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Zermatt Flora: A flower paradise waiting to be discovered

14.05.2013
 
Botanists all agree: Zermatt’s flora is an eldorado for lovers of flowers. Here you can find flowers and grasses that are unique in the world. And the best news for visitors to Zermatt: it’s easy to discover these flowers – thanks to the mountain railways and the 400 km of hiking trails.

Edelweiss, gentian and alpine rose – these are the stars and the best known alpine flowers. But there are also real rarities in Zermatt: snow wormwood, dwarf rampion, sweet clover, umbel pennycress. They are unique – so specialists call them ‘endemites’. They are plants that only occur in a defined and clearly limited spatial environment. Zermatt has at least seven such ‘endemites’.

But what does one need to discover these rare flowers? Certainly some specialised knowledge, both of flowers and geological conditions. For instance, edelweiss enjoys chalky soil, while arnica sprouts rather in silica, acid soils. 

One needs: good footwear, possibly a field guide or the smartphone app of the standard work ‘‘Flora Helvetica“, as well as a magnifying glass – because this enables you to get a closer look at the small barbs on the heads of the sepals of the dwarf rampion. Zermatt’s hotspot for observing flowers: the Rotenboden-Gornergrat hiking trail over the lateral moraine of the Gorner glacier. This offers the greatest variety of rare flowers in the smallest space. There’s a passage on the trail that requires surefootedness and freedom from dizziness.

Sensitive ecosystems
The southern slope of the Gornergrat is a very sensitive ecosystem, so hikers are asked not to stray from the trails. Even entering the areas can damage the extremely vulnerable plants. An alpine meadow at this altitude needs hundreds of years to develop and stabilise. 

Depending on the season – the Gornergrat trail is accessible from June – you can find, in addition to edelweiss: dwarf rampion, alpine aster, alpine alyssum, umbel pennycress, glacier wormwood, Hallers pasqueflower and Hallers ragwort, Schleichers gentian and the fine-haired sweet clover.
 
Accessing flowers comfortably
Those who prefer to avoid excessive hiking efforts can comfortably follow a descriptive trail, such as the Blumenweg (flower path) (see link below) at Sunnegga. Here depending on the season the grass glows with alpine anemones, gentians or violet pasqueflowers. Those wishing to walk in solitary nature follow the Botanical Educational Trail leading in the direction of Trift (see link). Here one can find edelweiss and various types of orchid. Along both trails information boards explain the interplay and characteristics of nature and plants.
 
Unique environmental conditions
A wide range of components contribute to the biodiversity of Zermatt’s flora. So seven endemic plants grow in Zermatt: snow wormwood, dwarf rampion, sweet clover, umbel pennycress, Hallers ragwort, fringed sedge and hairy stichwort.
  • 39 mountains over 4000 metres protect Zermatt on three sides, so the climate is very dry.
  • Zermatt features the highest forest line in the Alps. It lies between 2400 and 2500 metres.
  • Some parts of the Zermatt mountains rose out of the Arctic Sea during the last ice age, meaning that some plants originate from that age – for example the dwarf rampion.
  • Nowhere else in the Alps can one find such a variety of rocks. Four geological zones come together with different chemical compositions.
  • 75 per cent of the municipal territory consists of nature reserves of national and internationals significance. The vegetation areas cover a total of 6.2 square kms.

Botanischer Lehrpfad (Botanical Educational Trail)
Zermatt – Trift: 3.5 km, 2.10h, 734 m altitude differential, accessible from July to September. The local world of flowers is explained on the boards along the trail. To see: numerous orchids, for example Knabenkraut orchid (May-June), edelweiss, alpine aster, and rare grasses. Those whose eyes are not trained for the inconspicuous edelweiss should stop after the alpine aster lookout. This lives in the same areas as the edelweiss (July to mid-August). See link below.

Edelweissweg (Edelweiss trail)
Zermatt – Alterhaupt (Pension Edelweiss) – Trift – Höhbalmen – Zmutt – Zermatt. 18.8 km, 7.30h, 1047 m altitude differential, accessible June to October. For demanding hikers, spectacular view on the Matterhorn north face and the Monte Rosa massif. As the name implies, here edelweiss abound, and in the Trifttal one practically comes face to face with them. See link below.

