How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

One day in the sky, a star confessed to the Moon that he was envious of those who lived on Earth. The planet looked so green and blue from up there. So beautiful that the star imagined how lovely it would be to become a flower and live surrounded by such beautiful valleys, forests, rivers, and mountains.

The Moon, proud, did not take it well. Angry and spiteful, she decided to agree and sent her to one of our highest mountains. There, covered by a blanket of white snow, the star became one of the most beautiful flowers ever seen, star-shaped and with moon-colored petals.

However, the Moon had taken her revenge, and the new flower soon found out. She was alone, surrounded by rock and ice high up in the mountains and far from the rest of the beings on Earth.

Legend has it that this beautiful and solitary flower is the snow flower (nieu in Aragonese) or Edelweiss, which we can find in the highest reaches of the Pyrenees.

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Another version tells that a handsome young man declared his love to Edelweiss, an extraordinary young woman whose beauty was only comparable to snow white. Grateful for such a proposal, Edelweiss challenged the young man to find a star that came to Earth, turned into a flower, and lives in the highest of the mountains, surrounded by ice and snow. Great love requires a great deed, she said. 

How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

The young man, although scared, accepted the proposal and went looking for him. However, weeks and months passed without his return from him. Edelweiss, embarrassed and in love with her, soon went crazy, and on one of the cold winter nights, she went looking for him in the snow.

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 She screamed her name loudly until she was speechless. Since that day, no one has seen the young woman again. Nothing was ever heard of them again. They say that the flower was named Edelweiss to honor the love of the couple, and for this reason, the flower represents courage, dreams, and eternal love.

In many languages, the famous snow flower or Edelweiss ( Leontopodium nivale (Ten.) Huet ex Hand.Mazz.) has names that underline its beauty. In German, to name one, it is known as Edelweiß (noble white), ChatzenTalpen (cat’scat’s paws), or wullbluomen (wool flower); in English as lion’slion’s foot, beautiful star, glacier star, Alpine everlasting flower.

glacier queen; in Italian as Stella Alpina; and in French as Pied-de-lion, graphite à pied de lion, étoile d’argentd’argent or étoile des glaciers. The name of the genus Leontopodium derives from the Greek “Leontes,” genitive of “Leon” = lion 

(λεωνλεοντος) and “podium” (ποδιον), diminutive of “pous” (πουςποδος) = foot, meaning “little lion foot,” about the shape of the flower, which would resemble a lion’slion’s paw. The specific epithet nivale means nival in Latin, of the snow, due to its presence in high mountains.

The ancient generic name originally attributed by Linnaeus, “Gnaphalium” in Greek means fringe of wool, derived from “gnafallon” (γναφαλλον) = tuft of yarn (“gnafalos” (γναφαλοσ) was the name of a hairy plant).

The genus Leontopodium belongs to around XX species of mainly Asian and European distribution. The region of ​​most excellent diffusion of the genus is central and eastern Asia. Its center of biodiversity is the Sino-Himalayan region in southwestern China, with between 15 and 18 species.

The Leontopodium nivale probably arrived in our area with the glaciations, during which the cold steppe environments of the region where the genus Leontopodium was most widely spread throughout much of Europe thanks to climate changes.

This species has two subspecies, both European, the Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum (Cass.) Great. 

Distributed throughout the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, and the Balkan Peninsula ( alpinum means ” of the Alps” in Latin); and Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale (Ten.) Great., endemic to the Central Apennines in Italy, the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, and the Prokletije Mountains in Montenegro. Previously, these two subspecies were treated as two distinct species, namely Leontopodium alpinum, the one from the Alps and northern regions, and Leontopodium nivale, the one from the Apennines.

The typical habitat of Leontopodium nivale are alpine pastures and broken and friable rocks (contrary to what tourists imagine, who attribute them to more inaccessible cliffs) at an altitude ranging from 1,500 m to 3,000 m. Flowering takes place between June and September.

 Due to excessive collection, this species has become quite rare. Collecting it is prohibited, at least in Italy and other Alpine countries. Its biological type is scaped hemicryptophyte (Ascap). According to the Rankiaer classification of physical types, hemicryptophytes are herbaceous, biennial, or perennial plants with perennial buds at ground level and protected by the substrate or by snow. 

Scaly hemicryptophytes (Hscap) are endowed with a thick, erect floral axis devoid of leaves. It is a perennial plant, between 8 and 15 cm tall, with a woody stem at the base, short and erect, and whitish due to the abundant tomentum (dense hair).

