White flowers some may find a bit less spectacular than others, but they are nonetheless beautiful too. And among their number we have some of the most highly prized of all alpine flowers.
Whatever you opine as to the beauty of the flower itself, nobody can deny that Leontopodium alpinum has a collection of the most wondrous names that humans have applied to any flower. Known popularly in German, and by extension in English and other tongues, as Edelweiss (the ‘noble white’), French has called it pied-de-lion (‘lion’s paw’ as in the Latin name), étoile d’argent (‘silver star’), or étoile des glaciers (‘star of the glaciers’), while in Italian it’s la stella alpina (‘the alpine star’) and in Spanish it’s simply la flor de las nieves (‘the flower of the snow’).
Maybe not the rarest flower of the Pyrenees, but it’s not like you bump into it all over the place either..in fact i only know of two places in the Benasque valley area, both among the less travelled spots, where you can expect to find this elusive flower.
Another rare and much less famous white flower is the Gypsophila repens (literally ‘creeping chalk-lover’), known as Alpine Gypsophila or, weirdly enough, Creeping Baby’s Breath..
It has no popular name in Spanish, though it is not so terribly difficult to come across it in the Pyrenees between 1500 and 2700m in areas of, not surprisingly, chalky soils.
Better known but also relatively scarce is Dryas octopetala, (White Dryas/Dryad, Mountain Avens or eightpetal mountain-avens, no common name in Spanish), an arctic-alpine flower occurring between 1800 and 3000m in the Pyrenees.
To be found in calcareous or karstic terrain, on rocky ridges in the Pyrenees but also close to sea level further North..for example in the West of Ireland’s Boireann. And don’t be fooled by the name, the flower can have up to sixteen petals!
For those who like flowers with many petals, Astrantia major will look attractive..though in reality it has multiple bracts – leaves that look like petals – and tiny individual flowers, all together forming a beautiful inflorescence that is reminiscent of exploding stars..or fireworks(!)
Known in Spanish as Sanicula hembra and in English as Great Masterwort, this large plant (60-70cm) grows in abundance in mountain meadows and valleys, often in humid areas or close to streams.
And just one more white flower to finish..this one a real rarity.
We’ve already met Iris latifolia – in Spanish known as el lirio azul – in the blue post, and that’s normally how you will find it, out of hundreds and hundreds of blooms, blue. But every once in a while it comes in white too.. el lirio blanco!