Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

Spring flower spotting in Switzerland

with 4 comments

The end of July seems awfully late in the year to write about “spring,” but here in Geneva, summer 2012 remains conspicuously absent. Since the deep freeze in February, we have experienced a single, continuous and jaded season, which shines sun for a few days, only to then revert to cloudy, antisocial behaviour.

Although unpopular among the humans, the stubborn spring is a sensation among the trees and plants. In late July, after months of alternating sun and rain, the landscape is green, the flowers are still in bloom, and the mushroom hunters are working overtime.

Somewhat in denial about the weather, Eileen and I have tried several times to escape to the mountains to enjoy some “summer” hiking. Although we rarely find ourselves walking under clear, sunny skies, one attraction of hiking in the mountains during a prolonged spring is the rich variety of wildflowers that remain in bloom.

When the forecast is poor enough to overcome our denial about the weather, we have stayed down in Geneva and enjoyed walking through the rural areas of Petit Saconnex, Pregny and Chambésy – the neighbourhoods around our apartment – on our favourite paths, which are still lined with flowers.

Below is a brief selection of the flowers I photographed over the course of June and July in these two environments: wildflowers in the Alps and not-so-wild flowers in the neighbourhoods near our home in the valley.

A big part of hiking and exploring in Switzerland involves experiencing the contrast between the valley and the Alps, so instead of ordering the following flower photos by species, colour or place, I have ordered them by altitude. I have also made an amateur attempt to identify the wildflowers by comparing my photos with the various resources available online – therefore keep in mind that the names I have given may be entirely incorrect.

Alpine wildflowers

Beginning at the highest point, here is a cluster of hardy purple saxifrage at the Egginerjoch pass, in the high Alps above Saas-Fee, at approximately 3,000m. The ground is mostly bare rock at this altitude. Vegetation appears in tight little clumps, clinging to the flatter, grippier surfaces. Along with moss and lichen, these saxifrage were the most prolific plants below the snowline.

Still above Saas-Fee, but further down the slopes of the Mittaghorn mountain, at perhaps 2,450m, vegetation covers the ground and secures the thin layer of soil underneath. This provides a good foundation for these blue spring gentians with two little yellow ranunculus. I would have called the yellow ones buttercups, which are indeed in the same family.

Slightly lower, at the same altitude of 2,400m, we encountered this clump of mossy saxifrage, tucked up against a rock wall.

Climbing further down the slopes of the Mittaghorn, at approximately 2,300m, we found many Alpine asters, which you will recognise as cousins of the common daisy.

I shot the following photo at approximately 2,250m. The focus is really shallow, probably a result of the wind when I was shooting and the fuzziness of the flower, which challenged the autofocus. Of the flowers shown in the post, naming this one challenged me the most. My best guess is that it is a pyramidal bugle – if that is incorrect, I have no idea.

Angling further down across the north face of the Mittaghorn, we came to a meadow at 2,200m that is the joint between the slopes of the Mittaghorn and Plattjen mountains. In the winter, it is obviously a long, wide ski run; in the summer, it is an unkempt meadow. Here, we found clusters of rock jasmine, pushing through the undergrowth, but careful to remain sheltered in the shade.

In the same meadow below Plattjen, we found many of these purple flowers. I could not match it exactly to any of the photos I found online, but it seems to be a wild species of the flax family.

Still in the same meadow at 2,200m, we found another species of saxifrage: the rough saxifrage.

Descending below the treeline to a meadow at around 2,100m, we found several of these orchid-looking Alpine milk-vetches. Unfortunately the wind was too much for the macro motor in my camera lens, so the focus of this photo is quite shallow.

In the same meadow at 2,100m, there were several chamois ragworts.

Just above Saas-Fee, at 2,000m, we passed a collapsed barn and cabin, and then this still-sturdy but little-used barn. At the foot of the north-facing wall grew a mess of nettles and flowers – once again they look to be part of the flax family, but I could not narrow it to a specific species.

A quick jump north across the Rhône Valley, from Saas-Fee to the Alps of the Bernese Oberland. A few hours’ hike above the beautiful cliffside town of Mürren, I found this purple alpenrose in a meadow that is adjacent to the Rotstockhütte mountain hut, at approximately 2,000m. The alpenrose is a species of wild rhododendron. In the photo, you can see Rotstockhütte in the middle ground and the Jungfrau mountain in the left of the background.

