The hardy mountain flower known as edelweiss is a small plant that blooms in the Alpine mountains. It became famous worldwide as the subject of the song “Edelweiss” in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music,” but this tiny flower has a deeper meaning all its own.
The edelweiss plant is a hardy, low-growing perennial that lives in the European mountains. The foliage is covered in felt, which protects it from drought and wind. The central yellow edelweiss flower has five or six tiny flower heads around it, and these are surrounded by bright white, star-shaped leaflets.
In German, “edel” means noble and “weiss” means white. The scientific name is Leontopodium alpinum.
The symbolic meanings of the edelweiss flower are daring, courage and noble purity. These meanings are derived from the plant’s ability to grow in harsh mountain climates and from its pure white colouring.
The edelweiss has had cultural significance to military operations in the Alps. In 1907, the Austrian-Hungarian Army made the edelweiss the symbol of its Alpine divisions. A metal badge depicted the flower on soldiers' caps. During World War II, German soldiers stationed in the Alps sought edelweiss to wear on their uniforms. Edelweiss was considered a symbol of bravery because it was dangerous and difficult to climb up to the high, craggy areas where the flowers grew to obtain them.
Edelweiss is the national flower of Austria. It is pictured on one of the nation's Euro coins and is popular among the country's gardeners.