Learn to identify 10 common spring alpine flowers

Long days, perfect temperatures and less crowds make spring one of the best times of year to visit the Alps. As the snowy landscape gives way to lush green meadows, the alpine flowers aren’t far behind – sprouting up over night to take advantage of the short flowering season.

Here’s 10 of the most common alpine flowers you will see in Spring, how many can you spot on your alps trekking holiday?

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis)
French: Hépatique a trois lobes, German: Leberblümchen

Hepatica nobilis alpine flowers in spring
Hepatica nobilis. Photo by David Thexton

The white stamens of hepatica contrast against its attractive purple petals and it stands out vividly against the dried leaves on the forest floor. Its name ‘hepatica’ comes from the Greek for liver due to the shape of its leaves and this alpine flower was historically used to treat liver problems.

When to spot them: March to May
Habitat: Woodland
Plant family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup)

Spring Crocus (Crocus vernus)
French: Crocus de printemps, German: Frühlings-Krokus

Crocus vernus alpine flowers in spring
Crocus Vernus. Photo by JC Winkler

Crocuses are one of the first alpine flowers to appear in spring and you will often see them pushing their way through melting snow. Their petals are white or purple and sometimes purple striped.

When to spot them: March to June
Habitat: Grassy areas up to 2700m
Plant Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
French: Primevère commune, German: Stängellose Schlüsselblume

Primula Vulgaris alpine flowers in spring
Primula vulgaris. Photo by William Walby

Primroses are another early alpine flower, appearing as early as February. Its name primula means primrose and vulgaris means common. It is a symbol of youth and its yellow flowers are a welcome addition to the wintery forest and scrub and it grows in.

When to spot them: February to May
Habitat: Woodland up to 1500m
Plant Family: Primulaceae (Primrose family)

Spring Snow Flake (Leucojum vernum)
French: Nivéole de printemps, German: Frühlingsknotenblume

Spring snowflake alpine flowers in spring
Leucojum vernum. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

This beautiful drooping flower is found all throughout the Alps in Spring, except the furthest western corner. Its petals are a brilliant white with light-green yellow spots on their tips. As in the photo above, you will often find this flower carpeting shaded forest floors.

When to spot them: February to April
Habitat: Damp woodland and meadow edges up to 1600m
Plant Family: Amaryllidaceae (Daffodil family)

Forget me not (Myosotis sylvatica)
French: Myosotis des bois, German: Wald-Vergissmeinnicht

forget me not alpine flowers in spring
Myosotis sylvatica. Photo by Joshua Mayer

Look closely at the forest floor in late spring and you will see hundreds of these tiny azure blue alpine flowers with brilliant yellow centres. The common name comes from a medieval German story in which a knight was strolling along a river with his lady when he saw a bunch of the flowers near the banks. He stooped down to pick them but was dragged into the river by the weight of his armour! As he fell into the river he called out to his lady ‘Vergiss mein nicht!’ (Forget me not!).

When to spot them: May to July
Habitat: Woodland and meadow up to 1300m
Plant Family: Boraginaceae (Forget me not family)

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys)
French: Véronique petit-chêne, German: Gamander-Ehrenpreis

Germander speedwell alpine flowers spring
Veronica chamaedrys. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

These bright blue alpine flowers are tiny and grow low to the ground so they can be easy to miss.  Germander speedwell is very common and hardy and can spread via its seeds or stem fragments, making it difficult to control.

When to spot them: April to June
Habitat: Woodland and meadow
Plant Family: Plantaginaceae (Plantain family)

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
French: Galanthus, German: Schneeglöckchen

snowdrops alpine flowers in spring
Galanthus nivalis. Photo by Tejvan Pettinger.

This spring alpine flower has pure white petals on the outside and the innermost petals are edged with dark green. According to legend an angel created the snowdrop as a symbol of hope for Eve when she was sent into exile from the garden of Eden.

When to spot them: February to April
Habitat:  Damp meadows and woodland up to 1600m
Plant Family: Amaryllidaceae (Amaryliis)

Blue Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
French: Bugle rampante, German: Kriechender Günsel

blue bugle alpine flowers in spring
Ajuga reptans. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

This distinctive plant is found across the Alps where it is native and in North America where it was introduced. The leaves are green and tinged with purple and the flowers sit in clusters next to the stem and are an important source of nectar for butterflies. Blue Bugle was traditionally used in Austria to make a tea to treat respiratory conditions and is also known as ‘carpenter’s herb’ due to its apparent ability to stem bleeding.

When to spot them: April to September
Habitat: 
Damp meadows and woodland up to 2000m
Plant Family: 
Lamiaceae (mint family)

Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)
French: Orchis mâle, German: Manns-Knabenkraut

early purple orchid alpine flowers in spring
Orchis mascula. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Orchis mascula is one of the earliest orchids to flower in the Alps, hence its common name. The leaves on this orchid can be spotted or unspotted. It  grows up to 50cm tall and can survive in a wide variety of habitats allowing it to colonise most of Europe, North West Africa and the Middle East.

When to spot them: April to June
Habitat: 
Varied; roadside banks, woodland, sea cliffs, open woodland and scrub up to 1500m
Plant Family: 
Orchidaceae (Orchid family)

Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon)
French: Lamier Jaune, German: Goldnessel

yellow archangel alpine flowers in spring
Lamiastrum galeobdolon. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Yellow Archangel shares a leaf and flower shape similar to many flowers in the mint family. Look at the photo above compared to the photo of Blue Bugle earlier in this article and you will see the family resemblance. It is widespread throughout Europe and was introduced to North America where it is classified as invasive.

When to spot them: April to July
Habitat:  
Damp woodland
Plant Family: 
Lamiaceae (Mint)

Spot your own Alpine Flowers

If you are a nature enthusiast and would like to see some of these beautiful alpine flowers first hand, then you may enjoy one of our Alps Trekking Tours.  Alpenwild are the premier luxury trekking company in the Alps and specialise in treks including the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route and the Bernese Oberland Traverse.

Jennifer Stretton

About Jennifer Stretton

Jen grew up about as far from the mountains and nature as you can get—in Birmingham, UK. When she first visited the Alps on a university climbing trip, she immediately fell in love with the place. After graduating with a degree in Geography, Jennifer spent the next few years travelling the world, volunteering with conservation charities and freelance marketing to fund her adventures. In 2015 she settled full time in the Chamonix Valley and began training to become an international mountain leader. An avid climber and environmentalist, Jen’s passion for the mountains and the natural world is contagious. When she’s not guiding, Jennifer spends her free time climbing, skiing, travelling and trying to keep up with her dog on trail runs. Sociable, caring and always smiling, Jen is the perfect guide to keep you laughing and motivated on your journey. She looks forward to meeting you next summer!

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