Tall Forb Meadow

The most conspicuous plant communities in humid locations at and above the forest border are the Tall Forb Meadow. Nearly all of these plants hibernate during the winter months and in summer they require a large degree of humidity or shade. The ground must be loose, aired and rich in fine earth and minerals. Here in the Alpine Garden the following tall forbs are conspicuous during July and August.

The Blue Common Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), a buttercup plant, which in its natural environment is to be found on silicate, proves its expansive colonizing tendencies in the Alpine Garden. It is a 50-150 cm high perennial with black, carrot shaped root stocks. From this sprouts the upright and stiff stem, which terminates in a dense dark violet inflorescence. All parts of the plant, in particular the tubers/bulbs, are very poisonous. A mere 0, 5 grams can be lethal. They contain the alkaloids, Aconitin and Napelin. Historically these were used as arrow poison and lethal poison, and have homeopathic uses today. A further buttercup plant is theTall Alpine Larkspur (Delphinium elatum). In favourable locations it will form a 2 metre tall forb with large, hand shaped split leaves. The blue violet flowers have a long spur and form a loose, grapelike flower. By introducing this plant to the garden culture the cultivation of the garden larkspur started in the middle of the 19th Century. Some varieties of this species can be found in regions stretching from the Alps to Siberia and Central Asia.

TheRosebay Willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), an evening primrose plant, is also plentiful. Depending on its location the plant grows 180 centimetres tall. The stem bears alternative spear-shaped leaves, up to 15 cm long. The flowers are purple red, up to 3cm broad and form a cluster. The flowers grow into pod shaped seed capsules by late summer, which burst open and spread a woolly white fluff with minute seeds. Through the flight apparatus the seeds can be spread particularly well by the wind. Common in the Alps, the willow herb inhabits nearly the whole of Europe, Asia and Northern America.

Tall Forb MeadowThe Master Wort (Peucedanum ostruthium), is an up to 150 cm tall, almost bare plant. The leaves of up to 40 cm are tripartite. The flower umbels are large and consist of up 50 white individual flowers. The Master Wort contains essential oils, bitters and tannins. It has been used for medical purposes since the 9th century. In the alpine valleys the bitter Master Wort schnapps is distilled. Although originally only found in the Alps, it has been cultivated as a medicinal plant in many regions and now runs wild.

World-wide the family of gentians is represented by 800 species in the temperate zones, about 50 of which are to be found in the Alps, such as the Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea).It is an impressive 60-140 cm tall, bare plant with an arm thick only sparsely branching pile root. Its leaves are broad and elliptical, and the gold yellow flowers at the end of the stem and in the leaf axes are bunched into pseudo-whirls. The Yellow Gentian is an old therapeutic plant which in its roots contains the highest concentration of bitters of all species of gentians. Even an aqueous solution of 1:200000 tastes decidedly bitter. Due to the preparation of the famous gentian schnapps -one needs 100 kilos of roots for 1 litre of schnapps - this plant, although very common in the past has become extinct in many regions. Its natural habitat reaches from the Alps via the Balkans to Asia Minor.

Dotted-Gentian (Gentiana punctata) and Purple Gentian (Gentiana purpurea) are two further representatives of this species growing up to 80 cm tall. Whilst the flowers of the Dotted Gentian are light yellow outside and dark and dotted inside, the Purple Gentian has deep violet flowers marked by a fine rose scent. In the alpine garden both species were partly crossed, and thus we find dotted types in light violet. Unfortunately these types were also used to distil schnapps, and although under strict environmental protection for some time, have been savagely decimated in places. The bitter glycosides in all parts of the plant protect the gentians from being eaten by animals, which is why from an alpine grazing point of view they constitute a weed. All three species grow very slowly, and it takes 10 years to the first flower. Then they can reach an age of approximately 60 years. Austria being an alpine country the Gentian has a particular significance. The Gentian was embossed on the Austrian Schilling and now the respective national Eurocent coins.

Tall Forb MeadowThe Monks Rhubarb (Rumex alpinus)is a substantial knotweed plant up to 2 metres tall with more than 50 cm long, oval leaves. The individual flower is small and inconspicuous; more eye- catching is the branching flower in dense verticils, turning red-brown when it fades. Monks Rhubarb grows in the mountains where-ever dung and manure gets. Particularly around alpine pasture huts it forms large monotonous colonies together with Nettles (Urtica dioica), which is typical of manured alpine pasture. Due to the high level of oxalic acid they are shunned by cattle and are categorized as meadow weeds. In the ground the seeds remain germinable for 13 years. The young leaves are eaten as wild spinach in some regions, which has given it the name mountain rhubarb. It is found in the mountains of Southern and Central Europe and was introduced to North America.

Leafy Lousewort (Pedicularis foliosa), a brown root plant, is only easily recognisable when flowering. The occasionally multi-stemmed plant grows to 70cm and has long-stemmed, twin- feathered leaves. The bright yellow flowers form bunches in the axillae of the supporting leaves. All Lousewort species are semi-parasites, leading a parasitic existence on a variety of plants. They develop their own chlorophyll for assimilative purposes. The roots use special cells (haustoria) to siphon off water and nutrients from their host, which is why they fade very quickly when picked. This species can be found from the mountains of Northern Spain to the Balkan Peninsula. In the Alpine Garden we also find a rarer, equally tall plant, theStock Lousewort (Pedicularis recutita), to be distinguished mainly by its conspicuous, dark blood red flowers.

Tall Forb MeadowThe following species are members of the daisy family:
The Fuchs Wood Ragwort (Senecio nemorensis subsp. fuchsii), which can be found from the Alps to the Balkans. The plant, whose stem is covered with dense lance-shaped leaves, grows to 1, 5 metres tall. The many dark-yellow flower heads are umbelliform. The groundsel is seen as meadow weed, as it is avoided by cattle. It is one of the few plants to compete with nettles and sorrel in manure pasture.

The Austrian Leopardsbane (Doronicum austriacum) with large, broad lancet shaped leaves and up to 7cm large, sunflower like flowers grows on lime and silicate. In the tall forb communities of the Alps it occurs frequently and has spread from the Balkans to Asia Minor.

The Alpine Common Sawwort (Rhaponticum scariosum), is a large perennial, up to 1,50 metres tall, whose stems are covered in woolly down. Its up to 60cm long, pointed base leaves have a white down on the underside. The individual upright, spherical flowerheads are up to 10 cm in diameter and purple red; the flower head reminds us of an artichoke. It is a rather rare plant that is only found in the Alps.

Tall Forb Meadow

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