Blumenweg (flower trail)
Blauherd – Tuftern – Sunnegga. 4.3 km, 1.20h, 363 m altitude differential, accessible June to September. Theme boards. See link below.

Guided walks
Those interested in botany can join hikes led by an experienced botanist. These take place in July and August 2013 every Wednesday. Minimum number of participants: 8. 
Full-day excursions (6 hours, cost per person CHF 70, reduction for children). Dates: 3.7., 17.7., 31.7., 14.8., 21.8.2013. Half-day excursions (3 hours, cost per person CHF 40, reduction for children). Dates: 10.7., 24.7., 7.8.

Inscription: Zermatt Tourism, until 5.30 pm on the previous day or by telephone: 027 966 81 00

Literature/Images:

  • “Die Reichtümer der Natur im Wallis – Die Pflanzenwelt von Zermatt“, Christoph Käsermann/Fabian Meyer / Arnold Steiner. From the collection: Environment Department of the Canton of Valais, 2003, Rotten Verlag Visp.
  • „Flora Helvetica“, Konrad Lauber, Gerhart Wagner, Haupt Verlag Bern
  • “Die Reichtümer der Natur im Wallis – Seltene Blumen des Wallis“, Egidio Anchisi. From the collection: Environment Department of the Canton of Valais.
  • Illustrations: Copyright Konrad Lauber, Haupt Verlag Bern.
  • The article has been written in friendly cooperation with Olivier Putallaz, biologist, of the office Büro buweg, Visp.

Flora        

Alpine columbine
Latin: Aquilegia alpina. 
Family
: Ranunculaceae
To be found in
: Wet limestone meadows, copses, mountain, subalpine, alpine. Valais valleys, Bernese Oberland, Central Switzerland, Graubunden south valleys.
To be found in Zermatt: hiking trail Täsch-Zermatt.
Blooming period: July-September Potentially at risk. Protected in Switzerland.

 

Alpine aster
Latin: Aster alpinus
Family
: Asteraceae
To be found in: turfs, rocks, on chalky soils.
To be found in Zermatt: In the Trifttal, direction Hotel du Trift, often accompanied by edelweiss, Gornergrat and many other limestone areas.
Blooming period: June-August Protected in Switzerland.

 

 

   

Alpine alyssum
Latin: Alyssum alpestre  
Family: Brassicaceae To be found: from 2500 m and higher. Only in the mountains around Zermatt.
To be found in Zermatt: Gornergrat southern slopes, below Gornerli, along the steep hiking trail.
Blooming period: June-August Endemic in the western Alps. Rare, sporadic. Protected, at high risk.

 

Hairy Polster sandwort
Latin: Minuartia cherlerioides subsp. rionii
Family: Caryophyllaceae
To be found
: on silicate rocky areas at altitudes above 2000 m.
To be found in Zermatt: Unterrothorn/Fluhalp Blooming period: July/August Endemic. Very rare. On the Red List worldwide. At high risk.

 

 

   

Umbel pennycress
Latin: Thlaspi rotundifolium subsp. corymbosum
Family: Brassicaceae To be found: silicate and serpentine scree. Zermatt, Northern Ticino valleys.
To be found in Zermatt: Trockener Steg (near Gandegghütte), north-facing slopes on the Riffelberg (Riffelsee) and Gornergrat in acidulous water environments.
Blooming period: June/July Endemic. At risk worldwide.
In Valais: “vulnerable”.

 

Edelweiss
Latin: Leontopodium alpinum Cass.
Family: Asteraceae
To be found: throughout the Alps, on lime-rich Graubunden slate slopes, steep heather heaps and heather ridged turf, often accompanied by the alpine aster.
To be found in Zermatt: Frequent. In the valley, direction Hotel du Trift, at the via ferrata, in the Gornergrat nature reserve below Gornerli.
Blooming period: July/August Protected in Switzerland. 

 

 

   
         

Glacier wormwood
Latin: Artemisia glacialis Family: Asteraceae
To be found: In rocks, stony turfs, rock debris of the alpine stage, chalky soils, south-facing Graubunden slate slopes, in fescue turfs, at altitudes up to over 3000 m. To be found in Zermatt: Gornergrat south slopes.
Blooming period
: July/August Endemic. Very rare. Pungent scent. Protected In Switzerland.
In Valais: “potentially at risk”.