 The leaves are gray and tomentose, the basal ones between 2 and 4 cm, spatulate or suborbicular, while those of the stem (culinary) are linear and between 2.4 and 4 cm long by 2 or 3 mm wide.

It does not grow on steep and inaccessible rocks but accessible pastures between 1000 and 3000 m altitude © Giuseppe Mazza.

The inflorescence is apical, formed by a glomerulus of numerous (between 3 and 12) yellowish capitula, one of which, more considerable, is surrounded by smaller others.

 Each capitulum, formed only by yellowish tubular flowers (it lacks the typical ray flowers of some compounds), is surrounded by an involucre composed of minor scales, representing the calyx’s sepals, often with a dark apical edge. 

The glomerulus is surrounded by between 9 and 15 intensely woolly bracts, acute and arranged in the shape of a star, with a function of calling pollinating insects (the formation and arrangement of these bracts gave rise to the common name in various languages ​​of “alpine star”).”). 

The role of wooliness is to limit the excessive loss of water through transpiration, which comes from the fact that the plant is native to arid environments, as well as to protect it from ultraviolet rays (and not, as is often read, to protect from the cold).

The bright white color of the hair is due to the thousands of microscopic air bubbles attached to it, reflecting light, thus representing a claim for pollinating insects and superior protection against evaporation and ultraviolet radiation. The nectar contains some amino acids that are essential for the metabolism of pollinating insects.

After flowering, the bracts wither, and the seeds mature in the female capitula. The fruits are oblong achenes endowed with pappus, which are transported thanks to this by the wind, and later dispersed, especially by ants. For several years it has been cultivated and sold in pots. Cultivated plants grow at low altitudes and are generally taller, sparsely hairy, and greenish in color.

The snow flower of the Apennines

In very localized areas of the highest peaks of the central Apennines (Montes Sibillinos, Montes de la Laga, Gran Sasso, and Maiella), the subspecies Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale, smaller than the alpine form (1–5 cm tall), usually more heavily tomentose, and conspicuously white.

This subspecies, in addition to the central Apennines, at altitudes between 2,300 and 2,800 m, is present in the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, and the Prokletije Mountains, in Montenegro.

This unique trans-Adriatic distribution, common to various botanical species, can be explained if we consider the lowering of the Adriatic sea level during the glacial periods and the simultaneous expansion of the steppe environments typical of the areas of origin of the genus Leontopodium.

How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

 These conditions would have allowed the distribution of the species throughout the Balkan region and Italy in the emerging lands due to the drop in sea level. The successive rise in temperatures would later have drastically reduced the habitat, limiting it to the high mountain areas that make up its current environment. 

Fables and mythology of the flower of the snows

Due to its characteristic appearance, the typical high mountain habitat, and its rarity, the flower of the snow has become the symbol of the mountain and mountaineering since the first half of the 19th century, with the development of mountain tourism and exploration of the Alps.

 In two Alpine countries, Switzerland and Austria, the Edelweiss is practically a national symbol, and both the German (Deutscher Alpenverein) and Austrian (Österreichischer Alpenverein) Alpine Clubs have included it in their emblem.

How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

The flower of the snows also appears in the emblem of the Union of International Associations of Mountain Guides (UIMLA in its acronym in English). In line with this symbology, we also find the fact that the image of the snow flower is included in the badges of Swiss, German, Austrian, Polish, and Romanian alpine troops.

By romanticism, especially the German, the snow flower has been taken as a symbol of the challenge and the conquest of the difficult, even in the absurd myth that the collection and possession of a specimen could be a test of courage. Out of the ordinary.

 This crazy idea has been and continues to be the cause of mountain incidents by the unprepared hapless who venture into rugged terrain in search of a flower that, however, grows mainly on grassy slopes. The avidity of the flower collectors, in addition to the symbolic values, is stimulated by the fact that the snow flower retains its characteristics even when dry and is pasted on thin cardboard to form “romantic” bookmarks.

Such a beautiful flower, characteristic and typical of the high mountains, could not be absent from famous legends of the Alpine countries. We cite by example the Swiss code according to which this flower would have once been a girl so beautiful (and arrogant) that she would have rejected all her suitors.

 She was, therefore, transported still a virgin (today we would say “spinster””) to the high peaks and transformed into a flower called Edelweiss (which, as explained above, means “noble white” in German). Only the bravest of men could hope to pick the reluctant flower.

