are clustered in the leaf axils, corolla lemon-yellow or golden-yellow, petals 5, split into 5-7 narrow segments almost to the base.

This species is native to mountains of central and southern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine and western Turkey, growing in alpine and sub-alpine grasslands, mostly on calcareous soils. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to an elevation of about 2,500 m.

The root contains one of the most bitter-tasting substances known, which has been utilized medicinally for hundreds of years. A few drops of tincture, made from it, stimulates the function of liver and pancreas, and also increases the appetite.

Other pictures, depicting this species, are found on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Great yellow gentian is very common in Switzerland. The upper picture is from Col de la Croix, Valais, the lower one from Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana nivalis Snow gentian
A small, slender plant, stem often branched from the base, to 15 cm tall. Basal leaves are in a rosette, ovate, blunt, stem leaves opposite, elliptic or lanceolate, all leaves 2-5 cm long. Flowers terminal, tubular, pale blue or bright blue, to 1.5 cm across, petal lobes often twisted propeller-like, sepals green or brownish, fused, angular, to 1.5 cm long.

This species has a very wide distribution, from the Pyrenees across the Jura Mountains, the Alps, and the Carpathians, southwards to the Balkans and Turkey, and also in Scandinavia, Finland, north-western Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and north-eastern Canada. It thrives in stony and grassy areas, on calcareous as well as acid soils. In the Alps, it occurs at altitudes between 1,300 and 3,000 m.

 

 

Snow gentian, Great St. Bernhard Pass, on the Swiss-Italian border. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana orbicularis Round-leaved gentian
This plant very much resembles short-leaved gentian (above), but differs by its very dark, almost black calyx (green with dark ribs in short-leaved gentian). The ovate leaves are broadest in the middle.

It is found in mountains from southern Spain and the Pyrenees eastwards across the Alps to the northern part of the Balkans, mostly on sunny, calcareous soils, at altitudes between 1,600 and 2,800 m.

 

 

Round-leaved gentian, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana punctata Spotted gentian
Stem stout, to 60 cm tall, leaves opposite, lower ones stalked, upper ones sessile, blade glossy-green, ovate-lanceolate, to 15 cm long and 7 cm wide, usually with 5 clear veins. The bell-shaped, bright yellow or pale yellow, finely dotted flowers are clustered in the leaf axils, in the lower ones up to 3, in the upper ones up to 8, petals to 3.5 cm long, fused, with 5-8 blunt lobes, to 9 mm long. Calyx green, short, with 5-8 lanceolate teeth.

This plant is distributed in montane areas, from the Alps eastwards to the Carpathians and Ukraine, and on the Balkans, at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 m, mainly growing on nutrient-poor, acid soils.

Like the great yellow gentian (above), its root has been utilized in folk medicine, and it was also added as a flavouring to alcoholic drinks.

 

 

Spotted gentian, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Spotted gentian was named after its finely dotted flowers. – Turracher Höhe, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana purpurea Purple gentian
Like cross-leaved gentian (above), the leaves of this species are arranged cross-wise up the stem, but it is a stouter plant, to 60 cm tall, and it may at once be identified by its purple flowers. The leaves are shining, pale green, lanceolate, to 15 cm long and 7 cm wide, with mostly 5 transparent nerves. The bell-shaped flowers are purple with darker spots, yellowish inside, sometimes also at the base outside, the entire corolla rarely pale yellow or white. They are clustered in the leaf axils, in the lower ones up to 3, in the upper ones up to 8, petals to 4 cm long, fused, with 5-8 blunt lobes that are often erect. Sepals green or dark, short, broadly ovate.

It has a disjunct distribution, found in the western Alps, eastwards to western Austria, in the northern Apennines, in southern Norway, and a small population in Härjedalen, Sweden, which was discovered as late as the beginning of the 1970s. It grows on acid soils, in the Alps found at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,800 m.

 

 

Purple gentian, near Little St. Bernhard Pass, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana utriculosa Bladder gentian
Easily identified by its greenish or purplish, inflated, angular calyx with 5 ridges, to 3 mm wide. The stem is erect, simple or branched, to 25, rarely to 35 cm tall. Leaves opposite, obovate or lanceolate, to 2 cm long, tip blunt or pointed. The basal leaf rosette is usually withered at the time of flowering. Flowers are terminal, solitary, tubular, corolla dark blue, sometimes greenish on the outside, tube to 2.5 cm long, petal lobes lanceolate, spreading, to 1.1 cm long, with a tiny, upright, bi-lobed appendage between them.

This species is distributed in the Alps and the Apennines, eastwards to Ukraine, and also on the Balkan Peninsula. It thrives on moist, calcareous soils.

 

 

Bladder gentian, Trešnjevik Pass (1568 m), Montenegro. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bladder gentian, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana verna Spring gentian
One of the most widespread gentians, distributed across montane areas of central and southern Europe, in Morocco, Turkey, the Caucasus, and from north-western Russia eastwards to Lake Baikal, the Altai Mountains, and north-western Mongolia. A few relict populations are also found in Ireland and England. This species grows in sunny places, on calcareous as well as acid soils. In the Alps, it is found from the lower valleys up to an elevation of about 2,600 m.

Usually, this plant is very low, but the erect, angular stems may occasionally grow up to 15 cm tall. Leaves are elliptic-lanceolate, the basal, rosette-forming leaves to 3 cm long, significantly larger than the stem leaves, which are opposite, arranged cross-wise up the stem to just below the calyx. Flowers are terminal, solitary, tubular, to 3 cm across, corolla dark blue, sometimes greenish on the outside, tube to 1.8 cm long, petal lobes broadly ovate, blunt ot slightly pointed, spreading, with a tiny, upright, bi-lobed, white-striped appendage between them.

The names of this plant indicate that it blooms early in spring. However, it also flowers in summer and autumn.

 

 

Spring gentian, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gentianopsis Fringed gentians
About 24 species of herbs, distributed in Eurasia and North America. Members of this genus were previously placed in the genus Gentiana, but differ in the flowers, whose petals are more or less fringed with hairs or pointed lobes.

 

Gentianopsis ciliata Common fringed gentian
The native range of this species, previously known as Gentiana ciliata, is central and southern Europe and Morocco, eastwards to central Siberia. It grows on clayey and calcareous soils in forests and meadows, mainly in montane areas, in central Europe found up to an elevation of about 2,250 m. There is a single small population in the British Isles, but it may be introduced.

The smooth, angular stem is erect or ascending, occasionally sparsely branched, to 30 cm tall. Stem leaves opposite, sessile, linear-lanceolate, pointed, to 5 cm long and 4 mm wide, arranged cross-wise up the stem. Flowers are usually solitary, terminal, corolla azure-blue to dull blue, to 4 cm across, petals fused into a tube, to 3.5 cm long, margin with fringes, ending in acute teeth. The brownish calyx is about half as long as the corolla tube, lobes linear-lanceolate, with sharp teeth.

 

 

Common fringed gentian, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common fringed gentian, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of common fringed gentian, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Swertia Felwort, star gentian
A large genus, comprising about 150 species, found almost worldwide, mainly in Asia and Africa, with few species in North America and Europe. Most species have small, but very ornate flowers, usually with 5 corolla lobes, often adorned with beautiful, intricate patterns and brightly coloured nectaries.

 

Swertia perennis Marsh felwort
This plant has a scattered occurrence, found in central, southern, and eastern Europe, the Baltic countries, European Russia, the Caucasus, north-eastern China, Japan, and from Alaska southwards along western Canada and United States. It is still common in many areas, but is declining due to habitat fragmentation or destruction. It is widespread in the Alps, the Pyrenees, and on the Balkan Peninsula, growing in wet, calcareous meadows and marshes, up to altitudes of about 2,500 m.

The stem is erect, angular, to 60 cm tall, lower leaves ovate or spatulate, alternate, upper leaves lanceolate, opposite. The inflorescence is a loose, terminal panicle, sepals 4-5, green, slender, pointed. Corolla to 2.5 cm across, lobes 4-5, to 1.3 cm long, fused only at the base, violet-purple or dull blue with numerous darker streaks, style short and thick, stamens 5, purple, thick, topped by split anthers, at the base 10 dark glands, fringed with short white hairs.

 

 

Marsh felwort, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Geraniaceae Cranesbill family
A family with 5-7 genera and 800-830 species of herbs, rarely shrubs, widely distributed in temperate regions, in subtropical and tropical areas restricted to mountains.

 

Geranium Cranesbill
A large genus with about 380 species of herbs, mainly distributed in temperate areas, in the subtropics and tropics restricted to mountains.

Stipules (leaf-like appendices at the base of leaves) are often distinct on these plants. After flowering, the style forms a long, straight or up-curved beak, which separates into 5 elastic spring-like coils, each containing a single seed that is expelled, usually when the style is touched.

The generic name is derived from the Greek geranos (‘crane’), alluding to the fruit, whose shape resembles a crane’s bill.

 

Geranium phaeum Dusky cranesbill
A handsome plant, stem to 70 cm tall, mostly unbranched, lower part smooth, upper part hairy. Leaves long-stalked, rounded or kidney-shaped in outline, to 10 cm across, deeply divided into usually 7 lobes, hairy above, hairless or hairy only along the veins below. Upper leaves sessile, usually with only 3 small lobes. Stipules rather small, ovate to lanceolate, membraneous, reddish-brown. Inflorescences are much-branched, open clusters, stalk and calyx densely hairy, corolla to 1.8 cm across, colour variable, mostly dark purple, sometimes pink or white, petals 5, initially spread out in the shape of a wheel, later wavy or recurved.

This plant mostly grows in shady places, along forest edges and in shrubberies. It is native to southern, central, and eastern Europe, from Spain and France eastwards to the Balkan Peninsula and Ukraine, northwards to Poland and Belarus. It is widely cultivated and has become naturalized northwards to the British Isles, Sweden, and Finland. In the Alps, it is restricted to the lower parts.

 

 

Dusky cranesbill, Lake Gosau, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dusky cranesbill, Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Geranium pyrenaicum Hedgerow cranesbill, mountain cranesbill
Stem to 70 cm tall, hairy, glandular-hairy above. Leaves evergreen, long-stalked, to 7 cm across, rounded in outline, lower ones divided about halfway into 5-9 blunt segments with rounded teeth, upper ones more sharply divided. Stipules small, hairy, reddish-brown. The inflorescence is a loose raceme, flower stalks glandular-hairy, petals 5, purplish, violet, or pink, notched, to 1 cm long.

This plant grows in a variety of habitats, including open forests, meadows, grazing grounds, and wastelands. It is native to mountains of central and southern Europe and North Africa, eastwards to Ukraine, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. In the Alps, it has been found up to an elevation of 1,730 m.

It is widely cultivated and has become naturalized in numerous countries, northwards to Scandinavia, Finland, and European Russia, and also in north-eastern North America and Australia.

 

 

Hedgerow cranesbill, Gavarnie, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Geranium robertianum Herb Robert
This plant is native to large parts of temperate and subtropical Eurasia, North Africa, Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, and eastern and western North America. In the European mountains, it grows up to elevations of about 2,100 m. It mainly thrives in forests, but may also be encountered in shrubberies, along hedges, on gravelly beaches, and among scree.

The stem is to 50 cm tall, much-branched, hairy or smooth. Leaves are palmate, long-stalked, deeply dissected, to 4 cm long and 7.5 cm wide. The stem is often reddish (var. rubricaule), and the leaves turn red towards the end of the flowering season. The small flowers, to 1.5 cm across, are terminal, usually in pairs, petals pink, to 1.4 cm long.

When touched, the entire plant exudes a strong, unpleasant smell, hence the popular name stinking Bob. This smell is due to the presence of an essential oil.

In former days, this species was known as Saint Robert’s herb, like the specific name referring to French abbot and herbalist Robert de Molesme (c. 1028-1111), one of the founders of the Cistercian Order. He used it to cure people, suffering from various diseases, including diarrhea, liver and gall bladder problems, toothache, and wounds. American native tribes also utilized it medicinally.

In his booklet Chrut und Uchrut (in English called Weeds – a useful booklet on medicinal herbs), from 1911, Swiss priest and herbalist Johann Künzle (1857-1945) states the following: “The application of Herb Robin is also very effective against abscesses and inflammations of cattle. Glory be to God.”

 

 

Herb Robert, Bluntau Valley, near Golling, Salzburg, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

After flowering, the leaves of Herb Robert turn red. – Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Geranium sylvaticum Wood cranesbill
A handsome plant, to 70 cm tall, stem branched above, hairy in the lower part, leaves variable, to 15 cm across, deeply cut into 5-7 segments, rhombic or ovate, strongly toothed. Flowers are in terminal, open clusters, corolla to 3 cm across, violet, reddish-violet, mauve, or sky-blue, sometimes pink or white, especially in northern populations. Petals to 1.8 cm long, tip rounded. Flower stalk and calyx glandular-hairy.

This species grows in open forests and meadows, from the lowland up to elevations of about 2,300 m. It is distributed in the entire Europe, from Iceland and the British Isles eastwards to central Siberia and Kazakhstan, southwards to Spain, Turkey, and northern Iran. It has also been encountered in southern Greenland, but may be introduced there.

The specific name means ‘growing in woods’, derived from the Latin silva (‘forest’).

 

 

Wood cranesbill, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wood cranesbill, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wood cranesbill, Lake Gosau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Flower colour and leaf shape of wood cranesbill is quite variable, compare the plant in this picture with the one in the picture above. – Passo Sella, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wood cranesbill in rainy weather, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Grossulariaceae Currant or gooseberry family
This family contains only a single genus, Ribes, with about 160 species of shrubs, native to cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with some species in the Andes Mountains of South America. They are especially numerous in eastern Asia. Some authorities include the genus in the family Saxifragaceae.

The fruit is highly distinctive, mostly globular, soft, juicy, sometimes brightly coloured or hairy.

 

Ribes petraeum Rock currant
This species is native to central and southern Europe and North Africa, eastwards across Ukraine and Kazakhstan to Mongolia and south-central Siberia. In central Europe, it occurs in the Alps, the Black Forest, the Vosges, the Sudetes, the Jura, the French Massif Central, and the Pyrenees. It grows in woods and shrubberies, and along streams, mainly on acid soils. In the Alps, it is found at altitudes between 500 and 2,500 m.

It is a deciduous shrub, to 3 m tall, branches spineless, leaves long-stalked, to 15 cm long and wide, with 3-5 triangular, serrated, glandular-hairy lobes. Inflorescences are pendent racemes, each with 20-35 flowers, corolla to 7 mm across, sepals to 4 mm long, hairy, pink or reddish, petals scaly, half as long as the sepals, broadly spatulate. The fruits are globular, dark red, with a sour taste. The sepals remain on the ripe berries.

Rock currant is quite similar to alpine currant (R. alpinum), but that species has much paler flowers, whose bracts are longer than the stalks, and the sepals wither before the berries mature.

 

 

Rock currant, Passo Sella, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hypericaceae St. John’s wort family
This family, comprising 6-9 genera and maybe 700 species of shrubs or herbs, rarely trees, are found worldwide, except in the coldests and driest regions. The major part of the genera are found in tropical areas.

 

Hypericum St. John’s wort
A huge genus with about 460 species of herbs or shrubs, rarely trees, found almost worldwide, except in areas with arctic conditions, in deserts, and in most of the lowland tropics.

