A hearty alpine rush

DI don’t like much in the gray of the Alps. If the glaciers now disappear and with them the wonderfully glistening white, I would not mind if instead a sea of ​​flowers lay over all the peaks over a wide area. Nice and colorful, I don’t insist on a monochrome landscape in edelweiss (Lontopodium alpinum) along with Purple dawn, white violets, or Ranunculus alpestres, the Alpine buttercup, and what they are all called. Of course it would R. glacialis, the glacier buttercup, especially suitable, but from my point of view, all new larch and Swiss stone pine forests can enjoy a hearty “Almrausch” in bloom, in alpine rose red, especially where waves broke on the reefs before time immemorial.

Sonja Kastilan

Responsible for the “Science” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The alpine flora already has a lot to offer, which can also be examined in a well-tended “Alpinum”, but it took time for such a huge spectacle of colors. Even if the winters become shorter in the future, snow cover thinner and temperatures less harsh, there will be enough other adversities to make vegetation at high altitudes difficult.

Not without frost and sun protection

Around 4,500 species of vascular plants are represented in the Alpine region, up to ten percent of which are endemic, such as the crested devil’s claw and some saxifrage. But very few of them actually came into being here and did not migrate until after the last ice age, such as the frost-hard stone pine (Pinus cembra) from southern Siberia or the edelweiss from Central Asia, whose dense down is supposed to protect against UV radiation. Anything that wants to thrive in the mountains above the tree line must be adapted to the conditions in the respective microclimate, be it through slippery growth, persistent clumps, stable cushions or leaf rosettes with natural frost and sun protection, and sometimes the flowers are extra-large, as in the gentian : Their growth phase is extremely short, so plants have developed a wide variety of strategies on their way up. Because on the little bit of earth that is found above crumbling rock or in crevices, a struggle for survival rages, for which one or the other species can endure well over 40 degrees Celsius and less than minus 40.

The alpine toadflax is known as a typical rubble crawler, but after a glacier retreats, it can take several decades for plants not only to conquer the area, sometimes cling to the bare rock, sometimes only thriving in shady places, but also densely populating them. In the first few years only three or four species per square meter can be found, botanists speak of the primary succession, and Steinbruch, the genus Saxifraga, make many first settlers. The greater the distance – in space and time – from the ice, the greater the diversity and density of the vegetation. This is how “alpine-level silicate rubble societies” emerge, where the glacier buttercup romps along with the alpine man’s shield, clove root and sourling, while other species prefer limestone rubble or the alkaline soils above it; the yellow blooming mountain milkweed or the rare saxifrage Saxifraga rudolphianawho likes to sit on limestone slate and decorate it with purple flowers.

In the case of the classic alpine roses, the hairy one keeps Rhododendron hirsutum, on lime and dolomite, while the rust-leaved, R. ferruginum, again prefer silicate and in certain mountain regions the tree line is marked bright pink at the time of flowering; There are also hybrids. The evergreen shrubs need a blanket of snow to protect them from frost and drought, like their Himalayan ancestors, they love it moist. And gardeners should never forget that, otherwise the alpine rush in your own Alpinum will be over very quickly.

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