Edelweiss was claimed to be Adolf Hitler’sHitler’s favorite flower. In reality, as Albert Speer explains, it was an invention of Nazi propaganda derived from a mistake. On the occasion of a demonstration, they wanted to offer flowers to Hitler, and, not knowing his preferences, they provided him with snow flowers since they were rare flowers.

 On the contrary, it should be remembered that opposition to Nazism, sadly unsuccessful, came from the “Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweißpiraten), youth groups that rebelled against the party’sparty’s recruitment and wore a snow flower on their badges. Demonstrations.

 During the war, members of these groups supported the Allies and the deserting German military. The snow flower, a tiresome symbol of the false mountain, also gives its name to a plethora of restaurants, hotels, and other tourist structures, not only throughout the Alpine arc but also in mountain towns that do not have much to do with the Leontopodium as in Argentina or Chile.

The snow flower, as a symbol of the mountain and mountaineers, is naturally present in numerous mountain songs spread throughout all the countries of the alpine environment. Let us remember, in this case, what is probably the most beautiful choral piece of the mountain tradition, dedicated to the Friulian mountaineers sent to their deaths in the First World War. 

If you come up here, between the rocks where they have buried me, there is a clearing full of snow flowers: it has been watered by my blood.

As a sign, a small cross is sculpted in the rock: between those snow flowers, the grass is born, and under them, I sleep serenely.

Pharmacological properties and traditional and magical uses

Leontopodium was and is used in the conventional medicine of the Alpine countries with various indications, for example, as an astringent, antitussive, against rheumatic pain, antidysenteric, and against stomach pain (some of these applications are justifiable based on the compounds assets indeed found in the plant). 

It is used mainly in powder, infusions, or alcoholic tinctures or boiled in milk with honey. The (currently little used) Bavarian name of Bauchwehbleaml is linked to its use for gastric or intestinal complaints (Bauchweh means tummy ache, and Bleaml (in German Blume) means flower so that it would be “tummy ache flower”).

Given its natural habitat, the snow flower is exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation and extreme temperature and humidity conditions. For this reason, it has developed a series of protective metabolites that can have practical use in protecting human skin. Ultraviolet. 

To avoid the collection of wild specimens for the preparation of medicinal substances, Leontopodium crops have been created in high mountain environments, reproducing the natural habitat so as not to modify the properties of the plant in any way. Some experts, mainly Austrians, have analyzed extracts of Leontopodium nivaledemonstrating the presence of numerous substances endowed with potentially functional pharmacological properties.

It should be emphasized that to avoid the destruction of the precious specimens of this protected plant, in vitro cultured snow flower cells, have been used.

The pharmacological activities found include the ability to inhibit the migration of cells responsible for the inflammatory response, such as leukocytes and mast cells, which could imply anti-inflammatory properties, and antimicrobial properties, which have been found, at least in the laboratory, useful against various pathogens, such as enterococci, staphylococci, and streptococci (these results are in line with traditional uses in the treatment of pulmonary and intestinal conditions).

They have pappus, being carried by the wind and dispersed by ants. The plant has medicinal virtues © Giuseppe Mazza.

The extracts also show antifungal and antiparasitic activity against mites. Substances with possible analgesic activities have also been found.

 The results also show a potential cosmetic interest due to the presence of substances with free radical neutralizing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity for possible use in sun creams and skin anti-aging.

Other studies have shown the presence of substances that could have acted on the nervous system by having a cholinergic function, that is, stimulating synapses that use acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter. According to the studied authors, this activity suggests potential anti-dementia and memory improvement applications.

How To Plant And Care For Snowdrops History, Symbolism 2023

It is essential to underline (as the authors of the investigations did at the time) that these are, in any case, potential activities shown in the laboratory without any application.

Despite this, the industry has immediately taken advantage of these results to launch products to which miraculous medicinal activities are attributed, such as a Swiss tonic drink (we will not say the name so as not to induce temptation) which, according to advertising, has revitalizing, antioxidant, anti-stress, refreshing, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and bactericidal effects, prevents the impact of toxins, repairs the skin, reinforces the body’sbody’s natural defenses and slows down aging (and adds and continues.

 It is unclear whether this drink should be included in pharmacological or magical substances!

The Leontopodium was used to prepare love potions, capable of guaranteeing the conquest of the loved one. It was also said that by making a crown with snow flowers and wearing it, one could obtain the gift of invisibility. To protect themselves from firearm projectiles and stab wounds, it was considered necessary to collect these plants, with all the roots, during a full moon Friday and carry them in contact with the body.

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