The major part of the species have yellow flowers with numerous and prominent stamens. Leaves and flowers are often dotted with glands.

The generic name is derived from the Greek hyper (‘above’) and eikon (‘picture’), alluding to an old belief, that if these plants were hung above pictures, they would ward off evil spirits.

The popular name refers to Saint John the Baptist. In the Middle Ages, the blood-red juice of some species was seen as a symbol of the blood from the Saint’s beheading. John the Baptist had reproached King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife Herodias, hereby incurring Herodias’ wrath. Cunningly, her daughter persuaded the king to promise her anything she wanted, and, on request from her mother, she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a tray. (Mark, 6:18-28)

 

Hypericum nummularium Round-leaved St. John’s wort
The stem of this plant is trailing, ascending, or upright, slender, often red, to 30 cm long, leaves opposite, sessile, rounded or elliptic, smooth, to 1 cm long, dark green or blue-green above, paler below, with prominent nerves. Flowers are in small terminal clusters or sometimes solitary, golden-yellow, corolla to 1.5 cm across, sepals with many tiny, black, globular glands along the margin.

This species is partial to limestone rocks, growing at elevations between 500 and 2,500 m. It is abundant in the Pyrenees, rarer in the French and far western Swiss and Italian Alps.

 

 

Round-leaved St. John’s wort, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Hypericum richeri ssp. burseri Pyrenean St. John’s wort
Plant to 60 cm tall, stem woody near the base, branched from below, erect or ascending. Leaves opposite cross-wise, sessile, entire, ovate, to 5.5 cm long, pointed, margin dotted with tiny black glands. Flowers are arranged in terminal clusters, few- or many-flowered, petals golden-yellow, to 2 cm long, sepals green, to 7 mm long, petals and sepals with numerous tiny black glands.

The native range is the Pyrenees, the Jura, the western and southern Alps as far east as the Bergamasque Alps (north-east of Milan), and also from the Carpathians southwards to the northern Balkan Peninsula. It may be found at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,400 m, growing in stony shrubberies and pastures, preferably on calcareous soils. It is divided into 3 subspecies, of which burseri is restricted to the Pyrenees.

 

 

Pyrenean St. John’s wort, Pic de Gabizos, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Pyrenean St. John’s wort, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Juncaceae Rush family
A family, comprising about 8 genera with c. 400 species, widely distributed in temperate and subarctic areas of both hemispheres.

 

Luzula Wood-rush
About 75 species, widely distributed in both hemispheres, in tropical areas restricted to montane areas.

Some sources speculate that the generic name is derived from the Italian lucciola (‘to shine’ or ‘to sparkle’), or from the Latin lux (‘light’), inspired by the way the plants sparkle when wet with dew.

 

Luzula luzuloides White wood-rush
This plant, which grows to about 70 cm tall, sometimes has whitish flowers, although not nearly as white as in the quite similar L. nivea (below). The hairy leaves, to 6 mm wide, are very long, the upper one longer than the pendent, many-branched inflorescence, which is divided into clusters of 2-8 flowers, each flower to 4 mm long, whitish, yellowish, or reddish.

It is native to the major part of Europe, except the northernmost regions, growing on nutrient-poor and acid soils in forests, shrubberies, and grasslands. In the Alps, it occurs up to elevations of about 2,200 m.

 

 

White wood-rush, near Windeck Castle, Black Forest, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Luzula nivea Snowy wood-rush
This species is quite similar to white wood-rush (above), but may at once be identified by its snow-white, upright inflorescences. The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘like snow’, naturally referring to the flower colour.

It is distributed in montane areas of central and southern Europe, including the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, the Alps, and the northern Apennines, growing in forests up to elevations around 2,000 m.

 

 

Snowy wood-rush, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lamiaceae (Labiatae) Mint family
This huge family, counting about 240 genera and more than 7,000 species of herbs, rarely trees, shrubs, or climbers, is distributed almost worldwide. The flowers are irregular, usually with a shorter upper lip and a longer, larger lower lip. This arrangement has given rise to the alternative family name, derived from the Latin labiatus (‘having lips’).

 

Acinos
This genus of 10 species is native to Europe and western Asia. In Ancient Greece, akinos was the name of a small aromatic plant.

In a paper, On the taxonomic status of the genus Acinos (Lamiaceae), Botanicheskiy Zhurnal 101(1): 80-94, 2016, botanist Denis Melnikov argues that all species of Acinos should be transferred to the genus Ziziphora. Other authorites place them in the genus Clinopodium (below).

 

Acinos alpinus Alpine calamint
This small prostrate or ascending plant grows to 50 cm tall/long, stems woody at the base, leaves opposite cross-wise, short-stalked, ovate or elliptic, pointed, to 1.5 cm long, margin sparsely toothed. Inflorescences in the upper leaf axils, whorled, with clusters of 3-8 flowers, corolla tubular, to 2 cm long, hairy on the outside, violet-blue or reddish-violet, rarely pink or white, with white hairs in the throat, lower lip 3-lobed, with a white crescent or circle at the base of the mid-lobe. Calyx brown, tubular, hairy, with 5 sharp teeth, the 3 upper ones shorter than the lower 2.

This species is native to montane areas of central and southern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine and Turkey, and also in North Africa. It is very common in the Alps, growing in dry, stony places at altitudes between 900 and 2,700 m.

The plant has an aromatic fragrance like peppermint due to an essential oil. Formerly, it was utilized in folk medicine to reduce fever and to induce sweating. Dried leaves were used for tea and as flavouring in dishes.

 

 

Alpine calamint, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine calamint, Umbal Valley, Virgen Valley, Tirol, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine calamint, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ajuga Bugle
A genus of about 40 species, widely distributed in Europe, southern Asia, Africa, and south-eastern Australia.

The generic name in fact stems from a writing error. It should have been abiga, from abigo (‘to force birth’ or ‘to cause an abortion’), alluding to the yellow bugle (A. chamaepitys), which was used medicinally to induce an abortion. The common name was given in reference to the tubular flowers.

 

Ajuga genevensis Geneva bugle
An evergreen plant, branched from ground level, stems angular, densely hairy, erect, to 30 cm tall, leaves pale green, opposite cross-wise, sessile, ovate or obovate, shallowly lobed or toothed, upper ones in the inflorescence 3-lobed, often bluish. Inflorescences terminal, a dense, hairy, spike-like cluster of leafy whorls. Corolla violet-blue, dark blue, or pale blue, occasionally pink or white, upper lip very short with protruding stamens and pistil, lower lip 3-lobed, the mid-lobe much larger than the lateral ones.

This species is found along forest edges, in shrubberies and grasslands, mainly in mountains, but at lower elevations. It is distributed from the Netherlands and France eastwards to European Russia, southwards to the Mediterranean, Turkey, and the Caucasus. It has also become naturalized in North America.

The specific name was applied by Swiss botanist Johann Bauhin (1541-1612), who described and depicted the plant in Historia Plantarum as Consolida media Genevensis (1651). Apparently, he had observed it near Geneva.

This herb has been used in traditional Austrian medicine as tea, taken for respiratory tract disorders.

A near realtive, A. reptans, is quite similar, but has several runners and usually entire leaf margins. The two species occasionally interbreed.

 

 

Geneva bugle, photographed in rainy weather, Krajcarca Valley, near Trenta, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Ajuga pyramidalis Pyramidal bugle
Much like A. genevensis (above), but lower leaves dark green or bluish-green, upper ones in the inflorescence purple, flowers dark blue, pale blue, or lavender. The inflorescence sometimes forms a pyramid-shaped, terminal spike, hence its name.

This plant is native to almost all of Europe, from Iceland and Scandinavia southwards to the Mediterranean, eastwards to Ukraine and the Caucasus. In the southern parts of this area, it is restricted to mountains. It grows on neutral soils in open areas, including grasslands, moors, and among rocks. In the Alps, it is found up to altitudes of about 2,700 m.

 

 

Pyramidal bugle, Sölkpass, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Betonica Betony
A genus of about 10 species, native from Europe and North Africa eastwards to central Siberia and Iran. Some authorities include these plants in the genus Stachys (below).

 

Betonica alopecuros Yellow betony
The stem of this species, to 50 cm tall, is erect or ascending, cylindric, bristly-haired, lower leaves form a rosette, long-stalked, triangular with heart-shaped base, soft-haired, to 5 cm long and 6 cm wide, margin blunt-toothed, stem leaves opposite, ovate, margin likewise blunt-toothed. Inflorescences are terminal or axillary, consisting of whorls, subtended by bracts, to 7 mm long. The calyx is bristly-haired, tube to 6 mm long, lobes to 3 mm. The pale yellow corolla, to 1.6 cm long, is tubular, upper lip 2-lobed, lower lip 3-lobed, mid-lobe larger than the lateral ones.

This plant is widespread in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, and the Balkan Peninsula, growing in grassy areas at altitudes between 300 and 2,300 m.

The specific name is derived from the Greek alopex (‘fox’) and oura (‘tail’), alluding to the long, soft-haired inflorescence. This name was first used by Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371-287 B.C.).

Some authorities include this species in the genus Stachys (below).

 

 

Yellow betony, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow betony, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Betonica officinalis Purple betony
A very variable perennial, stem erect, to 80 cm tall, angular, more or less hairy. Basal leaves are long-stalked, to 15 cm long, oblong or narrowly ovate with heart-shaped base, nerves prominent, margin blunt-toothed, stem leaves similar, but smaller, opposite crosswise, short-stalked or sessile. The inflorescence is a dense spike, to 7 cm long, consisting of numerous whorls, each with up to 10 flowers, corolla to 1.5 cm long, pink, red, or purple, rarely white, upper lip ovate or lanceolate, more or less erect, lower lip usually 3-lobed, the two lateral ones sometimes missing. Calyx bell-shaped, to 7 mm long, with 5 sharp teeth.

This plant is indigenous to almost all of Europe and North Africa, eastwards to central Siberia, Turkey, and the Caucasus, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. In the wild, it grows in dry grasslands and open woods.

Betony was held in high esteem by the Greeks as well as the Romans. Greek-Roman botanist Antonius Musa (64-14 B.C.), chief physician to Emperor Augustus, maintained that it was a certain cure for no less than 47 diseases. An old Italian proverb says: “Sell your coat and buy betony,” whereas a Spanish proverb says: “He has as many virtues as betony.”

You may read much more about the role of this plant in folklore and traditional medicine on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry. Formerly, the leaves were used to dye wool yellow.

The specific name indicates the medicinal properties of this plant. According to Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), its earlier name was vettonica, named for the Vettones, a people living in Spain, who used it as herbal medicine. Modern authorities, however, claim that the word is derived from the Celtic bew (’head’) and ton (’good’), referring to its usage against headache.

Some authorities include it in the genus Stachys (below).

 

 

Large growth of purple betony, Col de la Madelaine, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Purple betony, Col du Soulor (1474 m), Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Clinopodium Calamint, wild basil
This genus has been defined very differently by different authorities, some restricting it to as few as 13 species, others including more than 100 species. Further genetic research may clarify the issue.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek klinopodion, from kline (‘bed’) and podion (‘little foot’), thus ‘little foot of a bed’, maybe alluding to the square stem of wild basil (below).

 

Clinopodium vulgare Wild basil
Stem square, erect, hairy, to 60 cm tall, but often much lower. The leaves are opposite cross-wise, hairy, ovate or lanceolate, sessile or short-stalked, base wedge-shaped, margin blunt-toothed or sometimes entire. Inflorescences axillary, in whorls up the stem, surrounded by numerous fuzzy-hairy, narrow bracts, calyx brown, hairy, tubular, to 1 cm long, with 5 sharp teeth, corolla to 1.5 cm long, tubular, hairy outside, pink, violet, or purple with white patches near the throat, upper lip upright or recurved, lower lip 3-lobed, mid-lobe broad.

This plant grows in open areas, including dry grasslands and moors, usually on calcareous soils, from sea level to subalpine altitudes. It is very widespread, found from Scandinavia southwards to North Africa, from the British Isles eastwards to eastern Siberia, and from Turkey eastwards to Pakistan. It is also widely naturalized in North America. In the Alps, it occurs at altitudes up to about 2,000 m, in Turkey to about 2,500 m.

The leaves are utilzed as tea and in dishes, and a brown and a yellow dye can be obtained from them. Medicinally, the plant has traditionally been used as an astringent, a cardiac stimulant, an expectorant, to heal wounds, and to increase perspiration. Research has shown that it possesses anti-bacterial properties.

 

 

Wild basil, Gavarnie, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Galeopsis Hemp-nettle
A genus of about 10 species of annuals with stiff, square stems, distributed across Europe and northern and western Asia.

The generic name is derived from the Greek gale (’weasel’) and opsis (’appearance’), alluding to the open throat of the flower, which is likened to the wide-open mouth of a weasel. The common name refers to the leaf shape of many of the species.

 

Galeopsis tetrahit Common hemp-nettle
An erect annual, growing to about 70 cm tall, but often much lower. The stem is unbranched, occasionally branched, square, bristly-hairy, glandular-hairy on the upper part, the widely spaced nodes swollen. Leaves short-stalked, pale green, opposite crosswise, hairy, ovate, long-pointed, with large, blunt teeth along the margin. The inflorescence is terminal, spike-like, with whorls of pinkish flowers, calyx tubular, hairy, with 5 sharp teeth, corolla to 2 cm long, pinkish with white and purple markings on the lower lip, occasionally darker reddish, purplish, bluish-violet, or pure white. The plant emits an unpleasant smell.

The origin of this plant is probably the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, but it spread to almost all of Europe, and later North America, with the advent of agriculture. In later years, it has declined in arable lands, but is still common in forest clearings, along hedges and roads, and in waste places, growing in nitrogen-rich, basic or slightly acidic soils. In mountains, it is often found in gravelly areas, in the Alps up to an altitude of at least 2,100 m.

 

 

Common hemp-nettle, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Horminum pyrenaicum Dragonmouth
This pretty plant, also called Pyrenean dead-nettle, is the only species in the genus. It is restricted to the Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Mountains, and the Alps, at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,500 m, growing in pastures and other grassy ares, in open forests, and among scree.

The square stem, to 45 cm tall, is sparsely glandular-hairy, leaves gathered in a basal rosette, stalked, ovate, glossy dark green, wrinkled, to 7 cm long and 5 cm broad, with blunt teeth along the margin. The flowers are arranged in one-sided whorls up the stem, each with 2-6 nodding flowers, corolla violet-blue or dark purple, tubular or bell-shaped, to 2 cm long, upper lip short, lower lip with a broad mid-lobe, throat hairy. The calyx is blackish, tubular, with 5 sharp teeth.

The generic name is derived from the Greek hormao (‘to hasten’), referring to the uasge of this herb as an aphrodisiac. The common name refers to the gaping corolla.

 

 

Dragonmouth, Passo Falzárego, Dolomites, Italy. In the upper picture, spiked yellow lousewort (Pedicularis elongata) and mountain valerian (Valeriana montana) are also seen. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lamium Dead-nettle
A genus of 40-50 herbs, native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Several species have been accidentally introduced in many other places and are now widely naturalized across temperate areas worldwide.

