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The plant is unequally distributed and prefers rocky limestone places at about 1800–3000 m altitude. It is non toxic, and has been used traditionally in folk medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. The dense hair appears to be an adaptation to high altitudes, protecting the plant from cold, aridity and ultraviolet radiation. As a scarce short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas, the plant has been used as a symbol for alpinism, for rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps, and as a national symbol especially of Austria and of Switzerland.
The common name is from the German, in standard spelling Edelweiß (with the Eszett (ß) ligature), literally translating to "noble-white", a compound of the adjectives edel "noble" and weiß (or weiss) "white". As an adjective, edelweiss is also used in oenology of wine from the Gutedel (Chasselas) grape.
The name Edelweiss originates as one of numerous regional appellations, and entered wide use during the first half of the 19th century, in the context of early Alpine tourism and the exploration of the High Alps. Alternative regional Swiss German names of the flower include Chatzen-Talpen ("cat's paws"), and older wullbluomen ("wool-flower", attested in the 16th century).
The scientific name Leontopodium is a Latin adaptation of Greek leontopódion (λεοντοπόδιον) "lion's paw". The first scientific name for Leontopodium alpinum which was validly published according to the current binomial nomenclature is Gnaphalium alpinum in the first edition (1753) of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum.
Since 1822 (Cassini) Leontopodium has no longer been considered part of the Gnaphalium genus, but classified alongside it as a distinct genus within the Gnaphalieae tribe. in 2003, Leontopodium alpinum was re-classified as a subspecies of Leontopodium nivale. Thus, the alpine Edelweiss is currently recognized as being divided into two supspecies, Leontopodium nivale subsp. alpinum (Cass.) Greuter and Leontopodium nivale subsp. nivale.
Leaves and flowers are covered with white hairs and appear woolly (tomentose). Flowering stalks of Edelweiss can grow to a size of 3–20 cm (in cultivation, up to 40 cm). Each bloom consists of five to six small yellow clustered spikelet-florets (5 mm) surrounded by fuzzy white "petals" (technically, bracts) in a double star formation. The flowers bloom between July and September.
Early-season version with central floret-pods not yet fully developed. Specimen found in Slovakia's Tatra Mountains.
Typical mid-season appearance. Specimen found in Italy's Bergamo Alps.
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Leontopodium sp. is a protected plant in many countries, including Mongolia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Switzerland (since 1878), France, Norway, Iran, India (Zanskar region), Italy, Serbia, Malaysia (In Genting and Cameron Highlands), Indonesia (In Semeru Mountain), Germany, Spain (Ordesa National Park), Poland and Slovakia (Tatra National Park), Slovenia (in Gorizia and Gradisca since 1896, in Carniola since 1898), Austria (since 1886) and Romania (since 1933).
The Edelweiss in the 19th century became a symbol of the rugged purity of the High Alps and of the supposedly similar qualities of the native population of the Alpine region. The Edelweiss became current as such a symbol in German literature and poetry of the first half of the 19th century, and soon also in the romantic nationalism of the time, in Austria, Switzerland, Tyrol, and Bavaria.
Berthold Auerbach published a novel entitled Edelweiss in 1861, where the difficulty for an alpinist to acquire an edelweiss flower was exaggerated to the point of claiming that "the possession of one is a proof of unusual daring". This idea at the time was becoming part of the popular mythology of early alpinism. Auerbach's novel appeared in English translation in 1869, prefaced with a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson,
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On the 2 cent Austrian euro coin.
On a Romanian 50 lei banknote.
Logo of the Union of International Mountain Leader Associations.
Nazi-era photo with KG 51 insignia on a Ju 88 bomber.
French mountain troops school emblem.
Logo of German sports association RMSV.
German Federal Police rank insignia patch.
Kyrgyz postage stamp from 1994.
On 1925 gold 100 Swiss francs coin.
Kazakhstan 500 тенге coin.
Four-"Star" rank insignia of the top Swiss general.
Austrian army JgB 23 emblem.
West/German military "Allgäu" fighter/bomber group 1958-2003.
West/German military 23rd mountain rifles troops emblem.
Russian military 17 ОСН "Edelweiss" emblem.
Austrian army JgB 6 emblem.
Coat of arms of Au in Austria.
Coat of arms of Brașov County in Romania.
Coat of arms of Dramsha in Bulgaria.
Coat of arms of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France.
Logo of Edelweiss Beer.
On the hat and collar circa 1933 of Austria's Engelbert Dollfuss.
Imperial Roman tombstone of Austrian soldier Marius son of Ructinus.
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