Next to Saas-Fee town, at 1,800m or so, sits a large meadow, on which cows graze in the summer and beginners ski in the winter. Among the long grasses in the meadow are many Alpine thistles like this one.

All of the villages in the Saas Valley share the same prefix. Just above Saas-Almagell, at 1,750m or so, on the opposite slope from Saas-Fee, we came across a pretty butterfly, perched on a bush of trailing azalea. We were walking along an ingenious aqueduct that travels down the valley, along the forested slope above the valley floor.

Moving out of the high Alps and into the pre-Alps near Fribourg, we hiked one day with our friend Belinda from the Moléson, along the ridge to the summit of the Teysachaux.  Sections of the ridge were rounded, meadowy and damp, allowing many Early Marsh-orchids to thrive. I shot this one and a nearby fuzzy stem at 1,700m.

Along the Teysachaux ridge at 1,700m, we also saw many white flowers with a bulbous stamen cluster. From my attempt at identifying the flower, they could be one of several white varieties of ranunculus, but because the name is the best, I am calling them Alpine Adonis.

The perennial cornflower was prolific all across the slopes and meadows of the Teysachaux.

Earlier I showed a photo of a purple alpenrose at 2,000m in the Bernese Oberland. Pink versions of these wild rhododendrons are thick on the shady slopes around Saas-Fee, from as high as 2,400m, all the way down to the valley floor. I shot this one in a forest below Saas-Fee, at 1,675m.

There are several images in Switzerland that capture a foreigner’s attention as icons of the country. For example: the marmot, the cow and its bell, the chalet and the fondue pot. We seek them out and check them off our list when we have seen them: our friend Belinda recently saw her first wild marmot; and Eileen recently saw her first hedgehog in Geneva.

Among the most famous but least accessible Swiss icons is the hardy edelweiss flower, which grows in the high Alps. In Switzerland and Austria, nearly every mountain village has a “Hotel Edelweiss” and a variety of businesses and organisations use the flower in their names or emblems, including, for example, the Swiss charter airline Edelweiss Air.

Although I have never made a special effort to find an edelweiss flower in the wild, when I conceived of this blog post, I began hoping that I would chance upon one.

After all of that buildup, I did not see one. In fact, I seemed to be in the entirely wrong areas, as each time I asked a local hiker about the edelweiss, they responded with something like: “The edelweiss here? No, I have never seen one in this valley. Perhaps try the next valley…?”

“Free range” flowers

The following photos are not of wildflowers, but of cultured flowers. These particular ones grow “free range” from seed that is scattered each spring in the park next to the European Broadcasting Union, which sits at approximately 440m. I have not tried to identify these flowers by name.

In nearby Pregny, at approximately 420m, is a large farmer’s field that is a fixture on all of our different walking and running routes. The field sits just behind the International John Knox Centre and is planted with different crops throughout the year. One weekend when it was lying fallow, it was even used as a dusty parking lot for a festival in Pregny. At the moment, the field is thick with giant sunflowers.

Bedded flowers

Slightly downhill from Petit Saconnex is its sibling neighbourhood, Grand Saconnex, which lies at 420m or so. The following couple of photos are from a well-tended bed near the town hall – nothing wild about these flowers.

Finally, we descend to one of the many flower beds that decorate the parks along the banks of Lac Léman, at 370m. Compared to the hardy purple saxifrage that lives at 3,000m in the Alps, flowers live easily next to Lac Léman, especially in the extended spring of 2012. And although we humans complain about the delinquent sunshine, we live well too, enjoying Geneva’s summer festivals, surrounded by parks, statues, flowers and music.


Written by Kris Terauds

July 29, 2012 at 14:28

4 Responses

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  1. I enjoyed the photos and descriptions very much; but, flowers? Really, Kris, I never thought I’d see the day… Hmmm… flowers…. I just don’t know about you anymore.

    Marianna Terauds

    August 1, 2012 at 06:07

  2. Hello Kris, I have a friend traveling in Switzerland now(04/22/2016). She shared a photo of a unique emerging flower that was unknown. How can I ID this flower? This flower is white with its unusual looking soft spinney bud casing split in two and resting precariously on top of the emerging bloom. Who can I share this photo with to help me ID this flower? I think my friend took the photo around Lake Annecy. BTW…Love your photos! Thanks for sharing them! 🙂

    Steven Riel

    April 23, 2016 at 15:24

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