The generic name is from the Greek lamia (‘gaping mouth’), alluding to the shape of the flowers. The common name refers to the nettle-like leaves, which do not sting.

 

Lamium maculatum Spotted dead-nettle
The square stem of this perennial herb is branched from the base, between 20 and 80 cm tall, erect, downy. Leaves long-stalked, opposite crosswise, soft-haired, ovate-triangular to heart-shaped, to 8 cm long, long-pointed, toothed along the margin. The whorled inflorescences are borne in the upper leaf axils, 2-8 in each whorl, corolla to 3 cm long, pink or purplish, upper lip helmet-shaped, lower lip with many purple dots. The green and brown calyx has 5 very long and slender teeth. Anthers are purplish-brown, containing orange or red pollen. This plant also spreads vegetatively through runners.

It grows in a variety of habitats, along roads and in grasslands, woodlands, and waste places, generally on moist, fertile soils. It is native to central and southern Europe, eastwards across the Middle East and the Caucasus to the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Sinkiang. In the Alps, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,200 m.

The specific and common names were given in allusion to the spotted lower lip.

 

 

Spotted dead-nettle, Fontanon di Goriude, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mentha Mint
A genus with around 24 species. Identification is often difficult, as many species hybridize. The genus has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the exception of South America and Antarctica. In South America, however, several species have been introduced and have become naturalized. Most species are found in wet environments.

The generic name is a Latinized version of minthe, the Ancient Greek word for these plants.

 

Mentha longifolia Horse mint
A strongly aromatic perennial, stems square, creeping, ascending, or erect, to 1.2 m tall, leaves opposite, oblong or lanceolate, to 10 cm long and 3 cm broad, soft-haired, green or greyish above, whitish below, margin sparsely toothed. Inflorescences are dense spikes, terminal or axillary, corolla to 5 mm long, lilac, purplish, or white. The plant usually spreads via rhizomes, often forming large growths in marshes and along streams.

This species is native to the major part of Europe eastwards to central Siberia, and thence southwards to the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, the Himalaya, and China, and to northern, eastern, and southern Africa, avoiding tropical areas.

The plant has a peppermint-scented fragrance and contains medicinal properties. In his Complete Herbal, from 1653, English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) writes: “It is good for wind and colic in the stomach … The juice, laid on warm, helps the King’s evil [scrofula] or kernels in the throat [tonsil stones] … The decoction or distilled water helps a stinking breath, proceeding from corruption of the teeth, and snuffed up the nose, purges the head. It helps the scurf or dandruff of the head used with vinegar.”

The epithet horse is from Middle English, denoting a coarse variety of a plant, in this case presumably alluding to the inferior quality of horse mint, compared to e.g. peppermint (M. x piperata).

 

 

Horse mint, Valle Tena, near El Formigal, Aragon, Spain. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Prunella Self-heal, heal-all
About 13 species, most of which are native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. However, common self-heal (below) is distributed in most temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and P. prunelliformis is restricted to the island of Honshu, Japan.

The generic name, formerly spelt Brunella, is from the German name of these plants, Braunelle, referring to the usage of common self-heal (below) against quinsy, in German Bräune. The common names also refer to the medicinal properties of this plant.

 

Prunella grandiflora Large self-heal
As its names imply, this plant is larger than the common self-heal (below). Stems ascending or erect, angular, hairy, purplish, to 30 cm long. Leaves opposite, stalked, hairy, ovate or lanceolate, to 5 cm long and 2 cm wide, rounded or pointed, margin entire or shallowly notched. The uppermost leaves are about 5 cm below the terminal inflorescence, which is a very dense, egg-shaped cluster, to 5 cm long, of whorled flowers, 4-6 in each whorl, subtended by kidney-shaped, greenish-purple, hairy, sharp-pointed bracts. The sepals are only fused at the base, purplish-brown or reddish, to 1.6 cm long, 2-lipped, with 3 upper and 2 lower teeth. Corolla to 2.5 cm long (in subspecies pyrenaica to 3.8 cm long, see bottom picture below), dark blue, purplish-blue, purple, or reddish-purple, rarely pink or white, upper lip strongly arched, forming a helmet, lower lip 3-lobed, mid-lobe fringed.

This species mostly grows in grasslands on nutrient-poor, calcareous soils (subspecies pyrenaica on acid soils), distributed in the major part of Europe, southwards to the Mediterranean, eastwards to European Russia and the Caucasus. In the southern parts of the distribution area, it is restricted to mountains. It is quite common in the Alps, found up to elevations of about 2,400 m.

 

 

Large self-heal, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large self-heal, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large self-heal, St. Martin, Navarra, Spain. This picture shows subspecies pyrenaica, which has larger flowers than the nominate form. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Prunella vulgaris Common self-heal
This species is much like large self-heal, but is a smaller and much lower plant, often forming carpets. It is probably native to Temperate Eurasia and North Africa, but has become widely naturalized, especially in North America, where it is found from Newfoundland southwards to Florida, and across the continent. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to elevations of about 2,000 m.

In his delightful book All about Weeds, American botanist Edwin Spencer (1881-1964) writes: “It is a strange plant in that one seldom finds it in abundance anywhere, and yet it is found everywhere. A man, who had spent seven years in Japan, and who had lived on nearly every island in the archipelago, said that he never failed to find this little plant wherever he went, and that although he had been in many nations of the world he had never entered one, where Prunella was not present to greet him – not many plants, but always enough to attract his attention.”

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “There is not a better wound herbe in the world than that of Self-Heale (…) for this very herbe, without the mixture of any other ingredient (…) will be brought into the form of a salve, which will heal any green wounde, even in the first intention, after a very wonderful manner. The decoction of Prunell, made with wine and water, doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward.”

Today, self-heal is widely used for wounds and quinsy. In Nepal, it is utilized for swollen eyes and glands, and a paste of the plant is applied to an aching back. Among American natives, persons with fever were bathed in a decoction of self-heal. This decoction was also drunk to sharpen your vision. In the Pacific Northwest, juice of the plant was applied to boils and was also used to treat cuts and inflammations.

The mildly bitter leaves can be used in salads.

 

 

Formerly, common self-heal was a very common agricultural weed, but large growths, like this one in the Bluntau Valley, Salzburg, Austria, are a rare sight today. White clover (Trifolium repens) and leaves of greater plantain (Plantago major) are also present. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Salvia Sage
This huge genus, comprising about 1,000 species, is found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Many of these attractive plants are cultivated as ornamentals.

The generic name is derived from the Latin salvere (‘to make well or healthy’), referring to the healing properties of the common sage (S. officinalis).

 

Salvia pratensis Meadow sage
A handsome plant, stem to 60 cm high, often branched, angular, hairy, sometimes glandular-hairy. Leaves mostly basal, long-stalked, ovate or heart-shaped, wrinkled, irregularly bluntly toothed, to 15 cm long and 7 cm wide, stem leaves much smaller, decreasing in size up the stem. Inflorescences are long, open spikes, to 30 cm long, terminal or in leaf axils, consisting of numerous whorls of 4-6 flowers, to 2.5 cm long, violet-blue, rarely reddish og white, hairy and often glandular-hairy, with an arched, helmet-like upper lip and 3-lobed lower lip. The calyx is small, hairy, dark brown.

This plant is native to Europe, except Scandinavia and Iceland, and also to northern Africa and western Asia, eastwards to the Ural Mountains and Caucasus. It has become naturalized in many parts of the United States, and in the state of Washington it is considered a noxious weed.

The specific name, from the Latin pratum (‘meadow’) and ensis (‘of’ or ‘from’), refers to its preferred habitat, but it may also be found in shrubberies and along forest edges, preferably on nutrient-rich, calcareous soils. In the Alps, it has been encountered up to an altitude of 1,700 m.

 

 

Meadow sage, Dixence, Valais, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Meadow sage, Heiligenblut, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sideritis Ironwort, mountain tea, shepherd’s tea
A genus of about 140 species, native to central and southern Europe, North Africa, and from Turkey, Syria, and Ukraine eastwards to Iran and Sinkiang. These plants are particularly abundant in the Mediterranean region.

Several species have been utilized as herbal medicine, especially as tea.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek siderites (‘made of iron’), alluding to a belief that these plants were capable of healing wounds, caused by iron weapons during battles. Others claim that the name stems from the shape of the sepal, which resembles the tip of a spear.

 

Sideritis hyssopifolia Hyssop-leaved ironwort
This shrublet grows to 40 cm tall, rarely to 80 cm, stems hairy, leaves sessile or short-stalked, linear, lanceolate, or ovate, to 3.5 cm long and 1 cm wide, margin entire, sparsely toothed or notched. Inflorescences are dense cylindrical spikes with numerous whorls, each with 6-7 flowers, to 1 cm long, pale yellow, occasionally with a purplish sheen. The calyx is purple, bristly-haired, to 8 mm long, spiny-toothed.

This species occurs in mountains of south-western Europe, from the Pyrenees eastwards to the western Alps and the Jura. It grows in forests, meadows, and rocky areas, preferably on limestone, at elevations between 1,500 and 1,800 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with leaves like hyssop’ (Hyssopus officinalis).

 

 

Hyssop-leaved ironwort, St. Martin, Navarra, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Stachys Woundwort, hedge-nettle
Counting at least 360 species, this genus is one of the largest in the mint family, distributed in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

The generic name is from Ancient Greek stachys (‘an ear of grain’), referring to the inflorescence, which is often a spike, like in many species of grain. The popular name woundwort refers to the former usage of several species in this genus for healing wounds, hedge-nettle to the nettle-like leaves of many of the species.

 

Stachys alpina Alpine woundwort
This species may grow to 1 m tall, but is usually lower, stem erect or ascending, angular, hairy, often purple, glandular-hairy in the upper part. Leaves are long-stalked, green, hairy, ovate or heart-shaped, to 18 cm long and 9 cm wide, margin toothed. Inflorescences are terminal or axillary, consisting of 6-18 distant whorls, subtended by lanceolate, green or purple bracts, each whorl containing 12-20 flowers, to 2.2 cm long, corolla pink, red, or purplish, upper lip to 5 mm long, lower lip to 9 mm. Calyx green or purplish-brown, densely glandular-hairy, sepals to 1.2 cm long, fused about halfway into a tube.

This plant grows in grassy areas and forest clearings at elevations between 400 and 2,000 m, from Spain via the Alps to the Balkan Peninsula, and thence throght Turkey to the Caucasus and the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. It also occurs at a few locations in England and Wales.

 

 

Alpine woundwort, Lake Oeschinen, Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Stachys recta Perennial woundwort, stiff hedge-nettle
Stem angular, glandular-hairy, simple or branched from the base, to 40, rarely up to 70 cm tall, leaves variable, ovate-spatulate to oblong-lanceolate, hairy, to 5 cm long and 2 cm wide, lower ones stalked, with toothed margin, upper ones sessile, margin almost entire. The flowers are gathered in a dense terminal spike, consisting of whorls, each with 6-10 flowers, corolla to 2 cm long, pale yellow or whitish, with small purple or brown spots, calyx pale green, hairy, to 1 cm long, with 5 sharp teeth.

This plant is native to central and southern Europe, from Belgium and Spain eastwards to European Russia, the Caucasus, and Iran. It grows in dry grasslands, on rocky slopes, and along roads, mostly on calcareous soilsm from sea level to an altitude of about 2,100 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘straight’ or ‘upright’, which supposedly refers to the inflorescence – a bit odd, as many species in this genus have upright inflorescences.

 

 

Perennial woundwort, Krajcarca Valley, near Trenta, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Teucrium Germander
A cosmopolitan genus with about 300 species, only absent from Antarctica and the Arctic, with a core area around the Mediterranean.

The generic name was used by Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.) for several species in this genus. It is believed to refer to King Teukros of Troy who used the plant medicinally.

The popular name is Middle English, from the Latin germandra, derived from Ancient Greek khamaidrus (‘ground oak’), from khamai (‘on the ground’) and drus (‘oak’), alluding to the leaves of some species, which were thought to resemble oak leaves.

 

Teucrium montanum Mountain germander
A prostrate dwarf shrub with numerous greyish-brown branches, to 35 cm long. Leaves leathery, pale green, short-stalked, narrowly lanceolate, smooth above, downy below, to 2 cm long and 4 mm wide, margin entire, edge down-curved. Inflorescences are dense, terminal, hemispherical clusters, corolla tubular, to 1.5 cm long, upper lip 2-lobed, erect, greenish with purple veins, lower lip yellowish-white or cream-coloured, 3-lobed, mid-lobe much larger than the lateral ones, slightly toothed. Calyx pale green, smooth, with 5 equal teeth.

This plant is native to central and southern Europe and North Africa, eastwards to Ukraine and Turkey, growing in grassy and rocky areas on calcareous soils, from the lowland up to an elevation of about 2,400 m.

 

 

Mountain germander, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mountain germander, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Teucrium pyrenaicum Pyrenean germander
A prostrate dwarf shrub, with creeping stems to 30 cm long, soft-haired above, often forming dense growths. Leaves short-stalked, opposite, ovate, hairy on both sides, margin blunt-toothed. Inflorescences are dense, terminal, hemispherical clusters, corolla tubular, upper lip 2-lobed, erect, bright purple or lavender, lower lip white, 3-lobed, mid-lobe much larger than the lateral ones. Calyx olive-green, very hairy, with 5 teeth.

This plant grows on dry, stony, calcareous and nutrient-poor soils, in grasslands and on rocky slopes, from sea level to an elevation of about 2,000 m. It is distributed in the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain, and it has also been observed in the south-eastern French departments Drôme and Isère.

 

 

Pyrenean germander, St. Martin, Navarra, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Liliaceae Lily family
Originally, this family contained several hundred genera, but, following genetic studies, the major part of these have now been moved to other families. Today, there are about 16 genera with c. 635 species of herbs in the family. They are widely distributed, mainly in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

 

Gagea Alplily, yellow Star-of-Bethlehem
In former days, 11-12 species of alplily constituted a separate genus, Lloydia, named in honour of Welsh naturalist, linguist, geographer, and antiquary Edward Lhuyd (1660-1709), who discovered the Snowdon lily (below) on Mount Snowdon in northern Wales – an Ice Age relict, and the only occurrence of this species in Europe outside the central European mountains.

Following genetic studies, Lloydia species have now been moved to the genus Gagea, which contains more than 200 species, widely distributed in Eurasia, with a few species in North Africa and North America. The major part of the species have yellow, star-shaped flowers. For this reason, the common English species, G. lutea, is popularly known as the yellow Star-of-Bethlehem.

The generic name honours English botanist Sir Thomas Gage, 7th Baronet of Hengrave (1781-1820).

 

Gagea serotina Snowdon lily, common alplily
A small plant with 2-3 basal, slender, thread-like leaves, to 15 cm long and 1 mm broad, and a few short, narrow-lanceolate, often twisted stem leaves. The flowering stem is to 15 cm tall, with a single or few terminal flowers, broadly funnel-shaped, to 1.5 cm across, petals 6, white with a yellow throat and 3-5 reddish-brown or purple longitudinal stripes.

A very tough plant, which often grows in rocky, windy locations. In such areas, insects are unlikely to visit, and self-pollination is often facilitated.

