But the Mountain Cudweed cannot pretend to be purely and simply an Alpine; although it is found up to about 8,500 feet on wellnigh every mountain, it is common in the plains. There is, however, an Alpine 'everlasting' which might reasonably oust the Edelweiss from some of its pride of place. This is Eryngium alpinum, the popular Chardon Bleu of the Swiss, Panicaut or Reine de l' Alpe of the French, and Blue Thistle of the English. It is not a common plant by any means, seeking refuge, as it seems to do, in very out-of-the-way places. Like the chamois, it is known to most only by repute, or from captive specimens, alive or dead. Nor is its distribution in Switzerland a wide one; it is said not to be found at all in the Canton of Valais. Unfortunately, it is one of the plants which has suffered most severely at the hands of the vandal uprooter, and more than once I have seen peasants hawking the roots amongst the hotels of a mountain resort. There is a spot, not a hundred miles from Montreux, where this distinguished flower can be found in comparative abundance, growing amid the Rhododendron-bushes; but the area is a restricted one, and north, south, east and west of it may be searched and drawn blank. The popularity of the plant is such that many a chalet's plot of ground will possess it, though possessing no other flower. I remember once returning from the mountains to the plains with several bunches of this Blue Thistle, which, before reaching home, had been reduced to but part of one bunch. In the train and on the steamer people (all of them Swiss) begged and prayed for 'just one bloom,' and it was only by a tardy show of firmness that a few blooms remained to myself.
Unlike the popularity of the Edelweiss, that of the Blue Thistle, as far as I know, owes little to the risk and danger of seeking it where it grows; it is comparatively rare that it shows a liking for cliff and precipice. If it has its tale of woe, it is less decided than that of another and very lovely flower, Aquilegia alpina. Growing often in 'ugly' places, this exquisite and far from common bright blue Columbine has been more than once known to cause disaster. And the same may be said for the yellow Alpine Auricula (Primula auricula). In fact, the same could doubtless be said of many another plant: for variety in the circumstance of each flower is not wanting in the Alps, and thus there is no lack of suitable opportunity for the foolish or foolhardy to indulge in freak performances.
While on the question of risk and danger attaching to Alpines, mention may perhaps be made of several which are dangerous on account of their poisonous properties. The stately blue Monk's-hood (Aconitum napellus), for instance, bears the label 'Dangerous.' Here is beauty capable of inflicting a very different kind of mischief from the Edelweiss; yet, if treated with discernment, its properties are nothing but beneficent. It is much used in homoeopathy. One of the last of Summer's flowers, it frequents pastures and shrubby slopes from about 1,500 feet to some 6,000 feet in districts frequented by the Humble-bee, which insect, apparently, is this flower's only faithful friend and aid to fertilization. A curious fact about this plant is that, although the cattle will not touch it as it grows, they eat it, and eat it with impunity, in the dry hay. A. Lycoctonum is its less civilized, less erect-growing, yellow-flowered brother, its popular name of Yellow Wolfs-bane (more expressive in French as Tue-loup) warning us of the family aptitude if treated injudiciously!
Alpines On The Cloud-Swept Limestone Rocks Of The Rochers De Naye, With The Mountains Of Gruyere In The Background, At The Beginning Of July.
Perhaps the most used, medicinally, of all poisonous Alpine plants is the large orange-flowered Arnica (Arnica montana). Found at from about 3,000 feet to about 6,000 feet, its roots, leaves, and flowers (especially its flowers) are used to make a tincture for the treatment of cuts, bruises, and rheumatism. The peasant sometimes smokes its leaves by way of tobacco (in France it is known as Tabac des Savoyards) - however, the peasant is not usually fastidious as regards the 'weed' he smokes! The cows commonly avoid this Arnica - though I know of no evidence that it is injurious to them. This is more than can be said of another striking mountain plant, Veratrum album. This the cattle have excellent reason for not touching: it is intensely poisonous. With its large, deeply-ridged, dark green leaves and tall spike of greenish-yellow flowers, it is a handsome feature of damp pastures. Tourists frequently mistake it for the tall and stately Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea), with which it is often found growing, and to which, in the earlier stages of its growth, it bears some resemblance. But the Yellow Gentian has more oval leaves, of a lighter green, and different texture. If the cows eat of this Gentian the milk acquires a very bitter taste, and is spoilt. In its proper place, however, this bitter taste is much appreciated by the Swiss. The celebrated Gentian-Bitter, excellent for indigestion, is made from the long, yellow, deep-growing root, and guides use it as a warming and invigorating cordial at high altitudes.
An Alpine of the fullest grace and fascination is Thalictrum aquilegifolium, growing airy-light among the formal Rhododendron or other bushes on some semi-shaded slope, its slender flower-stem crowned with a mauve or creamy-white, cloud-like plume of stamen. A blood-relation, T. adiantifolium, is a sacred plant in China, and it would scarcely occasion any great surprise were some such reverence shown in Switzerland to its Alpine brother. Moreover, to use a well-worn phrase - one which breathes, perhaps, no very high philosophy - it is useful as well as beautiful. From its root is extracted a yellow dye, also a medicine employed in cases of jaundice and intermittent fever. Nor ought we to overlook the usefulness of the Rhododendron amongst which this lovely Meadowrue so frequently grows; for both its leaves and its flowers are effectively used against rheumatism - and more or less successfully (according to taste) as an ingredient of Swiss tea!
Did space permit, this list could be extended to four or five times its length: for it is astonishing the number of Alpines which are of economic use. Living as close as he does to Nature, the montagnard of the Swiss Alps knows in remarkable degree the properties of his Alpine flora. Viola calcarata, Adonis vernalis, Saponaria ocymoides, Trifolium alpinum, Petasites niveus, Gentiana germanica, several of the Ferns and Orchids, and many other plants, are carefully sought out and harvested by the provident peasant. But much as there is still that might be said, we cannot linger. This present work makes no pretence of being a complete manual of any kind or sort. Needs must that we should pass on now to the flowers of Alpine Autumn.