Flora of the Alps

 
 
 


The Alps is one of the great mountain systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east; through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany; to France in the west.  With proximity to major populated areas it was one of the first mountain systems to be explored by botanists.  Mountain flower hiking in the Alps is excellent particularly the Dolomites in Northern Italy.


In the 19th century the Alps were called the playground of Europe by the mountaineer Sir Leslie Stephen.  That is even more true today with a proliferation of ski lifts, roads and mountain huts that is in marked contrast with the huge wilderness areas of the mountains of western North America. The development in the Alps does have a positive side for lovers of mountain flowers  because access to many alpine areas above treeline is easy and the trail system and maps are some of the best in the world.


Featured hikes and plants in the Alps


ITALY, Dolomites, Bindelweg hikeEritrichium nanum

ITALY, Dolomites, Circuit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Potentilla nitida

ITALY, Dolomites, Cavallazza, Saxifraga bryoides   

ITALY, Dolomites, Cresta de le Sele, Androsace alpina

SWITZERLAND, Bernese Oberland, Wildgarst hike, Campanula cenisia                    

AUSTRIA, Hohe Tauern, Mallnitzer Tauern hike, Lilium martagon

FRANCE, Maritime Alps, Tete du Barn, Saxifraga retusa

FRANCE, Cottian Alps, Col Lacroix, Saxifraga valdensis


The Alps are generally divided into the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps. (See Wikipedia).  The division is along the line between Lake Constance and Lake Como, following the rivers Rhine, Liro and Mera. The Western Alps are higher, but their central chain is shorter and curved; they are located in Italy, France and Switzerland. The Eastern Alps (main ridge system elongated and broad) belong to Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein and Slovenia.


The highest peak of the Western Alps is Mont Blanc, at 4,808 metres (15,774 ft). The highest peak of the Eastern Alps is Piz Bernina, at 4,049 metres (13,284 ft).


The Eastern Alps are commonly subdivided according to the different lithology (rock composition) of the more central parts of the Alps and the groups at its northern and southern fringes:


Northern Limestone Alps (from the Wienerwald to Bregenzerwald), including the Flyschzone; peaks up to 3,000 metres (9,840 ft)

Central Eastern Alps (Austria, Switzerland); peaks up to 4,050 metres (13,290 ft)

  1. Southern Limestone Alps (including the Dolomites)


   Relief map of the Alps showing international boundaries.  Source:  Wikipedia


The Alps form a part of a Tertiary orogenic belt of mountain chains, called the Alpide belt, that stretches through southern Europe and Asia from the Atlantic all the way to the Himalayas. This belt of mountain chains was formed during the Alpine orogeny. A gap in these mountain chains in central Europe separates the Alps from the Carpathians off to the east. Orogeny took place continuously and tectonic subsidence is to blame for the gaps in between.


The Alps arose as a result of the collision of the African and European tectonic plates, in which the western part of the Tethys Ocean, which was formerly in between these continents, disappeared. Enormous stress was exerted on sediments of the Tethys Ocean basin and its Mesozoic and early Cenozoic strata were pushed against the stable Eurasian landmass by the northward-moving African landmass. Most of this occurred during the Oligocene and Miocene epochs. The pressure formed great recumbent folds, or nappes, that rose out of what had become the Tethys Sea and pushed northward, often breaking and sliding one over the other to form gigantic thrust faults. Crystalline basement rocks, which are exposed in the higher central regions, are the rocks forming Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and high peaks in the Pennine Alps and Hohe Tauern.


REFERENCES:

Flora Alpina: An atlas of all 4500 vascular plants in the Alps

Alpine Plants of Europe by Jim Jermyn.  Timber Press