As described above, this species was first observed in Wales. Otherwise, it is widely distributed in montane areas of the Northern Hemisphere, from the Alps and the Carpathians eastwards to the Himalaya, Central Asia, Siberia, China, Korea, and Japan, and also in western North America, from Alaska southwards to New Mexico. In the Alps, it grows in open areas at elevations between 1,600 and 3,100 m. In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an altitude of 4,800 m.

 

 

Large growth of Snowdon lily, Col de l’Iseran (2764 m), France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of of Snowdon lily, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lilium Lily
This genus, comprising about 110 species, is distributed in the major part of the Northern Hemisphere. 5 species are found in the Alps.

A huge number of cultivars are grown around the world.

 

Lilium bulbiferum Fire lily
This magnificent plant, also called orange lily or tiger lily, has a stout, erect stem to about 1.2 m tall, smooth or downy, leaves very numerous, alternate or whorled, linear or narrowly lanceolate, to 10 cm long. The terminal inflorescence has up to 10 flowers, to 6 cm long, petals 6, spreading, orange with reddish-brown dots, 3 inner ones broadly ovate or sometimes almost triangular, 3 outer ones narrowly elliptic, stamens and style erect, to 3 cm long, orange or bright red.

It comes in two varieties, var. bulbiferum, which has bulbils in the axils of the upper stem, and var. croceum, which has no bulbils. The bulbils fall to the ground and mature after two or three years.

This plant is widely distributed in montane areas, at altitudes between 500 and 1,900 m, from the Pyrenees eastwards to the Carpathians, and from northern Germany (Harz Mountains) southwards to the Balkans. It also has a spotted occurrence in Scandinavia, but whether these are genuine wild plants or escapes, is an open question.

The specific name is derived from the Latin bulbifer, meaning ‘bulb-bearing’, of course alluding to the bulbils. The common names refer to the gorgeous flowers.

 

 

Fire lily, var. bulbiferum, Höhlenstein Valley, Tre Cime area, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Fire lily, var. croceum, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lilium carniolicum Carniola lily
This beautiful plant resembles fire lily, when it comes to flower colour, but has a flower shape similar to martagon lily (below). The stem is erect, hairless, to 1 m tall, leaves numerous, alternate, lanceolate, to 8 cm long. The inflorescence is a loose, terminal panicle with up to 6 pendent flowers, petals to 5 cm long, strongly back-curved, orange or red with numerous dark dots.

It is native to the Balkans, northwards to southern Austria and north-eastern Italy. It was named after Carniola, a historical region in present-day Slovenia, where it is quite common.

 

 

Carniola lily, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lilium martagon Martagon lily, Turk’s cap
This stout lily, often growing to 1.5 m tall, occasionally to 2 m, has an erect, unbranched, rounded, rather thick stem, often red-spotted, densely leafed below, lower leaves alternate, halfway up in 4-8 whorls, each with 8-14 lanceolate, entire, smooth leaves, to 16 cm long and 5 cm wide, decreasing in size up the stem. The flowers are arranged in a long, terminal panicle with up to 20 flowers, nodding, petals 6, linear, to 4.5 cm long and 1 cm broad, strongly back-curved, fleshy-pink or pale brownish-red with numerous purple dots, sometimes pure white. Style and filaments greenish, to 2 cm long, anthers large, to 1 cm long, orange-brown, tip of style dark brown, curved.

This species has a very wide distribution, found from Portugal and the Pyrenees eastwards across the Alps to the Balkans, Turkey, and the Caucasus, and across southern Siberia to Sinkiang, Mongolia, and the Yenisei River. In Scandinavia, it has become naturalized. It is quite common in the Alps, growing from the lower slopes to an altitude of about 2,300 m.

It is partial to calcareous soils, at lower altitudes growing in open forests. If conditions get too shady, it may not flower. At higher altitudes, it is found in open areas, especially tall-grass meadows.

The name martagon is derived from the Turkish martagan (‘turban’), which, like the popular name Turk’s cap, refers to the flower shape.

 

 

Martagon lily, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Martagon lily, photographed in rainy weather, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

White-flowered form of martagon lily, Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lloydia, see Gagea.

 

 

 

 

Linaceae Flax family
This family, which includes about 250 species in 14 genera, is almost cosmopolitan.

 

Linum Flax
A genus of about 200 species, native to almost all temperate and subtropical regions of the world.

The generic name is a Latinized version of linon, the Ancient Greek name of flax.

 

Linum alpinum Alpine flax
Stem erect or ascending, smooth, to 50 cm tall, branched above, leaves many, alternate, sessile, linear-lanceolate, to 2.5 cm long. Inflorescences are loose racemes, with up to 8 stalked flowers, initially nodding, later erect, pale blue or sky-blue with yellow throat, bordered by white, to 3 cm across, petals 5, rounded, to 2 cm long, margin wavy, sepals 5, ovate-lanceolate, to 7 mm long, with membraneous margin.

This plant is found in mountains, at altitudes between 1,400 and 2,500 m, from central and southern Europe eastwards across western Asia to the Ural Mountains, growing on limestone in grassy areas, among rocks, and in scree. In central Europe, it occurs in the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Apennines.

 

 

Alpine flax, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. Mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) is seen to the left. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Melanthiaceae
Previously, members of this family, which contains 17 genera with about 175 species, were included in the lily family (Liliaceae). However, following genetic studies, they have been moved to form a separate family. Well-known genera include Paris and Trillium.

 

Veratrum False helleborine
This genus, comprising about 30 species, is widely distributed in subarctic and temperate Asia, southwards to Turkey, southern China, and northern Indochina, and also in eastern and western North America, southwards to northern Mexico and Georgia. Only 3 species are found in Europe.

The generic name is Latin, derived from Proto-Indo-European wreyt (‘twisting’ or ‘writhing’), presumably alluding to the spirally arranged stem leaves.

 

Veratrum album White false helleborine
A stout plant, which often grows to 1.5 m tall, occasionally to 2 m, stem thick, erect. The large leaves are clasping, prominently nerved, alternate, arranged in a spiral up the stem, lower ones broadly ovate, to 20 cm long, upper ones lanceolate, gradually smaller up the stem. The plant flowers after a few years of vegetative growth, inflorescence a large panicle to 50 cm long, with hundreds of small, white or yellowish, green-striped flowers, to 1.5 cm across. Anthers 6, circular, bright yellow. The flowers emit a powerful fragrance.

All parts of this species are poisonous. It is thus avoided by grazing animals and tends to form large growths in open, grassy areas up to an altitude of 2,700 m. It is widely distributed in central and southern Europe, from Portugal and the Pyrenees eastwards to Turkey and the Caucasus, and also from far northern Norway and Finland eastwards across subarctic areas to eastern Siberia.

Incidentally, it has been speculated among historians, if the death of Macedonian king Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) was due to poisoning with white false helleborine. The king was ill for twelve days and suffered symptoms similar to those of poisoning with this plant. (Source: L. Schep 2013. Was the death of Alexander the Great due to poisoning? Was it Veratrum album? Clinical Toxicology 54 (1): 72-77)

 

 

White false helleborine, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. In the upper picture, many other species are seen, including alpine dock (Rumex alpinus), common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris), and common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

White false helleborine, Rosanin Valley, near Thoma Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up of flowers, Sölkpass, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Veratrum lobelianum Green false helleborine
This plant is very similar to white false helleborine and was formerly regarded as a subspecies, lobelianum or virescens, of that species. It may immediately be identified by its greenish flowers.

It is widely distributed, from central, southern, and eastern Europe eastwards across the Caucasus, Tibet, and Mongolia to eastern Siberia.

The specific name was given in honour of Flemish botanist and physician Matthias de l’Obel (1538-1616), who, in a work entitled Stirpium adversaria nova, from 1570, divided plants into 7 classes: cereals, orchids, garden plants, vegetables, trees and shrubs, palms, and mosses. No less than 2,191 plant species were depicted in his work Plantarum seu stirpium historia, from 1576.

 

 

Green false helleborine, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Onagraceae Evening-primrose family
An almost worldwide family with 22-24 genera and about 650 species of herbs or shrubs, rarely trees.

The family name is derived from Onagra, the original name of evening-primroses (today called Oenothera). The term Onagra was first used in botany in 1587, meaning ‘(food) of onager’, an Asiatic species of wild ass (Equus hemionus). This is most odd, as evening-primroses are American plants, which were hardly introduced to Asia as early as 1587.

 

Chamaenerion Willow-herb
This small genus of 8 species is widespread in montane and subarctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe, North Africa, Asia, and North America. The fruit is a long capsule, splitting longitudinally, and the seeds have long hairs, an adaptation for wind-spreading.

There is much controversy as to the name of this genus. Initially, Chamaenerion may have originated as early as 1561. It is derived from the Greek khamai (‘near the ground’) and nerion, the Ancient Greek name of the oleander (Nerium oleander), alluding to the oleander-like leaves of rosebay willow-herb (below). In 1753, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, placed these plants in the genus Epilobium (below). However, many botanists disregarded his decision, preferring Chamaenerion.

In 1818, French naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz (1783-1840) proposed the name Chamerion, suggesting it as either a subgenus or genus. Rafinesque had his own peculiar rules of botanical nomenclature, regarding it as appropriate to shorten existing generic names. His new name, however, was not widely accepted until published in 1972 by Czech botanist Josef Ludwig Holub (1930-1999), who designated a different type species, Epilobium amenum. However, as this species is now included in C. angustifolium, Chamaenerion has precedence over Chamerion. Some authorities still include these plants in Epilobium. (Source: A.N. Sennikov 2011. Chamerion or Chamaenerion (Onagraceae)? The old story in new words, Taxon 60 (5): 1485-1488)

The common name alludes to the similarity of the leaves of rosebay willow-herb to those of certain species of willow (Salix).

 

Chamaenerion angustifolium Rosebay willow-herb, fireweed
The stem is erect, unbranched, smooth, very leafy, to 2.5 m tall, but often much lower. Leaves spirally arranged up the stem, stalkless, narrowly lanceolate, almost smooth, to 23 cm long and 3.5 cm broad, margin entire, lateral veins at a right angle from the mid-vein. Inflorescence is a lax, terminal, leafless raceme, to 50 cm long, flowers horizontal, sepals 4, linear, reddish-purple, to 2 cm long, petals 4, obovate, spreading, pink or magenta (rarely white), to 2.5 cm long and 1.5 cm broad. Style to 2 cm long, curved downwards, stigma deeply 4-lobed, stamens to 2 cm long, out-curved.

This gregarious herb often forms large growths, especially in open disturbed habitats, such as forest clearings and abandoned fields. An example of the latter is described on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Expanding wilderness.

It is very widely distributed in northern temperate and subarctic areas, southwards to Morocco, Pakistan, northern Indochina, Korea, and northern United States. It is common in the Alps and the Pyrenees, found up to elevations of about 2,500 m. In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to about 4,700 m.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘narrow-leaved’. The name fireweed refers to the ability of this species to rapidly colonize areas, burned by fire. Incidentally, it was one of the first plants to appear after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, Washington State, in 1980.

 

 

Rosebay willow-herb, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Chamaenerion dodonaei
Quite similar to rosebay willow-herb, but a smaller plant, to 1.1 m tall, often prostrate, forming clumps via underground runners. Stems many, sometimes woody at the base, round, smooth or slightly hairy above, occasionally branched in the terminal inflorescence. Leaves sessile or short-stalked, alternate, narrowly linear to linear-lanceolate, to 3 cm long and 5 mm broad, margin finely toothed or wavy, only the central nerve prominent. Inflorescence is a lax, terminal, leafy raceme, flowers to 3 cm across, sepals narrow, hairy, red, pink, or greenish, to 1 cm long, petals to 1.5 cm long, elliptic or narrowly ovate, spreading, pale pink or purplish-pink, style and filaments to about 1.5 cm long.

This species is widespread in central and southern Europe, from eastern France eastwards to Ukraine, and thence southwards to Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. It grows on rocky slopes and in gravelly and sandy areas on calcareous soils, found up to elevations of about 2,000 m.

The specific name is derived from Dodona, a town and religious shrine in Ancient Greece, situated near present-day Ioannina, north-western Greece. Presumably, the type specimen was collected there. An obsolete specific name is rosmarinifolium, alluding to the leaves being quite similar to those of rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus).

 

 

Chamaenerion dodonaei, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chamaenerion dodonaei, Ugine, Haute Savoie, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Close-up, Trenta Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Epilobium Willow-herb
About 200-220 species of herbs, distributed almost globally. Many species are glandular-hairy. The fruit is a long capsule, splitting longitudinally, and the seeds have long hairs, an adaptation for wind-spreading.

The generic name is derived from the Greek epi (‘upon’) and lobos (‘lobe’), alluding to the position of the petals above the ovary. The common name refers to the similarity of the leaves of some species to those of certain species of willow (Salix).

 

Epilobium collinum
To 40 cm tall, often branched from the base, stems erect or ascending, round, downy. Stem leaves oblong or ovate, base rounded or heart-shaped, sessile or short-stalked, to 8 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, long-pointed, with tiny glandular hairs above, hairy below along the nerves, margin irregularly serrated. Leaf rosettes are often formed by underground runners. Flowers terminal in the axils of outer leaves, tubular, initially nodding, later erect, to 6 mm long, petals pink, whitish, or rose-red, calyx tubular, purplish-red, lobes long-pointed, to 4 mm long.

This species occurs in almost all of Europe, eastwards to western Siberia. In Europe, it is mainly found in the south, rare or absent further north. It grows in sunny, stony places, on stone walls, and in dry shrubberies, on acid soils. In the Alps, it occurs up to an elevation of about 2,000 m.

 

 

Epilobium collinum, between Prtovč and Ratitovec, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Orchidaceae Orchid family
Counting c. 880 genera and more than 22,000 species, orchids comprise one of the world’s largest plant families, found almost worldwide.

Orchids are divided into terrestrial species, growing in soil, and epiphytic species, growing on trees (sometimes on rocks or fallen tree trunks). The latter develop aerial roots that absorb nutrients and moisture from the air, and many have pseudobulbs, swollen, fibrous, bulb-like stems that store water and nutrients. The species described here are all terrestrial.

The flower structure of this family is unique. There are 3 sepals, often coloured and shaped like 2 of the 3 petals. (For simplicity, all are called petals here.) The third petal forms a lower lip, usually differing very much from the other petals in size and shape, and sometimes in colour, often with a spur. Stamens and ovary are fused, forming the so-called column. Anthers and stigma are separated by a beak-like structure, the rostellum. The anthers produce so-called pollinia, small ‘bags’ which contain pollen. These pollinia are spread by insects, attached to the stigma by a sticky secrete. Other species are self-pollinating. The fruit is a capsule, containing countless tiny seeds, spread by the wind.

Most of these plants live in symbiosis with the mycelium of underground fungi, which is attached to the rhizome or root of the plants. When an orchid seed is about to germinate, it is completely dependent on this mycelium, as it has virtually no energy reserve, obtaining the necessary carbon from the fungus. Some orchids are dependent on the mycelium their entire life, but their relationship is symbiotic, as the orchid delivers crucial water and salts to the fungus. However, some species do not contain chlorophyll, being parasites on the fungi.

The family name is derived from the Greek orkhis (‘testicle’), alluding to the underground tubers of members of the genus Orchis, which resemble testicles.