 

Fringed sedge
Latin: Carex fimbriata Family: Cyperaceae
To be found in: Rock containing serpentine, damp rock crevices, Zermatt, Misox, Puschlav. To be found in Zermatt: Trockener Steg, near the Gandegghütte. Riffelalp, Gaggenhaupt/Riffelhorn, Rotenboden/Gornergrat, Schwarzsee
Blooming period: July/August Endemic. Rare. At risk worldwide.
In Valais: “vulnerable”.

 

 

   

Hallers ragwort
Latin: Senecio halleri Family: Asteraceae
To be found in: stony turfs, rock debris, avoids lime. Visp valleys, Simplon area and other areas in the canton of Valais.
To be found in Zermatt: Gornergrat, among other places 
Blooming period: July/August Endemic. Protected, on the Red List of plants at risk. Switzerland has major international responsibility. At risk worldwide.
In Valais: “potentially at risk”.

 

Hallers pasqueflower
Latin: Pulsatilla halleri
Family: Ranunculaceae To be found: prefers lime. Festuca heaps, dry meadows, alpine turfs, stony places.
To be found in Zermatt: Trift, Höhbalmen to Zmutt, Schwarzsee, Gornergrat southern slopes direction Gadmen, Valtournenche/Italy. Blooming period: May-July Rare. Endemic in western Alps. Protected in Switzerland.
In Valais: “vulnerable”.

 

 

   
         

Dwarf rampion
Latin: Phyteuma humile
Family: Campanulaceae
To be found in: Zermatt, Visp valleys.
To be found in Zermatt: on silicate rocks such as serpentinite areas. Lychenbretter, Riffelhorn and at the small observation point of the Gaggenhaupt.
Blooming period: July/August Originates from the last ice age (glacial relic). Highly poisonous. Very rare. Endemic. At risk worldwide.
In Valais: “vulnerable“.

 

Rusty-leaved alpine rose
Latin: Rhododendron ferrugineum
Family: Ericaceae
To be found in: woods, pastures, avoids lime, subalpine, alpine, in places with heavy snowfalls, in the alpine rose belt at the timber line throughout the Alps. 
To be found in Zermatt: In the wooded areas left and right of the Gornera, for example at Furi/Blatten.
Blooming period: June-August Highly poisonous. Partially protected in Switzerland. Not protected in the canton of Valais.

 

   

Schleichers gentian
Latin: Gentiana schleicheri
Family: Gentianaceae
To be found in: stony turfs, Valais southern valleys.
To be found in Zermatt: Between Hörnlihütte and Stafelalp, below Gornerli at the Gornergrat (nature reserve).
Blooming period: July/August Protected in Switzerland.
In Valais: “potentially at risk”.

  Snow wormwood
Latin: Artemisia nivalis
Family: Asteraceae
To be found in: limestone shale, rock crevices, along rocky ledges, rock debris, on high south-facing slopes.
To be found in Zermatt: Upper and Lower Rothorn, direction Täschalp.
Blooming period: August Endemic, only in Zermatt (micro-endemic). Protected in Switzerland and worldwide. Very rare! On the Red List, also in Valais. 

 

 

   

Sweet clover
Latin: Trifolium saxatile All. Family: Fabaceae
To be found in: silicate soils, mainly Zermatt, Visp valleys.
To be found in Zermatt: scree glacier approaches, in gravel bases outside the overflow areas. Moraines south slopes at Zmutt, Gorner and Findel glaciers as well as around Blauherd and on the moraine above the Grindjisee.
Blooming period: July-September   
Very rare, endemic. At risk worldwide. On the Red List in Switzerland.

    Lilium (Turk's cap lilies)
Latin: Lilium martagon
Family: Liliaceae
To be found: throughout Switzerland except the Central Plateau, mountain meadows, woods, mostly on lime.
To be found in Zermatt: near the hamlet Herbrigg above Zermatt, Blatten near Gornera below Matterhorn Express.
Blooming period: June/July Protected throughout Switzerland.

 

 

   
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