June 21, 2010

A rare surprise, Snow on the Summer Solstice

Well, not THAT rare, but snow in June is cool, regardless, especially when it happens on the summer solstice. Local Wengenites told us that they have even had snow at this elevation in July, but that we should still take in a hike to see the alpines in the snow, since it only happens every 10 years or so. So even though we've seen nothing but clouds, rain and no mountains or glaciers so far, we were treated to this summer snow, which was very special. Beside, Sunshine is forecast for the next four days.
 Soldanella alpina, or the aptly named Alpine Snowbell, is blooming much later this year in the Alps in and around Wengen, Switzerland. I usually find flowers that have passed on to seed, but this year it's another story, and the precious Soldanella alpina are in peak bloom, and they even were treated to a spring snow which greeted us this morning.

False Hellebores, surviving a late spring ( early summer?) freak snowstorm in the alps on June 21. Taken near the Eiger's famous North Face. Typically, hikers would be looking the other way, at the enourmous cliffs of the North Face, but if the clouds brought something, they brought a new focus, and we are seeing things that we might have missed.

 A native species of Colt's Foot, Tussilago farfara I think, displaying thier spent blossoms, in a colony along a glacial stream. The view here would be magnificent, with the Eiger, North Face and the glaciers of the Jungfrau in the distance, but all we have seen for three days now is fog, clouds and snow.
 Trollius europaeus, in a snowy alpine scree.

 Not sure if this is Tussilago or Petasites, but I would bet either is close. Young foliage in the snow.
 Silene acaulis, which we also have growing in our White Mountains of New Hampshire, but also grows at the higher elevations in the Alps.
A Primula elatior is able to produce enough heat, a few degree's worth in order to melt the snow. Arctic alpine plants are very resilient to summer frosts and snows, that can happen in high alpine areas most any month of the year. One of the special traits that many high alpines share is their tight habit, forming buns or mounds or tight fuzzy that can actually hold on to a bit of heat every night, which can be enough to melt a light snow. Deep tap roots and specially adapted foliage ensures their survival even in the harshest of conditions.

 Ranunculus glacialis, an alpine buttercup which looks completely different when seen at even higher elevations where it becomes more prostrate and dense.
 Primula hirsuta
 A saxifraga holds a weight of snow on its tiny, wiry stem.
 Primula hirsuta, and ice on a rock ledge.

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