 

Cephalanthera Helleborine
A genus of about 15 species, distributed in almost all of Europe, southwards to North Africa and Turkey, eastwards to western Siberia, the Himalaya, southern and eastern China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and northern Indochina. There is also a single species in western North America.

The generic name is derived from the Greek kephale (‘head’) and antheros (‘anther’), alluding to the anther that sits on the column like a head. The common name is Old English, denoting various plants supposed to cure madness, derived from Ancient Greek helleboros, of unknown meaning. The same name is used for members of the genus Epipactis (below).

 

Cephalanthera rubra Red helleborine
A very handsome plant, to 70 cm tall, stem smooth below, densely covered in short glandular hairs above, with up to 8 elliptic-lanceolate leaves, to 14 cm long and 3 cm wide, decreasing in size up the stem, upper ones lanceolate, only about 5 cm long and 1 cm wide. Inflorescence terminal, an open spike of up to 12 pink, reddish, or purplish flowers, sepals and petals are almost alike, lanceolate, to 2.3 cm long and 1 cm wide. The lip is up to 2 cm long, with a sac-like protrusion at the rear, and no spur, elongated in front, lanceolate, with a purplish tip and curled, yellowish ridges. It is mostly pollinated by flies, but self-pollination also takes place. The plant often does not bloom for several years.

This species grows in open forests and shrubberies, rarely in grasslands, on calcareous soils, up to elevations around 2,600 m. The flower colour is largely determined by the amount of lime in the soil. The richer the substrate, the stronger the colours. It is found in most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, eastwards to the Ural Mountains, Iran, and Turkmenistan.

 

 

Red helleborine, near Mittenwald, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Red helleborine, Trenta Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dactylorhiza Marsh orchid, spotted orchid
This genus is widely distributed in subarctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Hybridization often takes place, and the number of species is disputed. There may be somewhere between 40 and 50 species.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek dactylos (‘finger’) and rhiza (‘root’), alluding to the two divided, finger-like tubers. The genus was previously included in the genus Orchis, which, however, may be identified by having two round tubers, reflected in the name, which is derived from the Greek orkhis (‘testicle’).

 

Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common spotted orchid
Stem green or purple, to 60, occasionally to 90 cm tall, basal leaves short, lanceolate, clustered in a rosette, stem leaves lanceolate, usually with dark spots, to 10 cm long and 3 cm wide, smaller up the stem, the uppermost about 5 cm beneath the terminal, cylindric inflorescence. Bracts narrow, usually shorter than the flower. Flower colour variable, from pale purple to whitish, always with dark purple streaks and loops. The lip is deeply trilobed, lobes very variable, mid-lobe usually shorter than the lateral ones, but sometimes longer. This species is very similar to heath spotted orchid (D. maculata), the lip of which, however, is less deeply trilobed. Some authorities regard it as a subspecies, fuchsii, of that species.

Typical habitats include open forests, moderately wet meadows, and along streams, mostly on calcareous soils. It is widespread in almost all of Europe eastwards across Siberia to Yakutiya, Sinkiang, and Mongolia. In the Alps, it may be found up to elevations around 2,300 m.

The specific name honours German physician and botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), who was the author of a great herbal, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes (‘Notable commentaries on the history of plants’), published in 1542. It has about 500 accurate and detailed drawings of plants.

 

 

Two varieties of common spotted orchid, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dactylorhiza traunsteineri Narrow-leaved marsh orchid
Stem to 40 cm high, slim, green below, tinged with purple in the inflorescence. Leaves 2-5, linear-lanceolate, spotted, to 15 cm long and 1.5 cm wide. Inflorescence cylindrical, lax, with up to 15 flowers. Bracts brownish-purple, shorter or slightly longer than the flower. Flowers purple or whitish-purple, petals narrowly ovate, outer ones to 1.1 cm long and 4 mm wide, inner ones to 8.5 mm long. Lip 3-lobed, mid-lobe protruding, much longer than the lateral ones, to 1 cm long and 1.3 cm wide, with reddish-purple loops and streaks. Spur conical, straight or slightly curved, to 1.3 cm long and 3.5 mm thick.

This plant is distributed in central Europe, from the Black Forest and the Vosges eastwards to western Siberia, growing in wet meadows and bogs. In the Alps, it has a scattered occurrence, found from the lower valleys up to an altitude of about 2,100 m.

The specific name honours Austrian pharmacist, botanist and politician Joseph Traunsteiner (1798-1850).

 

 

Narrow-leaved marsh orchid, growing in a forest bog near Koprivnik, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dactylorhiza viridis Frog orchid
This species, previously known as Coeloglossum viride, grows to 50 cm tall, basal leaves obovate to elliptic, to 14 cm long and 7 cm wide, stem leaves lanceolate, alternate, smaller. The inflorescence is a dense raceme with 7-25 greenish flowers, often tinged with purple, reddish, or reddish-brown, bracts longer than the flowers, lower ones to 6 cm long. Sepals ovate, to 7 mm long and 4 mm wide, together with the smaller and narrower petals forming a hood over the strap-shaped, down-curved, purplish-green lower petal, to 1.1 cm long and 4 mm wide, 3-lobed at the tip, the lateral lobes much larger than the mid-lobe. Spur short, only to 3 mm long. The plant is pollinated by a large variety of small insects.

This species is widely distributed in temperate and subarctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to the Mediterranean, Iran, southern China, and the central United States. It grows in grassy areas, preferably on moist, fertile soil. It is quite common in the Alps, growing up to an elevation of about 3,000 m.

The obsolete generic name is derived from Ancient Greek koilos (‘hollow’) and glossa (‘tongue’), alluding to the hollow spur on the tongue-like lip. The specific name, meaning ‘green’ in Latin, alludes to the greenish colour of the flowers. The popular name also refers to the flower colour, which is not unlike the colour of certain frogs.

 

 

Frog orchid, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Frog orchid and kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Epipactis Helleborine
A genus of about 70 species, very widely distributed in temperate and subtropical regions in the Northern Hemisphere, and also in eastern Africa, southwards to Malawi. The genus is characterized by the lip, which is divided into two parts, a concave inner part, forming a small pouch-like bowl, which contains nectar, and a triangular outer part. They have no spur.

The generic name is a Latinized version of the Greek epipaktis, which is of uncertain meaning. It has been proposed that it may derive from epipaktóo (‘to shut close’), alluding to the healing powers of the tuber of E. helleborine, which was traditionally used for treatment of insanity, gout, headache, and stomach ache.

The common name is Old English, denoting various plants supposed to cure madness, derived from Ancient Greek helleboros, of unknown meaning. The same name is used for members of the genus Cephalanthera (above).

 

Epipactis atrorubens Dark-red helleborine
Stem to 80 cm tall, leaves 6-11, dark green, entire, sessile, lower ones ovate-lanceolate, to 9 cm long and 5 cm wide, upper ones smaller. The inflorescence is a long, terminal, slightly one-sided raceme, densely hairy in the upper part, with up to 30, often pendulous flowers, bracts pale green, lanceolate, longer than the flowers, which are wine-red, reddish-brown og purplish-red, occasionally rose-coloured or greenish. They emit a strong vanilla scent, especially in warm weather.

This species prefers warm and dry locations on basic to neutral, nutrient-poor soils, growing in open forests, grassy areas, among rocks and in scree, and on sandy soils such as dunes. It is also a pioneer species, which may occur in fallow fields and along roads.

It is a common plant in the Alps, found from the lowlands up to an altitude of about 2,400 m. It is widespread in Europe, from subarctic areas southwards to the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards to the Caucasus, Iran, and western Siberia.

 

 

Dark-red helleborine, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gymnadenia Fragrant-orchids, vanilla orchids
This genus, comprising 20-30 species, depending on authority, is widely distributed in temperate areas of Eurasia, eastwards to eastern Siberia and Japan, southwards to the Mediterranean, Iran, and northern Indochina.

There is much controversy regarding the systematics of vanilla orchids. Most authorities place them in this genus, others maintain that the genus Nigritella, where they formerly belonged, is still valid. Future genetic studies may throw light on the issue.

The generic name is derived from the Greek gymnos (‘nude’) and aden (‘gland’), referring to the nectar glands.

 

Gymnadenia conopsea Chalk fragrant-orchid
A variable plant, stem to 60 cm, sometimes 80 cm tall, leaves 3-7, narrowly lanceolate, to 25 cm long and 2 cm wide. The inflorescence is usually a very long, dense, cylindric spike, often more than 25 cm long, but occasionally only 5 cm long, usually with up to 50 flowers, but sometimes as many as 200. Corolla to 1 cm across, pink or mauve, occasionally pure white, bracts green or purplish, about the same length as the flower stalk. The lip is 3-lobed, with slightly fringed margin, and the spur is long and slender, down-curved, to 2.5 cm long. This long spur makes it easy to distinguish the species from other members of the genus. The plant emits a clove-like scent. It is almost exclusively pollinated by moths, as the entrance of the spur is very narrow, allowing only the mouthparts of certain moths to enter.

This species is widely distributed in temperate areas of Europe, eastwards to the Pacific, southwards to the Mediterranean, Iran, southern China, and Japan. In the southernmost areas, it is restricted to mountains. In the Alps, it may be encountered up to elevations of about 2,800 m. Its habitats include open forests, humid grasslands, near springs, and along roads.

The specific name is derived from the Greek konops (‘mosquito’). With a bit of imagination, the flower resembles a mosquito, the long spur being the mouthparts.

 

 

Chalk fragrant-orchid, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chalk fragrant-orchid, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chalk fragrant-orchid, Lake Gosau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gymnadenia nigra Black vanilla orchid
There is much controversy regarding the systematics of this plant. Some authorities split it into a number of species, others regard these species as subspecies of either G. nigra (= Nigritella nigra) or G. rhellicani (= Nigritella rhellicani). I prefer to regard them as subspecies of G. nigra, as they are all extremely similar.

Stem erect, to 22 cm tall, somewhat angular due to the decurrent leaves, which are numerous below, grass-like, smooth, upper leaves few, very small, bract-like. The inflorescence is a terminal, very dense, hemispherical or ovoid cluster of dark blackish-purple, reddish-purple, or rose-coloured flowers, bracts narrowly lanceolate, as long or slightly longer than the flowers, margin entire or slightly wavy, petals to about 1 cm long and 2 mm wide, lip to 1.2 cm long, pointing upwards, spur very short, bag-shaped. The flowers emit an intense fragrance of vanilla.

This plant, in its widest sense, is widely distributed in Europe, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians and the Balkan Mountains, growing in short-grass meadows at altitudes between 900 and 2,800 m.

A few vulnerable populations are also found in Scandinavia, where it used to be quite common in montane hay-fields, in which old-fashioned farming methods were practiced, but, following the introduction of modern agricultural practice, these populations have been greatly reduced.

The popular name refers to the very dark purple flowers and their strong fragrance of vanilla. In the Alps, two ancient names of this plant were Chokolat-Blümel and Chokoladen-Blümchen, both meaning ‘little chocolate flower’, of course referring to the flower colour.

Plants with rose-coloured flowers are variously treated as a subspecies, rubra, of black vanilla orchid, or as a separate species, rosy vanilla orchid (G. rubra). They often grow together, and to me it seems logic that rose-flowered plants may merely be a colour variety of black vanilla orchid.

 

 

Black vanilla orchid, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rosy vanilla orchid, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Neotinea
Members of this genus, counting 4 species and one fertile hybrid, have been split from the genus Orchis. They are native to the major part of Europe, including the Canary Islands and Madeira, and areas around the Mediterranean, eastwards to Iran and western Siberia.

The generic name was given in honour of Italian botanist Vincenzo Tineo (1791-1856), who was director of Palermo Botanical Garden and later the chancellor of Palermo University. His published a number of works, including Plantarum rariorum Sicilae (1817) and Catalogus plantarum horti (1827).

 

Neotinea ustulata Burnt orchid
It is believed that this plant, previously named Orchis ustulata, may grow underground for 10-15 years before sending up a stem, which is usually below 20 cm tall, but may occasionally reach a height of 50, or even 80 cm. Leaves are mainly basal, pale green, unspotted, lanceolate, to 10 cm long and 2 cm wide, stem leaves clasping, gradually getting smaller towards the inflorescence. Flowers are borne in a dense cylindric spike with up to 70 tiny flowers. Initially, sepals and petals are a very dark purplish-black, later reddish-purple, forming a hood, to 5 mm across, above a white lip, to 8 mm long, with reddish-purple spots. The lip is deeply 3-lobed, the mid-lobe larger than the lateral ones, notched. The spur is very short, to 2 mm long, pointing downwards. Flowers emit a fragrance similar to honey, although they do not produce nectar.

This plant is found in the major part of Europe, from England and Portugal eastwards to central Siberia and the Caucasus. In North Africa, it is rare. It has a scattered occurrence in the Alps, encountered up to elevations around 2,400 m. It typically grows in open grasslands and open forests, preferably on calcareous soils, but occasionally on acidic soils.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘scorched’, like the common name given in allusion to the flower buds, which are a very dark purplish-black, somewhat resembling the colour of charcoal.

 

 

Burnt orchid, Tsingelhorn, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) is seen to the left, in the background a species of ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Neottia Nest orchid, twayblade
A few orchids are parasitic on their fungus host, as they do not possess chlorophyll, for which reason they are not able to deliver nutrients to the fungus. One example is members of the genus Neottia, which formerly included only parasitic plants. Today, following genetic studies, the genus also includes members of the former genus Listera, the twayblades.

In its wider sense, this genus, comprising about 70 species, is native to cooler regions across most of Europe, northern Asia, and North America, with a few species extending into subtropical regions around the Mediterranean, in Indochina, and in the south-eastern United States.

The generic name is Ancient Greek, meaning ‘bird’s nest’, alluding to the appearance of the tangled roots of N. nidus-avis (below).

 

Neottia nidus-avis Bird’s-nest orchid
This species is distributed in the major part of Europe, eastwards to central Siberia, and also in north-western Africa, Turkey, Iran, and the Caucasus.

It is very easily identified by its brownish stem and flowers, entirely devoid of chlorophyll. The stem is to 40 cm, rarely 60 cm tall, with a terminal spike of up to 60 flowers. To germinate, the seeds are completely dependent on various species of fungi of the genus Sebacina.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘bird’s nest’, which, as the popular name, alludes to the thick, tangled root, which somewhat resembles a bird’s nest.

 

 

Bird’s-nest orchid is easily identified by its brownish inflorescence. This picture is from Kandersteg, Berner Oberland, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bird’s-nest orchid, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Platanthera Butterfly-orchid
The number of species in this genus is disputed, between 85 and 140 species, depending on authority. They are distributed throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and also in subtropical and tropical regions of Central America, Cuba, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. A core area is the Far East with about 52 species.

The generic name is derived from the Greek platys (‘flat’, in this connection meaning ‘broad’ or ‘wide’), and anthos (‘flower’), referring to the wide separation of the pollinia in greater butterfly-orchid (P. chlorantha).

You may read more about butterfly-orchids on the page Quotes on nature.

