The edelweiss in Java


Unpredictable weather and warming temperatures are causing quick and dramatic changes in the range and distribution of plants around the world. There are more than 300,000 known species of plants. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has evaluated about 13,000 species of plants, finding that about 68 percent of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction. One of the endangered plant species most threatened with extinction or being placed on the IUCN Red List is the edelweiss.

Actually, there are 2 species of edelweiss, those are Leontopodium alpinum or Alpine edelweiss and Anaphalis javanica or Javanese edelweiss. Interestingly, both species of edelweiss can be found in Java. The photos above are the flowers of the Javanese edelweiss and Alpine edelweiss, both of which are beautiful with a lot of meanings.

According to Alfred Wallace, a British naturalist about 150 years ago: “Java possesses thirty-eight volcanic mountains, several of which rise to ten or twelve thousand feet high. The soil throughout the island is exceedingly fertile, and all the productions of the tropics, together with many of the temperate zones, can be easily cultivated.” Like most places all around the world including Java, have the problems of increasing human population and monoculture farming system (single crop or livestock species in a field at a time). Moreover, Java is also decreasing in soil fertility and productivity due to intensive agriculture and horticulture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, limited resources – organic waste management to produce a high quality of compost, and climate changes or unpredictable climate caused by global warming.

It was reported that Alpine edelweiss is a protected plant in many countries including Indonesia. The only location in Java that Alpine edelweiss has ever been found is at Semeru Mountain (3,676 m or 12,060 ft), the highest mountain in Java. The endemic species in Indonesia, Javanese edelweiss, is found at the mountains in Java, southern Sumatra, Lombok, and southern Sulawesi. The flowers are generally seen in the dry season between July and September, and now they are getting harder to find.

Edelweiss belongs to sunflowers family Asteraceae. Both species of edelweiss are pioneer plants that are able to survive and grow in critical areas with low nutrients on the mountains. The plants prefer rocky limestone places with excellent drainage to grow and are sensitive against pollution and human destruction. Many edelweiss plants have already disappeared along the more popular hiking and climbing routes. Although edelweiss literally means noble white or eternal flower, actually it is classified as short lived perennials. The plant can be grown from seed. When the flowers are picked before producing seeds, they are not able to propagate by seeding anymore and will disappear from a formerly established area. The edelweiss flowers are covered with dense white hairs and have a woolly appearance. The dense hairs appear to be an adaptation to high altitudes, protecting the plant from cold, aridity and ultraviolet radiation.

The song Edelweiss and the movie The Sound of Music almost caused the plants to become extinct because so many people were picking them at the mountains also in Java. Java has a long history as the origin of “Java Man”, an early human fossil and the most populous island within the tropics. Java can be a model of the survival of the fittest for edelweiss plants. If the edelweiss flowers can survive in Java, it can survive around the globe.

Please enjoy the simple beauty of love and patriotic song lyrics by Edelweiss, written and composed by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers that was published in 1959. “…Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me. Small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me. Blossoms of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever. Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever…” And the song from the movie The Sound of Music (1965) sung by Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews and kids is here .

– Bintoro Gunadi

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