 

Platanthera bifolia Lesser butterfly-orchid
Stem to 30 cm, occasionally to 60 cm tall, basal leaves 2 (giving rise to the specific name), elliptic, to 22 cm long and 6 cm wide, tip rounded or sometimes weakly pointed, margin entire, stem leaves small, few, lanceolate. The inflorescence is a lax spike of up to 40 white flowers, tinged with yellowish-green, bracts green, longer or shorter than the green ovary. Two of the sepals are white, slender, to 1.3 cm long and 6 mm wide, standing out horizontally, whereas the third one, together with 2 petals, form a hood over the style and anthers. The greenish lip is down-curved, to 1.6 cm long and 4 mm wide. The pollinia are parallel, sitting close together, a character, which separates this species from the similar greater butterfly-orchid (P. chlorantha), in which they are separated and point away from each other below. The spur is to 3 cm long, slightly curved (or straight in subspecies latiflora). It produces abundant nectar and is pollinated by moths.

The subspecies latiflora, known as long-spurred lesser butterfly-orchid, grows in open forests. As its name implies, it has a very long spur, to 4 cm long, which is completely straight.

The lesser butterfly-orchid is distributed in temperate areas of Europe and northern Asia, eastwards to central Siberia and Mongolia, and also in North Africa and the Middle East, eastwards to the Caucasus and Iran. It thrives on acid as well as calcareous soils, growing in deciduous forests, shrubs, moors, and grassy areas, in the Alps encountered up to elevations of about 2,500 m.

 

 

Lesser butterfly-orchid with raindrops, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Danish botanist Lars Skipper, admiring an almost 50 cm tall long-spurred lesser butterfly-orchid, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Traunsteinera Round-headed orchids
This genus contains only 2 species, distributed in montane areas of central and southern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine and the Caucasus. T. sphaerica is restricted to Turkey and the Caucasus.

The generic name was given in honour of Austrian pharmacist, botanist and politician Joseph Traunsteiner (1798-1850).

 

Traunsteinera globosa Round-headed orchid
Stem thin, to 40, sometimes 60 cm tall, leaves 4-6, lanceolate, bluish-green, erect along the stem. Initially, the inflorescence is pyramid-shaped, later becoming hemispherical to ovoid. It is very dense with a multitude of small pink flowers, the tip of the sepals club-like, lip pink with purple spots, 3-lobed, mid-lobe long-pointed. Spur cylindric, shorter than the ovary.

This plant is found in montane grasslands on calcareous soils, from central and southern Europe eastwards to Ukraine and the Caucasus. In the Alps, it has been encountered up to elevations around 2,600 m.

 

 

Round-headed orchid, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Orobanchaceae Broomrape family
This family of parasitic plants is huge, containing about 90 genera and more than 2,000 species.

Many genera are hemiparasites, which, as opposed to the true parasites, holoparasites, are also able to obtain nutrients through photosynthesis, thus being able to survive without their host. These hemiparasites were formerly included in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae), but, following extensive genetic research, they have been moved to the broomrape family.

 

Bartsia alpina Alpine bartsia, alpine bells
Previously, the genus Bartsia contained 49 species, 45 of which are endemic to the Andes. Recent genetic studies, however, have led to a revision of the genus, placing most species in a new genus, Neobartsia, leaving only one species in Bartsia.

The genus was named in honour of a Prussian botanist, Johann Bartsch (1709-1738) of Königsberg. The famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, advised him to participate in an expedition to present-day Suriname as a physician, but, unfortunately, he perished during this journey.

The sole remaining member, the alpine bartsia, is easily identified by its dark purple inflorescence, an adaptation to repel harmful UV-radiation. It is a prostrate plant, often branched from below, stems erect or ascending, hairy, to 30 cm tall. Leaves opposite, ovate, very hairy, to 2.5 cm long, toothed along the margin. The lower leaves are green, those above are tinged with purple. The dark purple corolla is narrow at the base, to about 2 cm long, 2-lipped, a hood-like upper lip and a shorter lower one with 3 blunt lobes.

This plant is distributed in subarctic areas, from Scandinavia eastwards to central Siberia, and also in Iceland, Greenland, and north-eastern Canada. In southern Europe, it is restricted to mountains, found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, mountains of eastern Europe, and on the Balkans. Populations in the Black Forest and the Vosges, and on the Swedish island of Gotland, are regarded as ice-age relics. It is common in the Alps, growing on calcareous soils in grasslands and among rocks, at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 m.

 

 

Large growth of alpine bartsia, Cabane de Prarochet, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. In front a leaf rosette of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine bartsia, Turracher Höhe, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euphrasia Eyebright
A genus with 220-450 species, depending on authority. These plants are distributed across most of the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, parts of North and South America, and Antarctica.

Most species are very similar, and they often hybridize, which makes it even more difficult to identify them. The majority are small, branched from below, leaves opposite, more or less ovate, strongly serrated, flowers small, 2-lipped, upper lip very short, lower lip lobed, mostly white with purple or reddish streaks and a yellow spot near the throat, rarely completely yellow or violet.

The usage of these plants for eye problems goes back to medieval Europe. Followers of the Doctrine of Signatures claimed that the Great God had created all plants in a way to make it possible for humans to recognize the usage of them. To them, the red streaks on the petals of eyebright resembled bloodshot eyes, and this plant was therefore an effective remedy for eye diseases. For once, the followers of the Doctrine of Signatures hit the nail on the head, as the plant is still recommended for conjunctivitis (‘red eyes’), infection of the eyelid, and discharge from the eyes.

The generic name is from the Greek, derived from Euphrosyne (’gladness’), the name of one of the three graces who was distinguished for her joy and mirth, probably given to the plant because of its properties as a medical herb. A popular French name of the plant is casse-lunettes, which loosely translates as ‘throw away your glasses’.

More about eyebright is found on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

This unidentified eyebright species was encountered near Ibon de Piedrafita in the Spanish Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Orobanche Broomrape
This genus contains about 200 species, distributed on all continents except Antarctica, with the largest concentration in northern temperate areas. No less than 25 species have been encountered in the Alps.

The generic name is derived from the Greek orobos (‘vetch’) and ankhein (‘to strangle’), alluding to the bean broomrape (O. crenata), which is a common parasite on the fava bean (Vicia faba).

 

Orobanche alba Thyme broomrape
As its popular name implies, this species is partial to thyme (Thymus), but may occasionally grow on species of oregano (Origanum) and savory (Satureja). The stem is reddish or yellow, erect, to 25 cm tall, leaves and bracts dark purple, scale-like, flowers in a terminal, open spike, corolla tubular, to 2.2 cm long, glandular-hairy, whitish, reddish, or yellowish with numerous violet or purple streaks, especially towards the tip.

This species has a wide distribution, occurring in the major part of Europe and in North Africa, eastwards through Russia and south-western Asia to Tibet, the Himalaya, and central China. In the Alps, it is found up to altitudes of about 1,900 m, whereas in Asia it has been encountered up to 3,700 m. It prefers moderately dry, calcareous soils.

 

 

Thyme broomrape, Lake Gosau, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Orobanche gracilis Slender broomrape, blood-red broomrape
This plant is found from central Europe southwards to the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards to Ukraine, Turkey, and the Caucasus. It is fairly common in the Alps, growing in grasslands up to an altitude of 2,100 m. It is parasitic mainly on members of the pea family (Fabaceae), including clover (Trifolium) and bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus).

Stem erect, slender, hairy, reddish, brownish, or yellowish, to 60 cm tall, leaves and bracts dark purple, scale-like, flowers in a dense terminal spike, corolla tubular, to 2.4 cm long, glandular-hairy, brownish-yellow outside, blood-red inside.

 

 

Slender broomrape, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. The plant with blue flowers is common milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), and to the left is a withered kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Slender broomrape, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Orobanche minor Lesser broomrape
Stem erect, usually below 15 cm tall (hence the name of the plant), occasionally up to 50 cm, hairy, brown or purple, leaves and bracts brown or purplish, scale-like, to 1.6 cm long, flowers in a long terminal spike, corolla tubular, to 1.8 cm long, glandular-hairy, very variable in colour, reddish-brown, yellow, yellowish-brown, purple, or pale violet with darker streaks, lower lip often whitish.

This plant is parasitic mainly on members of the pea family (Fabaceae), including clover (Trifolium) and sainfoin (Onobrychis). It grows in grassy areas on a wide variety of soils, acid, neutral, or alkaline, in the open or in semi-shade. It is native to central and southern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine, Turkey, northern Iraq, and the Caucasus, and also to the Arabian Peninsula, and northern and eastern Africa. It has become naturalized in several South American countries. In the Alps, it is restricted to lower altitudes, usually below 800 m.

Formerly, it was utilized to treat various health problems.

 

 

Lesser broomrape, Rossfeld, near Berchtesgaden, Germany. Leaves of a species of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla) are also present. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pedicularis Lousewort
The number of species in this genus differs enormously according to various authorities, from about 350 to 600. These plants are distributed across almost the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic coasts south to Columbia, north-western Africa, Iran, the Himalaya, and southern China. The highest diversity is in China, which has 352 species, of which 271 are endemic. The Alps are home to 23 species.

The generic name is derived from the Latin pediculus (‘louse’). According to an old superstition, louseworts could transfer lice to people and cattle, or, according to another belief, the exact opposite was the case, namely that they were able to rid people and cattle of lice! In Denmark, a decoction of these plants was used to expel lice from clothes.

Usually, animals do not graze on these plants, as they contain toxic glycosides.

 

Pedicularis ascendens Ascending lousewort
Stem to 30 cm tall, erect or ascending, leaves stalked, pinnate, smooth, lobes serrated, leaves in the inflorescence shorter than the flowers, inflorescence a long, rather lax, terminal spike, calyx smooth, corolla pale yellow, upper lip elongated, resembling a crane’s head.

This species is restricted to the south-western Alps, growing in grasslands on calcareous soils, at elevations between 1,800 and 2,600 m.

 

 

Ascending lousewort, Col de la Croix, Valais, Switzerland. Common bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis elongata Spiked yellow lousewort
The eastern counterpart of the previous species, restricted to north-eastern Italy, Austria, and Slovenia, found at altitudes from 1,500 to 2,500 m. Its preferred habitat is moist grasslands on calcareous soils.

The stem grows to 35 cm tall, and the pale yellow flowers are arranged in a dense terminal spike.

 

 

Spiked yellow lousewort, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. Many other plants are also present, in the upper picture common cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus), in the centre picture European larch (Larix decidua), common cat’s ear, and kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis hacquetii Hacquet’s lousewort
Of variable height, between 30 and 90 cm, sometimes even to 1.2 m tall, stem grooved, densely leafy even in the terminal inflorescence, leaves twice or thrice pinnate, triangular or oblong in outline, lower ones to 30 cm long and 10 cm wide, upper ones much smaller. The inflorescence is a dense pyramidal spike, bracts longer than flowers, strongly serrated, corolla pale yellow, hairy, to 2.8 cm long.

This plant grows in grass or other taller vegetation on calcareous soils, in the Alps found up to elevations of about 2,000 m. It is distributed from the central Apennines eastwards to Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine, and thence northwards to Poland and Belarus.

The specific name was given in memory of Belsazar de la Motte Hacquet (c. 1739-1815), of French descent, professor of anatomy and surgery in Laibach (now Ljubljana). He wrote a book about the botany of the Carniola area, named Plantae alpinae carniolicae (1782).

 

 

Hacquet’s lousewort, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis recutita Beakless red lousewort
This plant is easily identified by its inflorescence, a dense spike with numerous dark flowers. Stem bright green or reddish, erect or ascending, smooth, to 60 cm tall, leaves alternate, pinnate, lanceolate in outline, lower leaves long-stalked, to 10 cm long and 1 cm wide, upper ones smaller, sessile, often tinged with purple. Bracts are shorter than the flowers, lower ones are pinnate, purplish-green, upper ones 3-lobed or entire, dark purple. The sepals are hairy, corolla purplish-red or dark purple, to 2 cm long, upper lip straight, beaked, much longer than the lower lip.

This species is restricted to the Alps, found from France eastwards to Austria and Slovenia. It thrives in calcareous grasslands, at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,700 m.

 

 

Beakless red lousewort, Turracher Höhe, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis rosea Pink lousewort
A small plant, stem to 15 cm tall, hairy, more or less purple, leaves mostly basal, pinnate, oblong-lanceolate in outline, to 8 cm long, stem occasionally with 1-3 smaller leaves. The inflorescence is a short, more or less head-like spike, corolla to 1.8 cm long, pink to lilac. The species resembles the commoner beaked lousewort (below), but its leaves are more slender, and the flowers do not possess the long beak on the upper lip of that species.

It is distributed in the Pyrenees and the Alps, eastwards to Austria and Slovenia, and in the Dinaric Alps, growing in grasslands at altitudes between 1,900 and 2,700 m. It is divided into two subspecies, the nominate rosea occurring from Liechtenstein and north-estern Italy eastwards, ssp. allionii from the Pyrenees eastwards to Switzerland and north-western Italy.

Subspecies allionii was named in honour of Italian physician and botanist Carlo Allioni (1728-1804), professor of botany at the University of Turin. His most important work was Flora Pedemontana, sive enumeratio methodica stirpium indigenarum Pedemontii, from 1755, a study of the plant life of Piedmont, listing 2,813 species, of which 237 were previously unknown.

 

 

Pink lousewort, ssp. rosea, Col du Bous, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. Moss campion (Silene acaulis) is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Pink lousewort, ssp. allionii, Col de l’Iseran, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis rostrato-capitata Beaked lousewort
This species is named for the beak on the upper lip of the flower, which is up to 5 mm long. This feature distinguishes it from the similar pink lousewort (above), and its leaves are also larger and darker.

It is distributed from eastern Switzerland eastwards to the Julian Alps and the Carpathians, growing on limestone screes and in grassland, at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,800 m.

 

 

Beaked lousewort, Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis rostrato-spicata
Stem erect or ascending, to 45 cm tall, smooth below, downy near the inflorescence, leaves pinnate, stalked, lanceolate in outline, smooth, to 8 cm long and 2 cm wide, often upright along the stem. The inflorescence is a long, terminal, rather lax spike, containing 10-20 flowers, fleshy-pink or purplish, corolla to 1.6 cm long, upper lip usually with a long beak.

This plant grows in grasslands on calcareous soils, from eastern France eastwards to Austria and the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula.

 

 

Pedicularis rostrato-spicata, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pedicularis verticillata Whorled lousewort
A rather low plant, stems usually below 20 cm tall, occasionally to 35 cm, erect, with 4 strongly hairy ridges. The long-stalked leaves are partly basal, partly arranged in whorls up the stem, giving rise to the specific and common names. Blade pinnate, oblong or lanceolate in outline, to 3 cm long and 1.2 cm wide. Inflorescences are rather short and dense terminal racemes, calyx reddish, ovate, to 6 mm long, corolla reddish-violet, to 1.6 cm long, lower lip with 3 large lobes and white streaks near the throat.

The distribution of this plant is almost circumpolar, from Scandinavia eastwards along the Russian Arctic coast to Alaska and north-western Canada. It is also native to mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians and the Tatra Mountains, on the Balkans, and in Ukraine, Central Asia, China, and Japan. It is partial to calcareous soil, in central Europe growing at altitudes between 900 and 3,000 m, but in Central Asia found up to 4,400 m. It is very common in the Alps.

 

 

Whorled lousewort, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Whorled lousewort, Sölkpass, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Papaveraceae Poppy family
The greatest diversity of this family, comprising 42 genera with about 775 species, is found in arctic, subarctic, and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with very few species in warmer regions. Most members are herbs, a few shrubs or small trees.

Many genera in the family have gorgeous flowers, including true poppies (Papaver), Himalayan poppies (Meconopsis), and horned poppies (Glaucium). A number of species are presented on the pages In praise of the colour red, and In praise of the colour yellow.

 

Papaver True poppies
A genus of 70-230 species, depending on authority, mainly distributed in arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions of Eurasia, Africa, and North America. Some authorities, including Kew Gardens of London, include the genera Meconopsis, Roemeria, Stylomecon, and Cathcartia in this genus, others retain them as separate genera.

 

Papaver alpinum Alpine poppy
Divided into at least 8 subspecies, this species is widespread in Europe, found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Balkan Mountains, the Carpathians, and the Tatra Mountains, usually growing in scree and other rocky areas at high altitudes, up to about 2,800 m. Some authorities regard a number of subspecies as separate species.

Stems erect, hairy, to 20 cm tall, with a milky sap. The leaves are all basal, once or twice pinnate, bluish-green. In most subspecies, the flowers are yellow or orange, in a few white, initially nodding, later erect, to 5 cm across, petals 4.

 

 

Subspecies rhaeticum, by some authorities regarded as a separate species, P. aurantiacum, is native to eastern Switzerland, Austria, and north-eastern Italy. It usually has yellow flowers. – Sassolungo, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

A variety of subspecies rhaeticum with orange flowers, Passo di Valparola (2192 m), Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papaver cambricum Welsh poppy
The name of the wonderful genus Meconopsis is derived from the Greek mekon (‘moon’) and opsis (‘resembling’), referring to the round, yellow petals of the Welsh poppy, which French botanist Louis Viguier (1790-1867) separated from the genus Papaver in 1814, calling it Meconopsis cambrica, mainly based on the structure of its style.

However, a phylogenetic study from 2011 suggests that the Welsh poppy is in fact a member of Papaver, and the former name of the species, P. cambricum, which was published in 1753 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, has been restored. (Source: J.W. Kadereit, C.D. Preston & F.J. Valtueña. Is Welsh Poppy, Meconopsis cambrica (L.) Vig. (Papaveraceae), truly a Meconopsis? New Journal of Botany, Vol. 1, 2011, pp. 80-88)

This species is restricted to forested mountains in the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, south-western England, Wales, and Ireland. In the Pyrenees, it may be encountered up to elevations around 2,000 m.

It has several stems, usually 30-60 cm tall, occasionally to 75 cm, with a yellow milky sap. The bright green or slightly bluish leaves are long-stalked, pinnately divided, lanceolate in outline, to 20 cm long, leaflets strongly serrated. Flowers are a distinct orange-yellow, to 8 cm in diameter, sepals shed shortly after the opening of the flower bud, petals 4.

Incidentally, this plant has been used since 2006 as the basis for the logo of Plaid Cymru (pronounced ‘Plyde Kumree’), a Welsh nationalist and social-democratic political party, which advocates for Welsh independence from the United Kingdom.

 

 

Welsh poppy, Col d’Aubisque, French Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pinaceae Pine family
This family, comprising 11 genera with 220-250 species of trees, is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to the Equator.

The leaves are linear, needle-like, and when falling they leave a scar. Mature female cones are woody, between 1.5 and 60 cm long, with numerous scales arranged in spirals, with 2 winged seeds on each scale. The male cones are small, 0.5-6 cm long, falling soon after pollination. Many species exude a sticky, fragrant resin.

 

Larix Larches
These trees, comprising 10-12 species, are among the few conifers that shed their foliage in winter. They are often tall, some species reaching a height of 45 m. They are native to the Temperate Northern Hemisphere, restricted to mountains in the southern populations. Two Central Asian species are presented on the page Plants: Himalayan flora.

 

Larix decidua European larch
A large tree, sometimes to 45 m tall, which is native to the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Carpathians. Some lowland populations in northern Poland and southern Lithuania may also be genuinely wild, and otherwise the species is widely cultivated elsewhere. In the Alps, it is very common at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 m, occasionally found up to 2,400 m.

 

 

European larches on a slope beneath Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. The red leaves are autum foliage of common blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This majestic larch was observed near Kasereck, below Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The needles are slender and soft, here photographed below Passo Falzarego, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Young female cones, Col du Bous, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Autumn foliage is a pretty yellow. – Valnontey, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pinus Pine
A genus of evergreen trees, comprising around 125 species, distributed in subarctic, temperate and subtropical areas of almost the entire Northern Hemisphere. A collection of species are presented on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.

 

Pinus mugo Mountain pine
This species may grow to 25 m tall, but is often low and creeping at higher altitudes, giving rise to the alternative name creeping pine. The foliage is dark green, needles to 7 cm long, arranged in pairs. The cones are brown, to 5.5 cm long, symmetrical with thin-scales in subspecies mugo, asymmetrical with thick scales in ssp. uncinata.

It is native to southern Europe, from the Pyrenees via the Alps and the Apennines to the Carpathians, and thence southwards to higher mountains of the Balkan Peninsula. Since the late 1700s, it has been widely planted elsewhere, especially in Scandinavia, Finland, and the Baltic countries, often planted in coastal regions to stabilize sand dunes. In Scandinavia, it has spread beyond control and become invasive, displacing natural plants in dunes and heaths.

 

 

An old mountain pine, Rosanin Valley, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pinus nigra Austrian pine, black pine
A large evergreen tree, sometimes growing to 55 m tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 1.85 m, the branches spreading up to 12 m. It is easily identified by the black, hidden parts of the cone scales, giving rise to the alternative name. The bark is grey to yellowish-brown, flaking into scaly plates and becoming increasingly fissured with age. Some trees are reported to be more than 800 years old.

The pale to dark green needles are 4-24 cm long and 1.2-2.1 mm wide, depending on subspecies. Mature seed cones are to 10 cm long, with rounded scales. They ripen about 18 months after pollination.

Divided into 5 or 6 subspecies, this tree is distributed across southern Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to Turkey and the Crimea, and also in the higher Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Algeria. It usually grows at elevations up to 1,600 m, but may occasionally be encountered up to 2,000 m.

 

 

Forest of Austrian pine, Passo delle Erbe (Börz Würzjoch), Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

An old Austrian pine, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. Rusty-leaved alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum) is growing on the rock. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Plantaginaceae Plantain family
An almost worldwide family with about 90 genera and c. 1,700 species of herbs or shrubs. Many of the species were formerly placed in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).

 

Chaenorhinum Dwarf snapdragon
The number of species in this genus is disputed. Kew Gardens of London accepts 25 species, native to the major part of Europe eastwards to Kazakhstan, and to North Africa, the Middle East eastwards to Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia. Other sources restrict the number to 4, found in the Mediterranean area and Turkey. These plants mostly grow in dry stony areas and scree.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek khaino (‘I gape’) and rhinos (‘nose’), alluding to to gaping mouth and the rather short spur of these plants.

 

Chaenorhinum origanifolium
Stem to 40 cm long, erect, ascending, or creeping, simple or branched from ground-level, usually smooth below, densely glandular-hairy above, lending a whitish appearance to the otherwise reddish stem. Leaves short-stalked, variable in shape, from rounded to lanceolate, to 2.3 cm long and 1.3 cm wide. Inflorescence terminal, lax, flowers 2-25, long-stalked, sepals linear or spatulate, green or purplish, densely glandular-hairy, corolla 5-lobed, to 2 cm long, violet with yellow throat and a white patch on the lower lip, streaked with violet, spur short, straight.

This plant is native to the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Pyrenees, and the Balearic Islands, growing in rocky areas, mainly on limestone, and also on stone fences. In the Pyrenees, it may be found up to an elevation of c. 2,600 m.

 

 

Chaenorhinum origanifolium, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Digitalis Foxglove
These plants, comprising about 20 species, are native to Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia. They were previously placed in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).

In England, in the old days, the common foxglove (D. purpurea) was regarded as a magical herb. The original name of the plant was folk’s glove, the glove of the ‘good folk’, or fairies, and it was believed that fairies lived in the flowers, the dark markings on the inside being their fingerprints. It was also said that fairies taught the fox how to muffle his footprints with foxglove flowers, in this way being able to surprise chickens.

All other common names of the plant, including fairies’ glove, fairy caps, fairy thimbles, gloves of Our Lady, Virgin’s glove, witches’ gloves, bloody fingers, and dead men’s bells, also refer to the flower shape.

The medicinal usage of this species is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Digitalis grandiflora Large yellow foxglove
The stem of this stately plant, which can reach a height of 1.2 m, is erect, unbranched, very leafy, downy, leaves sessile, linear, downy, especially below, pointed, basal leaves to 25 cm long and 5 cm wide, progressively smaller up the stem. The inflorescence is a terminal raceme, usually one-sided, with up to 25 stalked, pendulous, glandular-hairy flowers, to 4 cm long, pale yellow with a netted pattern of brown dots inside, tip 4-lobed, lateral lobes smaller.

This plant is widely distributed in European mountains, including the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, the Ardennes, the Vosges, the Jura, the Black Forest, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Dinaric Alps, and the Balkan Mountains, growing in forests and open areas up to an altitude of 2,000 m. It is also found at lower altitudes in eastern Europe, Turkey, and western Siberia.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘large-flowered’.

 

 

Large yellow foxglove, Col de la Madelaine, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large yellow foxglove, Vitranc, near Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This picture shows the one-sided inflorescence, Lake Gosau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Globularia Globe-flower, globe-daisy
This genus contains about 22 species of evergreen dwarf shrubs, forming dense mats. They are native to central and southern Europe, north-western Africa, and south-western Asia. As their generic and popular names imply, the flowerheads are globular. The flower colour varies from blue to purple, violet, pink, or white.

Formerly, these plants constituted a separate family, Globulariaceae.

 

Globularia cordifolia Heart-leaved globe-flower
The range of this species covers European mountains, from the Pyrenees and the Jura Mountains across the Alps to the Balkans, found up to an altitude of about 2,200 m.

It is a dwarf shrub, rarely growing more than 10 cm high, which may be identified by the dark purple stems. Leaves are arranged in a rosette, lanceolate or oblong with a wedge-shaped to inverted heart-shaped base, rarely more than 3 cm, occasionally to 7 cm long, tip rounded, notched. Stem leafless, sometimes with a few scale-like leaves. Inflorescences are terminal, hemispherical heads with a diameter of about 1.2, sometimes up to 2 cm, pale blue or purplish-blue.

Despite the specific name, from the Latin cor (‘heart’) and folium (‘leaf’), the leaves are not really heart-shaped, but rather spatulate.

 

 

Heart-leaved globe-flower, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. The plant to the right is mountain avens (Dryas octopetala). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Globularia nudicaulis Naked-stalked globe-flower
This plant is distributed in the Pyrenees and the Alps, found in grassy and rocky areas up to an altitude of 2,500 m.

As its generic and popular names imply, this plant has leafless stems, reaching a height of about 25 cm. The basal leaves are much larger than in the previous species, growing to 10, occasionally 15 cm long. The flowerheads are also larger, to 2.5 cm across.

 

 

Naked-stalked globe-flower, Vrata Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Linaria Toadflax
A widespread genus, comprising about 185 species, distributed in the entire subarctic and temperate regions of the Old World. Many species have also become naturalized elsewhere, especially in North America. These plants are characterized by their flowers, which have a gaping mouth and a long spur.

The generic name is derived from the Latin linum (‘linen’, ‘flax’), thus ‘resembling flax’, alluding to the leaves of some species, which superficially resemble those of flax. The toad part of the common name has various explanations. In his Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes that this name was applied to these plants, because the flowers “be yellow, having a mouth unto a frog’s mouth.” Some 60 years later, English herbalist William Coles (1626-1662), in his work Adam in Eden, or the Paradise of Plants, claims that the name arose “because toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.”

 

Linaria alpina Alpine toadflax
A prostrate plant, usually below 10, sometimes to 15 cm tall, with creeping or ascending, smooth, purplish stems, leaves tiny, arranged in 3-4 whorls up the stem, blade narrowly lanceolate, somewhat fleshy, smooth, blue-green, to 1,5 cm long. The inflorescence is a short terminal raceme with 3-10, rarely up to 15 purple flowers, lower lip bulging, with two white streaks and a saffron-coloured, hairy spot. Occasionally, plants with yellow or white flowers are encountered. The spur is almost as long as the rest of the flower.

It is widespread in montane areas of central and southern Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees eastwards via the Jura Mountains, the Alps, and the central Apennines to the Balkan Peninsula. It grows in gravel and rocky areas, mainly on calcareous soils, at elevations between 2,000 and 4,200 m.

 

 

Alpine toadflax, Gourette, near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Linaria supina Pyrenean toadflax, procumbent toadflax
Stems procumbent or ascending, to 30, sometimes 40 cm tall, simple or branched, leaves linear or narrowly spatulate, lower ones alternate or arranged in whorls of 3-6, upper ones usually alternate, to 3.2 cm long and 5 mm wide. The inflorescence is a dense cluster of 5-25 short-stalked flowers, calyx glandular-hairy, sepals unequal, corolla to 2.5 cm long (excluding the spur), pale yellow with an egg-yolk-yellow, bulging lower lip that has 2 ridges, spur narrow, curved, to 2 cm long, with numerous purple, longitudinal streaks.

This species is found in the Pyrenees, the Iberian Peninsula, Corsica, Italy, and North Africa, growing among rocks, on slopes, in coastal dunes, pastures, and fallow fields, on calcareous as well as acid soils, from sea level up to an elevation of about 2,600 m.

 

 

Pyrenean toadflax, Alto Gallego, Aragon, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Paederota
The number of species in this genus is disputed. It contains 1 or 2 species, distributed in the eastern Alps and the Balkan Peninsula.

 

Paederota bonarota Bluish paederota
Stem erect or ascending, unbranched, to 15 cm tall, leaves opposite, ovate, slightly leathery, to 3 cm long and 2 cm wide, tip rounded, margin toothed, densely glandular-hairy. Inflorescences are terminal, pendulous racemes, bracts purple, very narrow, densely hairy, corolla dark blue or purplish-blue, rarely pink, to 1.5 cm long, stamens and stigma protruding.

This species has a scattered occurrence in a rather small area in the eastern Alps, in north-eastern Italy, Austria, and northern Slovenia. It is restricted to areas with the mineral dolomite, usually growing at elevations between 1,500 and 2,600 m.

 

 

Bluish paederota, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Paederota lutea Yellow paederota
Stems erect or pendulous, to 35 cm long, hairy, leaves narrowly lanceolate, to 7 cm long and 3 cm wide, margin serrated. Inflorescences much like the previous species, but corolla bright yellow, stamens and stigma not protruding.

This plant is found in two separate areas, in north-eastern Italy, southern Austria, and northern Slovenia, and also in the southern Dinaric Alps, in Herzegovina. It grows in rocky areas on calcareous soils, at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,200 m.

Some authorities place this plant in the genus Veronica (below).

 

 

Yellow paederota, Vršič Pass, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Plantago Plantain
A genus of about 250 species, distributed almost worldwide. Most are herbs, a few subshrubs.

The generic name is Medieval Latin for ‘vineyard’. Presumably, some plantain species were observed growing in vineyards as weeds.

 

Plantago media Hoary plantain
A slender stem, to 50 cm tall, develops from a basal rosette of long-stalked, downy-hairy leaves, blade elliptic or ovate, to 10, sometimes even to 17 cm long, tip rounded or acute, margin entire with tiny teeth. Inflorescence is a terminal, cylindric spike, to 6 cm long and 5 mm wide, flowers tiny, with long, purplish-pink styles, and just as long white or purplish-pink filaments.

This plant is partial to calcareous soils, growing in grasslands, along roads, and in waste places, from sea level up to an altitude of about 2,000 m. Its native range is from almost the entire Europe eastwards to the Siberian Pacific coast, southwards to the Mediterranean, Iraq, Iran, and north-eastern China. It has also been introduced elsewhere, in particular the north-eastern United States.

 

 

Hoary plantain, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. Tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris) is also present. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Hoary plantain, Flattnitzer Höhe, Austria. The plant with yellow flowers is tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Veronica Speedwell
Members of this huge genus, comprising 450-500 species, are distributed almost worldwide, with the major part in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

The generic name probably refers to the Biblical Veronica, who, according to legend, wiped the face of Jesus on his way to Golgotha. The flowers supposedly resemble the markings left on the cloth which was used. The common name is Old English, meaning ‘to thrive’, referring to the vigorous growth of many Veronica species.

More about this genus may be found on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

Veronica alpina Alpine speedwell
An often mat-forming plant, stems erect, unbranched, hairy, to 15 cm tall, leaves many, opposite, sessile or short-stalked, ovate or elliptic, glandular-hairy, to 2 cm long, almost entire, with shallowly toothed margin. The flowers are clustered in a short terminal raceme, stalk shorter than the subtending, rather small, leaf-like bracts, sepals very dark, hairy, corolla tubular, dark blue with white base, to 7 mm across, with 4 lobes, the upper one largest.

This species grows in humid meadows, along streams, in areas of newly melted snow, and among rocks, at altitudes between 1,400 and 2,900 m. It is very widely distributed in arctic and subarctic regions, from Canada eastwards to central Siberia, in montane areas in the British Isles, and central and southern Europe, eastwards to Ukraine, and also in western Himalaya and Tibet.

 

 

Alpine speedwell, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Veronica fruticans Rock speedwell
Stem erect, to 10, rarely up to 20 cm tall, occasionally woody below, rounded, downy-hairy, leaves sessile or short-stalked, smooth or hairy, glossy, ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate, to 2 cm long, margin entire or finely toothed. Flowers 3-7, arranged in a lax terminal raceme, stalk and calyx hairy, corolla to 1.4 cm across, azure blue or dark blue, rarely reddish, throat white with a purple ring around.

The native range of this species is subarctic areas of Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and north-western Russia, and also in montane areas of central and southern Europe. It grows on stony slopes and in alpine grasslands, in the Alps occurring up to elevations of about 2,400 m.

 

 

Rock speedwell, near Kasereck, Grossglockner, Austria. Common rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Veronica spicata Spiked speedwell
This plant is often forming dense growths of erect or ascending, glandular-hairy stems, usually below 40, but occasionally up to 80 cm tall, leaves mostly opposite, lower ones stalked, upper ones sessile, bluish-green or greyish-green, ovate or lanceolate, to 8.5 cm long and 3 cm wide, margin saw-toothed, occasionally entire. The inflorescence is a terminal, dense spike, to 30 cm long, sometimes with lateral spikes in the upper leaf axils. Bracts and sepals linear, glandular-hairy, corolla pale blue or bright blue, sometimes pink, purple, or white, to 7 mm long, with 4 lanceolate, unequal lobes, stamens almost as long as the corolla.

It grows in sunny places in dry grasslands, dunes, and shrubberies, and in sandy, gravelly, and rocky areas, usually on nutrient-poor, humus-rich soils. Its native range is almost all of Europe, eastwards to central Siberia, and thence southwards to the Caucasus and Sinkiang, in the southern areas mainly growing in mountains, in the Alps up to elevations around 2,100 m.

 

 

Spiked speedwell, near Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. The plant with white flowers is mountain clover (Trifolium montanum). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Veronica teucrium Large speedwell
As its name implies, this is a large plant, sometimes as tall as 1 m. Stems few, erect or ascending, rounded, hairy, more or less in two rows, leaves sessile or short-stalked, ovate or rounded, to 3 cm long and wide, base heart-shaped, margin strongly toothed. The inflorescence is a long, terminal raceme with numerous flowers, to 1.3 cm across, occasionally to 1.8 cm, corolla sky-blue or azure-blue with darker veins and a white throat, rarely pink.

This species grows in open forests, shrubberies, and grasslands, and among rocks, preferably on calcareous soils. It is distributed in central and southern Europe eastwards to western Siberia, the Altai, and Mongolia, southwards to the Mediterranean and Kazakhstan.

Some authorities regard it as a subspecies of the Austrian speedwell (V. austriaca).

 

 

Large speedwell, near Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Veronica urticifolia Nettle-leaved speedwell
Stem erect, downy, usually below 40 cm tall, occasionally to 70 cm, branched below and in the inflorescence, otherwise unbranched. Leaves opposite, nettle-like, ovate or oblong, with heart-shaped base, sessile or short-stalked, to 8 cm long and 5 cm wide, hairy below, especially along the veins, margin sharply and unevenly serrated, tip long-pointed. Inflorescences are lax, many-flowered racemes from the leaf axils, flowers long-stalked, corolla to 7 mm across, pale pink or pale blue, sometimes whitish, with darker veins and a purple ring near the throat.

The native range of this species is mountains of central and southern Europe, including the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, and the Alps, eastwards to Ukraine. It grows in forests and grasslands on calcareous soils.

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with nettle-like leaves’.

 

 

Nettle-leaved speedwell, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nettle-leaved speedwell, Passo Tre Croci, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Plumbaginaceae Sea-lavender family
This almost worldwide family contains 27 genera with about 840 species of herbs or shrubs, most of which grow on saline soils.

 

Armeria Thrift
This genus, comprising about 100 species, is distributed in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to the United States, North Africa, Syria, and northern China, and also in southern South America and the Falkland Islands.

The generic name is probably of Celtic stock, from ar (’near’) and mor (’sea’), alluding to the fact that common thrift (A. maritima) usually grows near the sea. In his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (‘Notes on the Gallic War’), Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) mentions an area between the rivers Seine and Loire, which he calls Aremorica. Presumably, thrift was growing here. The Old French name of the plant, armoires, became Latinized as armerios in 1537, later written Armeria. (Source: J. Corneliuson 1997. Växternas namn. Vetenskapliga växtnamns etymologi. Språkligt ursprung och kulturell bakgrund. Wahlström & Widstrand)

 

Armeria alpina Alpine thrift
This plant forms dense cushions of bright green, grass-like leaves, to 8 cm long and 4 mm wide, fleshy, linear, entire, 1-3-nerved, with a blunt tip. Inflorescences are dense globular or hemispherical heads, to 3 cm across, borne on erect, smooth, leafless stalks, to 30 cm tall. The transparent papery bracts form a sheath, to 1.5 cm long, around the protruding corolla, petals 5, pink or purple, fused at the base, anthers yellow. The flowers emit a fragrance of coumarin.

This species occurs in montane areas, from the Pyrenees eastwards to the Carpathians and the Balkans. It is particularly common in the southern Alps, thriving in grassy and stony areas, at elevations between 1,500 and 3,000 m.

 

 

Alpine thrift, Sella area, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Polygalaceae Milkwort family
This almost cosmopolitan family contains about 21 genera and c. 900 species of herbs, shrubs and trees.

 

Polygala Milkwort
The number of species in this genus varies enormously according to authority, from about 350 to 730. It is distributed in most parts of the globe, with the highest diversity in the Americas, and also many species in Africa and Asia.

The flower structure of these plants is unique. Of a total of 6 sepals, 4 are small and green, whereas the 2 larger lateral ones are coloured like the petals, wing-like, almost enveloping the entire flower. The 8 filaments are fused to form a tube, and united with this tube are 2 tiny petals, one on either side. The third petal is larger, fringed, forming a boat-like structure on the underside of the flower. It serves as a ‘landing place’ for visiting insects, such as bees and butterflies.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek polys (‘many’, ‘much’) and gala (‘milk’), alluding to an old belief that these plants would increase milk yield in cattle.

 

Polygala vulgaris Common milkwort
Stem branched, usually below 15 cm tall, occasionally to 35 cm. Leaves alternate, mostly smooth, to 2 cm long and 4 mm wide, basal leaves spatulate, with rounded tip, upper ones lanceolate. Inflorescence is terminal, long, with up to 20 flowers, petals (and the 2 large sepals) blue, violet, or pink, rarely purple, to 1 cm long.

This species grows in open woods, grasslands, heaths, and dunes, on calcareous or slightly acid soils, from sea level up to about 2,200 m. It is distributed in almost all of Europe, eastwards to western Siberia, southwards to the Mediterranean and Turkey.

 

 

Common milkwort, Valsaparence, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Polygonaceae Pinkweed, knotweed, or buckwheat family
This family has been subject to many changes, but generally about 55 genera are now recognized, containing c. 1,200 species of herbs, shrubs, lianas, and trees, distributed almost worldwide.

The name is derived from the Greek poly (‘many’) and gony (‘knee’ or ‘joint’), alluding to the swollen nodes on the stems of many species. In numerous species, the stipules are fused into a stem-clasping sheath.

A number of Asian species are presented on the page Plants: Himalayan flora.

 

Bistorta Bistort
A genus of about 40 species, native to subarctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, southwards to Mexico, Iran, and Indochina.

The generic name is derived from the Latin bis (‘twice’) and tortus (‘twisted’), like the English name snake-root referring to the twisted appearance of the root of B. officinalis.

 

Bistorta officinalis Common bistort
This stately plant, by some authorities named Polygonum bistorta or Persicaria bistorta, grows to 80 cm tall, occasionally to 1 m, stem erect, unbranched, smooth. Leaves mostly basal, with a long, winged stalk, ovate-oblong with eared base, usually hairless, to 20 cm long, stem leaves few, alternate, sessile, narrowly triangular, long-pointed, much smaller. Inflorescence is a dense, cylindric, terminal spike, to 7 cm long, with numerous small pink flowers, to 5 mm long. The stipules form a sheath.

This species is widespread in temperate areas of central and southern Europe, including the British Isles, eastwards to the Pacific, southwards to Morocco, Iran, and southern China. It is also a common escape in North America. In southern Europe, it is restricted to mountains. It is very common in the Alps, growing in meadows and pastures, at forest edges, and along trails, up to altitudes of about 2,100 m.

Fresh leaves are a valuable fodder, whereas they crumble if they are preserved as hay. The rhizome contains an edible starch, and the leaves were formerly used in folk medicine to treat wounds.

Popular names of this plant include meadow bistort and pudding grass, the latter referring to an old usage of the leaves in northern England as an ingredient in a bitter Lent pudding, together with other herbs, oatmeal, and eggs.

 

 

Common bistort, Little St. Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common bistort, Passo Gardena, Dolomites, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rumex Dock, sorrel
A genus of about 200 species of herbs, some rather shrubby, with an almost worldwide distribution, and introduced species are often found in the few places where the genus is not native. Some are invasive, others are cultivated for their edible leaves.

The fruit is mostly a triangular nutlet, often winged, arranged in dense clusters, often conspicuously reddish-brown when ripe.

Dock is an old term applied to various plants with large leaves, whereas sorrel is a brownish-orange to pale chestnut colour, referring to the fruits of this genus.

 

Rumex alpinus Alpine dock
This large, stout plant, sometimes reaching a height of 2 m, spreads vegetatively via underground rhizomes, often forming large clones. Stems are erect, furrowed, branched only in the inflorescence.

Shortly after the snow has melted, the yellowish-green to copper-red young leaves grow from the rhizomes. They become very large and long-stalked, blade heart-shaped or ovate, smooth, to 50 cm long, with wavy margin, stem leaves smaller, alternate, oblong or lanceolate. The stipules form a sheath around the stem.

The inflorescences are much-branched, dense, terminal compound panicles with hundreds of tiny greenish flowers. The fruit is a reddish-brown, triangular, winged nutlet, which may remain viable for more than 10 years.

This species is native to mountains of central and southern Europe, as well as Ukraine and Turkey, eastwards to the Caucasus and north-western Iran. It grows in all kinds of open areas on nutritious soils, up to an elevation of about 2,600 m.

A popular name of this plant is monk’s rhubarb, alluding to the leaves, which are edible, raw or cooked. They make an excellent spinach.

 

 

Flowering alpine dock, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and leaves of colt’s-foot (Tussilago farfara) are also present.(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Fruiting alpine dock, below Little Saint Bernhard Pass, on the border between Italy and France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Fruiting alpine dock, Col du Mt. Cenis, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Withering leaves, Rossfeld, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Primulaceae Primrose family
This family, comprising 9 genera with about 900 species of herbs, is widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, and also in Indonesia, New Guinea, and southern South America.

 

Androsace Rock-jasmine
A genus with about 165 species of small herbs, many mat-forming. The leaves are arranged in a basal rosette, and the petals are fused, forming a short tube with 5 terminal, spreading lobes. Most species grow in the Arctic or at high altitudes in mountains. The largest diversity is in the Himalaya, where the genus supposedly originated, and many species are also found in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Alps, and the Pyrenees.

The generic name is derived from the Greek andros (‘man’) and sakos (‘shield’), alluding to the shape of the anther. This name was applied to an unknown plant by Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), and also by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.).

 

Androsace obtusifolia Blunt-leaved rock-jasmine
A small plant, growing singly or forming clumps. The entire plant is bristly-hairy, leaves basal, forming a rosette, blade lanceolate, to 2.5 cm long and 4 mm wide, tip blunt, margin with a few hairs. The flowering stalk, to 10 cm tall, rises from the rosette, inflorescence umbel-like, with 4-10 flowers, bracts narrow-lanceolate, hairy along the margin, flower stalk to 1.5 cm long, corolla to 1 cm across, white or pinkish with a yellow throat, lobes rounded.

This species occurs in the Alps, Apennines, Sudetes, Carpathians, and in mountains on the Balkan Peninsula, growing on acid soils at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,500 m.

 

 

Blunt-leaved rock-jasmine, Col du Sanetsch, Valais, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cyclamen Cyclamen
A genus of 23 species, native to Europe and the Middle East, eastwards to Iran, and one species in Somalia. Many of these pretty plants are cultivated as ornamentals.

The generic name stems from Ancient Greek kyklaminos, probably derived from kyklos (‘circle’), referring to the round tuber of this genus. Popular names include sowbread and swinebread, from Medieval Latin panis porcinus (‘swine bread’). In those days, it was believed that the tubers were eaten by pigs.

 

Cyclamen purpurascens Alpine cyclamen
This species grows in deciduous forests, preferably of beech (Fagus), and mostly on calcareous soils, at altitudes from 250 to 1,300 m. It is distributed from eastern France across the Alps to the Balkans, and thence northwards to Poland.

It is easily identified by the bluish-green, rounded leaves with numerous irregular, whitish streaks, and the deep pink or cyclamen-coloured flowers with strongly back-curved lobes, to 2.5 cm long.